. Government has introduced three major changes since in the mechanics of political funding in India- political parties can now receive foreign funds; any company can donate any amount of money to any political party; and any individual, group of people or company can donate money anonymously to any party through electoral bonds.
All three provisions, it has been argued, instead of increasing transparency, have made the process even more opaque than earlier. Of course, the government has yielded to the long-standing demand of the Election Commission of India (ECI) to lower the limit for anonymous cash donations from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2,000, but this provision, its critics argue, will not change anything on the ground.
However, all political parties have benefitted from this year’s Finance Bill, which made an amendment with retrospective effect to validate any foreign funds received by any political party since 1976. In 2014, the Delhi High Court had found both the parties guilty of accepting donations from a foreign company, in breach of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010, the newer version of the now repealed FCRA, 1976. The modification of the definition of a “foreign company” rendered the verdict null and void. With the amendment, the Modi government has ensured that funds received by political parties since 1976 cannot be investigated, a stand that has made even the EC uneasy.
Fortunately, Indian elections have so far remained free of any known foreign influence, but there is no denying that money, especially unaccounted cash flowing from groups and individuals with business interests, has often played a sinister role in the campaigns of candidates. And, according to experts and the opposition parties, the removal of a cap on corporate donations and introduction of electoral bonds have further strengthened corporate influence in political decision-making. Among the known sources of donations to parties, between 2012 and 2016, corporate contributions formed a staggering 89 per cent of the total funds.