The disquiet in the pharmaceutical industry is palpable, having come under intense scrutiny in the last one month over payments made by some of its representatives to political parties. Hospitals, vaccine companies and drug-makers have bought electoral bonds, as revealed by the Election Commission’s list. Nothing illegal about that, say industry-insiders, defending their right to support the electoral process or political parties.

But that’s not how it appears, from the outside. As they say, even Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. The reason that funding of political parties leaves many feeling squeamish, is because of the possibilities it throws up for quid pro quo. The paying drug-makers, for example, included some who were facing tax-related scrutiny or were under investigation for some other reason. The question being asked by public health workers is also that of conflict-of-interest. Will political representatives taking funds from companies be free of bias when drawing-up policy to regulate pharma companies on quality or price control, for example? Globally, the pharma lobby’s reputation is seen to be a little better than oil and big tobacco, that hover at the bottom of popularity charts.

Back home though, industry-voices point to the role of domestic pharma companies in keeping the steady supply of affordable medicine going — in the country and for patients across the world. And there’s no taking away from that.

The discomfort, however, comes from the revelation that payments were made into a powerful political system — when there is a crying need for affordable hospitals, medicines and diagnostic services for those from poor economic backgrounds and the middle class. In fact, healthcare companies list a multitude of reasons explaining difficulties in reducing the cost of drugs or treatments for patients. That however did not seem to stop them from funding political parties. And that, makes it a bitter pill to swallow.