It is a hard reality that political funding has touched endemic proportions and lies at the root of generation of black money in the country. This truth is repeated ad nauseam by political leaders but there is no collective political will to cap it. The recent finding by an independent think tank Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) that in the 11 years between 2004-05 and 2014-15 political parties of all hues had more than US$1 billion (Rs 6,800 crore) coming into their kitties from unknown sources is a sad commentary on our political system which survives on dubious finance. The big donors in particular extract their pound of flesh by getting the governments of the day to succumb to unjustified demands for licences, speedy clearances and other concessions by subverting the system.
At a rally in Kanpur last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had welcomed the Election Commission’s move to curb the use of black money for funding political parties. Modi also wanted the commission to build pressure on political parties to bring more transparency in the manner in which they receive contribution from unknown sources. But rhetoric apart, the scale of the malaise can be judged by the fact that in the 11 years in question, 83 per cent of the Congress funding and 65 per cent of the BJP funds came from ‘unknown sources.’ The Congress figure was higher because that party was in power at the Centre for most of the period under review. In actual practice, it’s really a Hobson’s choice between the two principal parties in the country. Details of the ‘unknown sources’ of funding were neither made available to the Election Commission nor to the income tax department. It is all very well to say that funding of political parties through non-transparent means must be curbed, but who will bell the cat? There is a famous Hindi saying that in this ‘hamam’ or bath, everyone is naked.
Prime Minister Modi has to take the lead if reforms in this area have to be attempted, cutting through entrenched vested interests and prospective saboteurs. The manner in which he made the bold announcement of demonetisation of high-value currency, which rendered nearly 86 per cent of the country’s total currency as no longer legal tender, no one but him could do. However, if the war on black money is to be waged with due earnestness, there is no escape from bold initiatives.