Part 1: Behind the BJP’s rise and rise, bonds, trusts and raids on corporates

Corporate funding of politics is a controversial subject. More so in India, where most of the money in recent years has gone to only one party. But there is a pattern to this money flow.

WrittenBy:Prateek Goyal
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At least 30 companies, which donated a total of nearly Rs 335 crore to the BJP in the five previous financial years, had faced action by central agencies during the same period. Some of them even handed out chunkier donations in the months that followed the action.

Coincidence or causation?

Meanwhile, the predecessor to the electoral bond – the electoral trust – has almost gone extinct. But one is still in the fray. Why? And why are some companies still choosing to donate through trusts?

These are some of the questions this investigative series by Newslaundry and The News Minute attempts to answer. With all the data available in the public domain from the last 10 years – that is, everything except electoral bonds.

This, considering that the Narendra Modi government’s electoral bonds scheme has been struck down, and the Supreme Court has pointed to the possibility of a quid pro quo in corporate funding to parties and the need for public transparency.

Power, bonds, and corporates

It has been frequently reported how in the last few years, the party in power – the BJP – has consistently got a lot more funds than other parties.

The party got the highest through electoral trusts. In 2022-23, the Congress received 19 paise for every Rs 100 that the BJP made from India Inc through electoral trusts – a scheme where corporate companies pool their donations into a trust and distribute the total sum to various political parties, while remaining semi-anonymous. Since 2013, when the scheme was brought in by the UPA government, it has benefitted the BJP the most. The party has received over Rs 1,893 crore in the past 10 years through various ETs.

The BJP got the most through electoral bonds too. It received nearly Rs 1,300 crore in 2022-23, seven times more than what the Congress got in the same period. Nearly 61 percent of the BJP’s funding in the same period was through electoral bonds. Between 2018 and 2022, nearly 57 percent of the total donations made through this method went to the BJP.

The party cornered the lion’s share overall as well. Of the total Rs 850.4 crore donated to national parties in 2022-23, Rs 719.8 crore went to the BJP alone, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms.

Meanwhile, the number of electoral bonds released by the government saw an increase.

Electoral bonds totalling a cumulative value of Rs 2,800 crore were sold during the fiscal year spanning from April 2022 to March 2023.  According to the government’s data in Parliament this month, bonds worth over Rs 16,518 crore have been sold since 2018.

Who bought these bonds? From 2018 to December 2022, bonds worth Rs 1,000 denomination formed just 0.01 percent of the total sales while those worth Rs 1 crore made up 94.41 percent, according to an RTI response received by transparency activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (retired). There is a possibility that these donations were engineered by corporate firms, hiding behind individuals or shell companies.

The Supreme Court has now told the State Bank of India to stop issuing these bonds and the Election Commission of India to submit the details of funding received since 2019. The money received through the latest tranche, meanwhile, is likely to fund the latest round of poll campaigning across India.

Corporate funding of political parties is a fraught subject all over the world. Companies giving money to politicians raises questions of a nexus between the two, leading to corruption and cronyism, leaving the field wide open for quid pro quo deals. And this is something the apex court also underlined as it delivered its verdict on February 15. “Contributions made by companies are purely business transactions made with the intent of securing benefits in return.”

The two trends in two deep dive data reports

There were two trends as Newslaundry and The News Minute sifted through the list of companies which have donated Rs 1 crore or more in the last 10 years.

At least 30 companies which donated a total of Rs 335 crore to the BJP also faced action by Union government agencies in the same period.

Some companies donated higher amounts to the party after being searched while a few others faced action after they skipped donations in a year.

A Madhya Pradesh-based distillery was the quickest to donate to the party after action – just days after its owners got bail.

Who were these 30 companies? What were they accused of? For details, read the first part of this series, which will be published this week.

Our second story, meanwhile, looks at the predecessor to the electoral bond – the electoral trust, which has almost gone extinct. But one is still in the fray – Prudent Electoral Trust set up by the Bharti group. Big corporations have donated hundreds of crores to Prudent over the years, and most of this money has gone to the BJP.

Why has Prudent continued its operations while other ETs barely collect any money? And why do some companies still choose to give through ETs when electoral bonds exist? Read about this mystery in our second exclusive story in this series.

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