An investigation conducted by The Reporters' Collective for The Quint has found that only 19 political parties have received funds via electoral bonds, an instrument introduced in 2018 through which anyone can anonymously donate money to political parties.
The Supreme Court, through the Election Commission, had asked all political parties receiving donations through these secretive electoral bonds to submit details of the same in April 2019. As many as 105 parties submitted the data in a 'sealed cover' in May 2019, while the apex court was hearing petitions challenging the legality of the bonds.
Only 19 of these political parties actually received funds through the scheme. Seventeen of the 19 parties are named in the Election Commission's list. Between 2017-18 and 2019-20, these parties collectively received Rs 6,201 crore.
And a whopping 68 percent of this unaccounted money was cornered by one party, the BJP.
What Did the Investigation Find?
The Reporters' Collective ferreted out the information in the sealed envelopes by interviewing the heads of 54 of 70 registered, unrecognised parties that replied to the commission, reviewing the letters the parties sent, and crunching data from the annual audit report filings of political parties.
Together, they revealed that only 17 political parties of the 105 named in the EC's sealed envelope received funds through electoral bonds.
Of them, the BJP had the lion's share – 67.9 percent or Rs 4,215.89 crore of the total electoral bonds worth Rs 6,201 crore – purchased between financial years 2017-18 and 2019-20.
The Congress, trailing far behind the BJP, raised Rs 706.12 crore or 11.3 percent of all bonds encashed.
Biju Janata Dal, a distant third, received Rs 264 crore or 4.2 percent of the bonds encashed. The rest of the national and state parties got the remaining 16.6 percent of bonds worth over Rs 1,016 crore.
The electoral bond scheme allows only those parties that got at least 1 percent vote share in the last General Assembly elections or State Assembly polls to avail its benefits.
According to the instructions of the court, only those parties who received donations through electoral bonds should have responded to the EC.
However, 105 parties had responded, fuelling the suggestion that the electoral bond scheme was a fair and far-reaching one. The large number of responses had lent credence to the BJP-led central government's claim that bonds are an efficient way to allow "donation to any political party of donors' choice."
At least two more parties, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, received money through the bonds, but the EC has not named them in its submission to the court.
Leaders of Some Parties, Who Replied to the EC, Did Not Know What Electoral Bonds Were
The Reporters' Collective found during its investigation that a number of parties that had submitted their details to the EC were not aware of what electoral bonds were.
Advocate Baburam, the founder of Labour Samaj Party, when asked if had heard of electoral bonds, responded in the negative. When asked if the party had received any donations through electoral bonds, he says, "No, none."
"Our party has limited finances. I can show you our passbook, we have hardly Rs 700," he told The Reporters' Collective.
Leaders of other small parties, including the Hindustan Action Party and Rashtriya Peace Party, had similar answers.
Right to Recall Party founder Rahul Mehta also said that they had submitted a nil report to the EC.
91% Electoral Bond Donations Were of Rs 1 Crore
Over 91 percent of the bonds encashed between 2017 and 2020 were of the denomination of Rs 1 crore while over 8 percent of them were of the denomination of Rs 10 lakh, indicating that wealthy persons and corporates had made the maximum number of donations.
The opacity of the electoral bonds scheme appears conducive to hiding the names of the corporates and individuals donating to political parties.
The Supreme Court Case
A Public Interest Litigation had been filed in the Supreme Court, which had raised concerns about the anonymity of the donors sending money to political parties through the scheme.
On 12 April 2019, the court had directed all parties that had received donations through electoral bonds to submit details of the same in a sealed cover to the Election Commission.
The EC had communicated the court's order to recognised parties, asking them to furnish details of donations received through the bonds.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has not opened the sealed cover responses it had received, nor has it heard the case since January 2020.