Call to accounthttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/call-to-account/

Call to account

The EC’s suggestions on party funding could help reduce the system’s opacity

There is a generally held consensus that the nature of party funding has a direct bearing on the health of a democracy. Making it transparent is not just essential to strike at one of the most robust roots of corruption,it is also a prerequisite for inner-party democracy. It is,therefore,unfortunate that the Union law ministry has rejected summarily the Election Commission’s attempt to inject greater accountability in the way party funds are collected and reported.

At present,the source of a donation under Rs 20,000 does not have to be stated in a party’s account books. It is of a piece with the practice elsewhere of allowing anonymous contributions of small sums,which presumably would not amount to lobbying and would not inhibit casual supporters from chipping in for fear of being seen to be partisan. The problem,as it has obtained in India,is that a vast majority of funds reported by political parties is shown to be in the form of these small donations. By one estimate,the source of 85 per cent of the funds received by political parties is not known. The consequent concern is obvious: that this rule could be — in fact,is being — used to bring on the account books illegally amassed cash or funds gained for quid pro quos by passing them off as the sum of small donations. The EC’s suggestion that donors provide their PAN numbers is a sensible way of removing the opacity that permits such corruption. It would clean up campaign and party finance and make party treasurers accountable to their rank and file. And given the widespread suspicion about the nature of party funding in this country,making it more transparent could in fact encourage genuine small donors to contribute in greater numbers. It would help reduce the perceived gulf between the public and the politicians.

It is especially needed in the current climate created by assorted activists who flaunt their apolitical label as a badge of honour,on the presumption that to be in electoral politics is automatically to be corrupt. This is absurd — democracies and the individual freedoms they guarantee are sustained by political combat. The government has to be more articulate in explaining how this needs money and how the collection and disbursal of such funds can be cleaned up.