Business Standard

‘Why malign India Inc? Electoral bonds just tip of poll funding iceberg’

- BS REPORTERS New Delhi/mumbai, 15 March

There was a sense of disquiet in India Inc a day after the Election Commission of India (ECI) published details of the buyers and beneficiar­ies of electoral bonds following the Supreme Court’s directions. Corporate leaders felt the data ought to have remained “anonymous”.

A senior executive of a company said the confidenti­ality of electoral bonds was on account of government policy. “It’s unfair to put companies in the interrogat­ion box,” the executive said.

While top conglomera­tes declined to comment on the issue, some senior executives spoke to Business Standard about the now-scrapped electoral bonds scheme and election funding on condition of anonymity.

“Elections in India are held quite frequently, and the actual cost of holding elections is not known. The funding of elections via bonds is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of spending by political parties,” said an executive. One of the ideas floated earlier was state funding of elections, but there was no consensus on the issue, the executive pointed out.

Another executive from a well-known corporate group, which was part of the electoral bonds list, argued that both electoral trusts and electoral bonds were legal options and within the ambit of law. “So, why is there an attempt to malign India Inc?” he asked.

Earlier too, the funding of elections was voluntaril­y disclosed, he said. “Whatever is the mode of payment, everything is part of books of accounts,” he claimed. “Unfortunat­ely, everything will be political in the season of elections,” he added.

An Ncr-based company, which has seen raised eyebrows after its name figured in the much-awaited document disclosed by the ECI on Thursday, remained guarded when asked to react to the issue. A source in the company, however, said dismissive­ly that everything on election funding was anyway disclosed in annual reports.

When asked whether it was fair to disclose the electoral bond details after making it an anonymous instrument, the source said: “It should have remained anonymous.” He added that corporate India would be interested in supporting the government’s initiative­s, whether it’s Make in India or semiconduc­tor and electrical vehicle schemes.

While most companies have mentioned about their spending in electoral bonds in some form in their annual reports, very few have been upfront and categorica­l about their disclosure­s -- like Kolkata-based IFB Agro Industries. In its 2022-23 annual report, the company said: “The business continues to face issues as reported earlier and in order to maintain the continuity of the business and to protect the interest of all the stakeholde­rs, the company paid ~18.30 crore towards the subscripti­on of electoral bonds during the year. The company further paid ~15 crore towards the subscripti­on of electoral bonds in April 2023.”

Also, very few from India Inc have donated via electoral bonds in their personal capacity. For example, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, executive chairperso­n of Biocon, invested about ~6 crore in electoral bonds. “I am always transparen­t and what you see is what is correct,” she said on X (formerly Twitter). When asked by a user on the microblogg­ing platform whether she was asked for this contributi­on, Shaw said, “All parties want funding.” A senior executive of a major industrial group said, “There have always been attempts to amend the Companies Act to allow more (election) funding to flow in. For instance, political parties would take donations in the name of trusts, and one could simply mention the name of the trust and not the party.”

“It's about time that we moved the US way and there is full disclosure of lobbying or policy advocacy payments. Citizens have the right to know which party received how much donation from which corporatio­n,” he said.

With inputs from Dev Chatterjee, Nivedita Mookerji, Krishna Kant, and Sohini Das


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