Wednesday, April 24, 2024

If electoral bonds are okay, then no case against YS Jagan

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By B Krishna Prasad

From the ramifications of the electoral bonds issue, it is now amply clear that a few business houses purchased high-value bonds and thereby donated to political parties huge sums without being seen in the picture. What is not clear is why they donated to the political party of their choice. Was there any quid pro quo or promise thereof? Was it to forestall/suspend/stop investigations by central probe agencies concerning tax evasions, money laundering, and FCRA violations or to shield shady lottery business operations in states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and West Bengal?
Noticeably, the amounts donated by certain business entities far outweigh their net profits or even equity. Several firms bought electoral bonds up to 10 and even 100 times the profits they have generated till date. And those companies were certainly paying through their nose or maybe some other companies were using them as proxies to donate to political parties. Such sordid details bring out the obnoxious role of money power in shaping India’s present-day politics.
Let us take a close look at the Future of Gaming and Hotel Services, which, with a few hundred crores of profit and facing coercive action from different Central agencies under the Narendra Modi regime, purchased electoral bonds worth Rs 1,368 crore — the largest amount by a single entity. The assets that the company had and the staggering amounts it spent for purchasing those bonds underline the point flagged by the Supreme Court that there was ‘quid pro quo’ involved in establishing the nexus between corporate entities and political regimes through electoral bonds.
Many companies in the power sector have purchased electoral bonds left and right. Mining, solar power, coal, wind power, transmission, electric mobility and hydro power companies bought electoral bonds worth nearly Rs 3,600 crore.  Interestingly, even loss-making companies ‘donated’ liberally to political parties. Is it donation or something else?
Let us now look back at what happened some 20 years back with regard to present Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy, who is still facing what has come to be called ‘quid pro cases’ in which the core facts are strikingly similar to those in the electoral bonds issue. In the cases relating to Jagan too, the charges laid against him were that certain businesses invested heavily in his firms for (or in anticipation of) quid pro quo.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, while defending the electoral bonds scheme as “a beginning towards a solution”, said at the India Today Conclave on March 15, 2024 that he was willing to debate with any person on any forum that electoral bonds were brought to end black money in Indian politics. If that is the stand of the government, we should immediately absolve Jagan, against whom quid pro quo charges were slapped in 2012. He was jailed for 16 months. The Central Bureau of Investigation booked him for many alleged economic irregularities, with ‘quid pro quo’ at the core of its charge-sheets.
If we take Amit Shah’s statement on ending black money in Indian politics at face value and correlate it with the similarities in Jagan’s quid pro cases; the only logical, in-your-face question that arises is: “Why did Jagan spend 16 months in jail?” If Jagan’s incarceration was justified, and if the cases pending against him can still be taken to their logical conclusion; why shouldn’t there be comprehensive probe at least in the cases of transactions involving high-value bonds and big-ticket players in the electoral bonds expose?
The irregularities of which Jagan was accused were in fact the outcome of decisions taken by the Congress government led by YSR Rajasekhara Reddy then. Many of YSR’s colleagues, who had served as ministers in successive Congress governments, were also questioned by the CBI. Taking cue from this, now the electoral bonds issue also needs to be investigated thoroughly.
If the central agencies could go against Jagan on the ‘evidence’ or presumption of quid pro quo, isn’t there a solid ground for the same agencies or a higher probe team to look into the possibilities of quid pro quo from parties that have benefitted from enchasing high-value electoral bonds. Regardless of the scope given under the electoral bonds scheme to protect the identities of the donor firms, and the State Bank of India’s reluctance to fully bare
links between the donor and the donee; there are strong grounds now for ordering a high-level probe to determine if there was any quid pro quo or promise thereof from the beneficiary political parties.
There is no free lunch in life. The information available in the Election Commission’s website on the details of the companies purchasing electoral bonds for donating to political parties reveals a murky dimension of today’s politics and a vitiated electoral process, never ever seen in the history of India.
In the electoral bonds issue, the Supreme Court acted fast to restore the purity and integrity of the electoral process. While declaring the electoral bonds scheme as unconstitutional, the apex court has observed that the free and fair electoral process has to be defended not just by the Election Commission or Supreme Court but by all concerned.
In the Supreme Court judgment, paragraph 172 reads: “The deletion of the mandate of disclosing the particulars of contributions violates the right to information of the voter since they would not possess information about the political party to which the contribution was made, which, as we have held above, is necessary to identify corruption and quid pro quo transactions in governance.” In paragraph 201 the court bluntly said “the reason for political contributions by companies is as open as day light. Even the learned Solicitor General did not deny during the course of the hearings that corporate donations are made to receive favours through quid pro quo arrangements.” The court made it crystal clear in paragraph 212 that “contributions made by companies are purely business transactions made with the intent of securing benefits in return”.
Now the time has come to determine whether the process of electoral bonds can be treated as ‘quid pro quo’. If it can be arguably equated with quid pro quo, then the related cases must be investigated on the lines of cases pending against Jagan.

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