To

Shri Rajiv Kumar

CEC

Shri Anup Chandra Pandey

EC

Dear S/Shri Rajiv Kumar and Pandey,

I understand that a PIL has been filed before the Supreme Court seeking a direction to stop political parties from promising and distributing “irrational freebies” during election campaigns.

Any undue inducement by a political party in power to woo the voters at the cost of the public exchequer needs to be discouraged, though to call subsidies to the low-income households to enable them to secure access to basic amenities “irrational freebies” would be erroneous. Often, it is the freebies offered by the political executive to corporate businesses by way of huge tax concessions, relaxations in the laws and regulations in place to protect the natural resources to the detriment of the public interest and so on are far more toxic than the meagre subsidies offered to the disadvantaged sections of the society!

I am not sure as to the stand that the Election Commission would take before the court in this matter. I however take the liberty of suggesting a stand that the Commission should take while responding before the apex court.

This is an excellent opportunity for the Commission to press home a related set of electoral reforms for the apex court’s consideration. The Commission should, in my view, propose the following in its counter affidavit in the PIL

  1. “Freebies” from the corporate business houses to the political parties in the form of political contributions under Section 182 of the Companies Act are worse than the freebies referred in the PIL, as such donations tend to corrupt the political parties, interfere with the integrity of the electoral system, leading to corporate oligarchies influencing government policies to the detriment of the public interest. Over the course of the last few decades, such corporate freebies have encouraged the political parties to become more and more profligate in spending money on elections, both transparently and non-transparently, making it impossible for ordinary citizens to contest elections. The manner in which the present government at the Centre had removed the cap on corporate donations under the Companies Act and relaxed the prohibitive requirements under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) to remove all hurdles in the way of the corporates giving funds to the political parties speaks volumes about the magnitude of the scourge of such contributions. The proportion of the super-rich among the legislators has progressively increased over the years, raising the question whether the Parliament and the State legislatures are truly representative of the majority of the people. The Commission should take a stand on this by proposing a total ban on corporate donations under the Companies Act. It used to be so till the sixties when company donations to political parties were totally prohibited.
  2. The corporate freebies have now assumed a more egregious avatar in the form of highly non-transparent Electoral Bonds, which not only provide a much wider opportunity for the business houses to invest larger amounts in the political parties by way of donations but also make it impossible for the citizens to know the sources from which such donations come to the political parties and equally impossible for the regulatory authorities to make sure whether those funds come from prohibited sources, detrimental to national security. The Commission should take this opportunity to expose the potential danger that the Electoral Bond scheme poses to the integrity of elections in India.
  3. The political parties in India seem to be rapidly graduating in the field of corruption by making it an art these days to buy legislators wholesale, once they are elected by the voters, making a mockery of the electoral system. They have found ingenious ways to bypass the anti-defection law, taking full advantage of the delays in the judicial processes. For example, recently, people all over the country viewed live TV scenes of the legislators from a different State shamelessly lazing around in five star comfort in another State, where lakhs of helpless people, already troubled by the Covid virus, were suffering the fury of floods. Those legislators were ready to switch sides, suggesting that political parties amply funded by the business houses can twist the electoral system in their favour by openly deploying their money power. The Commission should raise this aspect in its affidavit to the apex court, citing this as yet another threat posed by corporate freebies to the very idea of a genuine democracy.

I hope that the Commission will consider these suggestions with a sense of seriousness they deserve and include them as a part of its stand in the PIL.

Considering the extent of corruption that has seeped into the political system today, one cannot expect any political party in power to come forward voluntarily and lend support to the above kind of electoral reform.

The citizens of this country repose a great deal of trust in the Commission as the overarching authority entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining an electoral system devoid of corruption and conducting elections in a free and a fair manner.

I sincerely hope that the Commission will not let the citizens down.

Regards,

Yours sincerely,

E A S Sarma

(Former Secretary to Govt of India)


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