FPJ Exclusive: Big Players Who Bought Electoral Bonds

FPJ Exclusive: Big Players Who Bought Electoral Bonds

Here is a tentative list of entities in corporate groups that purchased electoral bonds and the controversies surrounding some of these groups.

Paranjoy Guha ThakurtaUpdated: Friday, March 15, 2024, 05:46 PM IST
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Here is a tentative list of entities in corporate groups that purchased electoral bonds and the controversies surrounding some of these groups.
We know that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) got more than half the funds from the redemption of bonds between 2018 and 2024. One of the companies that bought the bonds is Future Gaming and Hotel Services. This company bought bonds worth Rs 1,368 crore.

The person behind this company is Santiago Martin, often called India’s “lottery king.” There have been several investigations about this person’s financial dealings by government authorities, including by the Enforcement Directorate, that are pending. He was once arrested in 2008 in an unrelated case pertaining to allegations about acquisition of land.

Another controversial company that bought bonds is Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited, which is part of a group based in Telangana. The group is associated with the Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project in the state. Megha Krishna Reddy is one of the prominent individuals behind this group, which was also associated with a controversial water pipeline project in Odisha.

A Congress leader Revanth Reddy (now the Chief Minister of Telangana) had written to his predecessor K Chandrashekar Rao, making several allegations against the Megha Krishna Reddy group, that is also a major contributor to the Prudent Electoral Trust, the biggest among all the 18 electoral trusts in the country. Such trusts can make tax-exempt donations to political parties.

A report by Reuters has highlighted how prominent business groups contributed to the trust that was set up in 2013 and has received over Rs 20,000 crore. Eight major groups donated heavily to this trust, including the ArcelorMittal group headed by L N Mittal, the GMR group that operates airports in Delhi and Hyderabad, the Essar group controlled by the Ruia family, the Airtel/Sunil Bharti Mittal group, and the RPG Sanjiv Goenka group.

Of the 18 electoral trusts in India, Prudent is the only one that has accepted donations from more than one corporate group. About three-fourths of the money from this trust, which is currently run by two chartered accountants, according to the Reuters report, has gone to BJP, while the Congress has received barely a tenth.

One of the companies to have bought electoral bonds is Navayuga Engineering Company Limited. This company was also contracted to build the Silkyara Tunnel in Uttarakhand that collapsed last year. It has also constructed the Polavaram dam and operated Krishnapatnam port in Andhra Pradesh, that has now been taken over by the Adani group. It also used to operate a power transmission project in Gujarat that has been acquired by the Adani group.

Navayuga group purchased electoral bonds worth Rs 55 crore, of which Rs 30 crore was bought on 18 April 2019, just before the Lok Sabha elections.
One of the groups that purchased electoral bonds, Qwik Supply Chain, has among its directors Tapas Mitra, who is on the board of at least six companies that are part of the Reliance group headed by Mukesh Ambani.
Another person of interest is Surendra Lunia, “the man who sold Ambani's NDTV stake to Adani” and Mukesh Ambani’s “proxy in the world of media,” according to the NewsLaundry website.

He was one of the directors of Infotel Broadband Services Private Limited, which acted as Reliance Jio’s proxy in the auction of spectrum. Lunia’s company NexG Devices Pvt Ltd bought Rs35 crore worth of electoral bonds — Rs 20 crore on 9 May 2019 and Rs15 crore on 11 November 2022.
The Serum Institute controlled by the Poonawala family has contributed to the BJP through an electoral trust not bonds. They are a major supplier of Covid vaccines.

Another entity that bought the bonds is the group that runs the Yashodha Hospital chain. As in the case of this and other companies, the donations appear much larger than the paid-up capital of the entities.

Journalist Poonam Agarwal, in April 2018, had in her investigative report pointed out that each electoral bond has a unique serial number that could be seen using ultra-violet rays. This was subsequently confirmed by the Union Ministry of Finance in a press note; the State Bank of India had also confirmed that each bond had a unique serial number that was required for the purposes of audit.

It is not easy to establish links between those who purchased electoral bonds and particular political party or suggest a quid pro quo between them for a variety of reasons.

Matching the purchase of electoral bonds to the political parties that received the bonds and encashed/redeemed these instruments, is a complex exercise.

Nevertheless, some amount of matching is possible. Specific denominations of bonds have been purchased at specific dates, and then redeemed on specific dates by specific parties – in many cases it will be possible to narrow down a specific bond of a specific denomination being encashed by a specific party based on the dates, given the 15-day period of encashment. In many months, especially outside the election periods, only a few parties have received bonds.

Establishing any kind of quid pro quo between the buyers of bonds and the political parties that received the bonds is an even more complex – and perhaps, speculative – exercise.

The author is an independent journalist.

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