Analysis: Upholding Democracy’s Right To Transparency

Analysis: Upholding Democracy’s Right To Transparency

By insisting on transparency in political funding and reaffirming the principles of accountability and fairness, the court has upheld the sanctity of the electoral process

Sayantan GhoshUpdated: Monday, March 04, 2024, 10:07 PM IST
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Representative Image | File/PTI

In a landmark decision that reverberates through the corridors of power and resonates with the aspirations of millions, India’s Supreme Court has delivered a historic verdict on electoral bonds. This verdict stands not only as a beacon of transparency but also as a crucial milestone in ensuring that political parties are not above the law. In a democracy, where the will of the people must reign supreme, the transparency of electoral financing is paramount in safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process and upholding the principles of accountability and fairness.

Electoral bonds, introduced in 2018 by the Government of India as a means of political funding, have been a subject of intense debate since their inception. Ostensibly aimed at promoting transparency and curbing black money in political donations, electoral bonds have faced criticism from various quarters for their opacity and potential to undermine democratic principles. Critics argue that the anonymity afforded by electoral bonds allows for clandestine donations, shielding political parties from public scrutiny and accountability.

The Supreme Court’s verdict on electoral bonds represents a watershed moment in India’s democratic journey, reaffirming the judiciary’s role as the guardian of constitutional values and the rule of law. By striking down certain provisions of the electoral bond scheme and emphasising the importance of transparency in political funding, the court has sent a resounding message: in the eyes of the law, no entity, be it a political party or a government, is immune to scrutiny.

Transparency lies at the heart of democracy, serving as the bedrock of trust between the electorate and the elected. When political parties receive funding through opaque channels, it erodes public confidence in the political process and breeds cynicism among citizens. By insisting on transparency in electoral financing, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the principle that power emanates from the people and that elected representatives are accountable to those they serve.

Moreover, the court’s verdict serves as a potent reminder that the judiciary remains steadfast in its commitment to upholding the rule of law, even in the face of executive action. In a democratic system characterised by a separation of powers, the judiciary plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the actions of the executive and legislative branches conform to constitutional norms and principles. By scrutinising the legality and constitutionality of the electoral bond scheme, the Supreme Court has fulfilled its constitutional mandate as the ultimate arbiter of justice.

The significance of the Supreme Court’s verdict extends beyond the realm of electoral financing; it strikes at the heart of India’s democratic ethos. In a country where money power often wields undue influence in politics, the court’s insistence on transparency in political funding is a victory for every citizen who believes in the ideals of equality, justice, and accountability. It reaffirms the belief that no individual or entity, regardless of their wealth or influence, should be able to subvert the democratic process for their own gain.

Furthermore, the court’s verdict underscores the principle that the rights and interests of the people must always take precedence over the interests of the ruling elite. In a democracy, political parties are entrusted with the sacred responsibility of representing the will of the people and advancing their interests. When parties receive funding through opaque channels, it raises questions about whose interests they truly serve and whose voices they prioritise. By demanding transparency in electoral financing, the Supreme Court has upheld the principle that political parties exist to serve the people, not the other way around.

However, while the Supreme Court’s verdict on electoral bonds is undeniably a step in the right direction, it is not the end of the journey towards electoral reform. There is still much work to be done to strengthen India’s democratic institutions and ensure that the electoral process remains fair, free, and transparent. Civil society, media, and citizens alike must continue to remain vigilant and hold political parties accountable for their actions.

In terms of policy, the Supreme Court verdict on electoral bonds is a setback for the BJP-run central government, as it has been the main beneficiary of the scheme. The scheme allowed donors to purchase bearer bonds from designated branches of the State Bank of India, which political parties could then redeem for legitimate funds. The court found that the scheme violated the right to equality and the right to freedom of speech and expression.

In terms of its funding, the BJP is likely to be affected by the Supreme Court verdict on electoral bonds, as it has been the main beneficiary of the scheme. The scheme allowed donors to purchase bearer bonds from designated branches of the State Bank of India, which political parties could then redeem for legitimate funds. The court found that the scheme violated the right to equality and the right to freedom of speech and expression.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s verdict on electoral bonds is a historic one, with far-reaching implications for India’s democratic future. By insisting on transparency in political funding and reaffirming the principles of accountability and fairness, the court has upheld the sanctity of the electoral process and reinforced the belief that in a democracy, no one is above the law. As India marches forward on its democratic journey, let us remember that the true power lies not in the hands of the few, but in the collective voice of the people.

The author teaches journalism at St Xavier’s College (autonomous) in Kolkata and is a political columnist. He tweets at @sayantan_gh. Views are personal

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