With the government indicating that major steps to cleanse political funding are in the offing, the CPI-M has pitched for state funding of elections and spoken out strongly against bringing parties under the ambit of RTI. CPI-M politburo member Brinda Karat today said there should be state funding of elections — not in cash but in kind, like (government footing the bill for) time on television channels, advertisements, and campaign material. “It will provide a level-playing field (to political parties in elections),” she told PTI.
Karat noted that at present the assessment of political parties’ expenditure during elections is kept outside that of candidates. As a result, the ruling party, in particular, has a huge advantage because it has funds at its disposal and it can spend any amount, she said. “For example, television advertisements, newspaper advertisements, the use of helicopters, huge trucking in of thousands of people to huge rallies. None of these is accounted as part of the expenditure of candidates, and we believe this is a major source of dishonesty,” Karat said.
Such expenses should be included in the expenditure of candidates, she said, adding that there must also be a ceiling on the expenditure of political parties in elections. After rolling out the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the government will take up “cleansing” of political funding as its top priority, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said yesterday. Karat said that while it’s absolutely essential to clean up political funding, Jaitley’s statement is actually a “reflection of political dishonesty of this government”.
“On the one hand, it (the government) talks about cleaning up political funding and on the other, it starts a completely non-transparent mechanism of electoral bonds (as a form of making donations to political parties instead of cash) in which the name of corporate donor is kept secret,” she said. “Secondly, it (the government) also removed 7.5 per cent ceiling which was there as part of the profit of donations by the corporate India. “So, both these make it very clear that the government and the ruling party are looking to protect their own sources of funds which are from corporates, and they want to make it easier to ensure this can happen without revealing quid-pro- quo in money and policy,” Karat alleged.
She said it’s a “dichotomic situation” as, on one hand, “all big money is going to be done through electoral bonds and name need not be disclosed, but for funds even below Rs 2,000… (name of donor is to be revealed). Absolutely ridiculous and absurd position to take.” “We are totally against it,” Karat said when asked if political parties should be brought under the ambit of Right to Information (RTI). As far as accounting and funds are concerned, her party is fully in favour of utmost transparency.
“But asking political parties, under RTI, allowing questions as far as our own internal discussions are concerned, are completely wrong. And it is a direct attack on democracy,” Karat said. According to her, allowing questions under RTI on internal discussions of political parties and how they arrived at decisions amount to spying. “It’s nothing but spying into our internal affairs. How can anybody ask how we have reached a decision and why we took the decision, and who took what position within our own meeting, it’s completely wrong. It will give an instrument to ruling party,” Karat said.