Ashok Lavasa is a retired IAS officer of considerable repute and a former Election Commissioner. Amidst the breathless excitement about the Electoral Bonds (EB) data published by the State Bank of India (SBI), Mr Lavasa has written a piece in The Print in which he lays out the three issues which deserve deeper probing.
“First, people have a right to know if the companies that purchased the bonds were in profit. A scrutiny of their accounts would reveal how far their ability to donate is consistent with their financial performance. Does it augur well for the companies and their investors, including lenders, if the companies made political contributions despite being in losses? Would it mean that the amendment removing the provision pertaining to profitability and the limit of corporate donations was done without realising its implications for the right of lenders to exercise oversight over the borrowers’ business? Keeping shareholders in the dark robs them of their right to know if their money is being used for purposes not related to the core business of the enterprise. It vitiates the canons of corporate governance and amounts to cheating and misappropriation of shareholder wealth.

Second, those in the business of data analysis must find out whether the EB donors as revealed in the list, have made contributions to political parties before this ingenious instrument was invented. That will show whether these donors have been committed to the cause of democracy always or it was the secrecy of this arrangement that converted them into overnight champions of democracy, including seducing shell companies in the game.”

Mr Lavasa says that the third issue which needs more probing is whether there is a quid pro quo between the EB buyers and India’s elected politicians. Needless to say, if such a relationship exists it subverts the very purpose of holding elections. Mr Lavasa writes: “We then come to the issue of matching the data of the purchasers and the recipients to establish a link between the two. Whether the SC’s original order covered the disclosure of the ‘invisible’ number on the bond will be known when the matter is heard. SBI can surely make the exercise relatively easy by throwing light on that number.

That link then leads to the tricky question of quid pro quo because the provision of non-disclosure has already created a convenient legal alibi of ignorance for the recipients. A political party could well argue that they were not aware who the donor was because their identity was not disclosed in the instrument. This would be the Chinese wall between donations and favours that will be challenging to scale though but not impossible. Those who think that it is only the central agencies that flexed their strong arm, may be undermining the coercive power of state agencies. The ruling dispensation, wherever it might be, is capable of exercising power to corrupt itself. We are a nation that have not taken kindly to political corruption even in unproven cases in the past, and people have a right to know whether the bonds in anyway were used to promote corruption in public life.”

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