Video Editor: Sandeep Suman
On 12 April 2018, The Quint exposed the electoral bonds scam. Electoral bonds were introduced by the BJP government to keep political donors anonymous, but we revealed that it is actually a tool used by the government to secretly track donors and funnel black money.
We revealed the fact that a hidden unique alphanumeric code is embedded in every electoral bond, which is not visible to naked eyes and can be seen only under ultraviolet light.
Mainstream media and opposition parties ignored our story. But not the government.
On 17 April 2018, replying to The Quint’s report, the Finance Ministry, under Arun Jaitley, defended the hidden unique alphanumeric code, claiming it doesn’t track donors but is a built-in security feature, and that the State Bank of India, which issues electoral bonds, doesn’t keep a record of these hidden characters.
We debunked the government’s defence on three grounds:
- If the hidden code is a security feature, why is it unique?
- Why is a unique hidden alphanumeric code needed as a security feature when there are already several other watermarks present on the bond that serve as strong security features?
- If the RBI does not see the need to embed hidden serial numbers in our currency notes, why are they required on electoral bonds?
In April 2018, once again, The Quint reported that the Election Commission had raised objections to the use of electoral bonds as it could allow black money to enter political funding through fake companies. We reported that the government had chosen to ignore the EC’s objections.
In May 2018, we published a series of interviews – featuring former chief election commissioners, a former RBI director, etc – all of them calling out electoral bonds, saying it's a big threat to democracy.
Some opposition politicians did take note. But most political parties either ignored or just didn’t comprehend the electoral bonds scam unfolding right under their nose.
And mainstream media? Well, they continued to ignore the story.
Just before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court by two NGOs – Association of Democratic Reforms, and Common Cause – highlighting The Quint’s expose on the unique hidden characters and opacity of electoral bonds. The petitioners demanded transparency in political funding.
In response to this petition, the Election Commission once again came on record, opposing electoral bonds.
The Supreme Court ordered all political parties to inform the Election Commission about donations received via electoral bonds in a sealed cover by 30 May 2019.
Yet again, most of the mainstream media and most opposition parties continued to ignore this story.
Now, based on RTI documents, it has emerged that a few days before electoral bonds were introduced by the government, RBI officials had objected to it on the grounds that they could be a funnel for black money.
However, the government ignored even the RBI and went ahead.
Finally, on 21 November 2019, the Opposition in Parliament called electoral bonds a ‘huge fraud’.
It took ONE AND A HALF YEARS for the Opposition and the mainstream media to sit up and pay attention to the electoral bonds scam.
In response, BJP minister and party treasurer Piyush Goyal took a dig at the Opposition saying, “Political parties opposed to electoral bonds are happily accepting donations through them”.
He also, again, chose to defend electoral bonds, claiming that the unique hidden code would “ensure there is an audit trail available for internal reconciliation”.
He also claimed that the scheme was introduced after proper consultation with the RBI and the Election Commission of India.
But here’s what Mr Piyush Goyal still did not say – how much donation did the BJP receive through electoral bonds in the financial year 2018-19? So far, over Rs 4,500 crore worth of electoral bonds remain undeclared to the Election Commission – the lion’s share of the Rs 6,000 crore collected via electoral bonds. Is the BJP silent because they pocketed most of it?
The Quint will continue to track this crucial story, as we have since April 2018. Stay tuned!
Click here to check out series of stories on electoral bonds