The Supreme Court’s (SC) February 15 verdict, declaring the ‘electoral bond scheme’ unconstitutional, has instilled a renewed sense of confidence in democracy. The ruling underscores the fundamental right of voters to know who funds political parties, as emphasised by the SC bench in its verdict.

The comprehensive dataset on electoral bonds (EB) from 2019-24 disclosed by the State Bank of India reveals that over 90 per cent of donations originated majorly from corporate entities. Notably, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), being in power, received the largest share of these funds, totalling more than ₹6,000 crore.

In addition to the Congress party, even regional political entities such as the All India Trinamool Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam have also received substantial funding from EB. This highlights two significant factors in Indian politics: firstly, the role that ‘big money’ plays in shaping political dynamics, and secondly, the existence of an opaque funding mechanism that allows political parties to conceal their connections with donors.

Quid pro quo?

Many critics have levelled accusations of quid pro quo against both the government and corporations in the context of EB. The disclosure of bonds coincided with raids conducted by India’s central agencies on numerous organisations that are purchasers of electoral bonds. There have been instances where certain corporations made donations just days before receiving significant government tenders.

EBs represent just one symptom of a larger problem. Over the past two decades, political funding in India has become increasingly opaque. Prior to these bonds, other mechanisms, such as ‘electoral trusts,’ were considered partially opaque.

Indeed, achieving transparency in the funding mechanism will not happen overnight. However, the electoral bonds saga highlights the pressing need for policymakers to enact legislation that aligns with the public’s right to information about political funding in India.