The Supreme Court’s judgment last month on electoral bonds and the subsequent release of data on donors and recipients of such bonds by the Election Commission (EC) has set off celebrations all around as details of political funding are out in the open. But the celebrations are destined to be short-lived. Sunlight now shines into the otherwise dark web of electoral funding thanks to the Court; political analysts and commentators are already attempting to connect the dots between donors, recipients and favours.

The fact is that political funding will only return to its familiar underground channels, thanks to the ban on electoral bonds. It is difficult not to believe that the entire exercise beginning with the Court’s order last month will nix the tentative reform in political funding that the bonds scheme ushered in, and worse, make it difficult for such efforts in the future. Donors will be chary of believing assurances of anonymity after their experience now. Yes, the electoral bonds scheme was not perfect, it should not have assured anonymity even if there were genuine reasons for doing so. But it was an improvement as money moved through banking channels. Indeed, the current revelations were possible only because of that. It should be pointed out that political and electoral funding has always been hush-hush, and any reform can only be incremental. It is not realistic to expect a system that has always operated in an opaque environment to reform itself to total transparency overnight.

That said, interesting insights can be gleaned from the data released on Thursday. A significant takeaway is that the big corporate groups, save the Birlas and Vedanta, are largely absent in the list of donors. It is difficult to believe that they did not fund any of the political parties. What this means is that traditional means of support, in cash or in kind, still rule supreme. Second, all major parties, save the Communists, have benefited from donations through bonds; only the amounts differ depending on whether they’re in or out of power. The BJP by virtue of being in power has benefited the most, which is not surprising. It is interesting to note that a regional party — All India Trinamool Congress — has managed to wring out more than the Congress. Three, interesting connections can be made from the date of purchase of the bonds and favours granted. But they shall remain just that — connections — as nexus is not easy to prove.

There’s little doubt that political funding needs reform to make it more transparent. Moneybags and lobby groups seeking to influence government policy through donations are the bane of democracy, not just in India but everywhere in the world, including the United States. There are suggestions of state funding of elections or a national fund that can finance political parties. These are not new ideas but they are worth discussing to break the donor-favours nexus and make political funding not just transparent but also democratic. If the electoral bonds saga pushes intellectuals, politicians and policymakers into discussing reform, it would have served its purpose.