The Print

Shedding light on the use of “money power” in elections, former chief election commissioner Navin Chawla on Thursday said electoral bonds had no transparency and should be “scrapped”.

Speaking at the inaugural day of the sixth Kerala Literature Festival here, Chawla, who oversaw the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, argued that electoral bonds, in principle, were not a “bad idea” but there must be transparency on “who is giving what”.

“Electoral bonds should be scrapped because nothing is transparent there. How can we live with something that is not transparent? There must be transparency as to who is giving what. The level playing field of the Model Code of Conduct only survives on transparency,” Chawla said during a session titled ‘Governance and Electoral Process — The South Asian Story’.

In January 2018, the Narendra Modi-led government launched the electoral bonds scheme for political parties to collect funds. The scheme had been announced in the 2017 Union Budget.

Registered political parties that have secured no less than 1% of the votes polled in the previous Lok Sabha or legislative assembly elections are eligible to receive funds through electoral bonds.

In 2017, the CPI(M) and NGOs Common Cause and Association for Democratic Reforms filed petitions in the Supreme Court challenging the scheme as “an obscure funding system which is unchecked by any authority”.

Last December, the apex court said it would consider a request to refer the petitions challenging the electoral bond scheme to a Constitution bench in January.

The 77-year-old Chawla, who didn’t mince his words and called out the Parliament for becoming “oligarchic”, said not a single party paid heed to the 36 reforms — all aimed at transparency — sent by the Election Commission of India over the past two decades and more.

He stressed on how money power in elections could not be discounted by citing the example of a Member of Parliament from a southern state who, Chawla claimed, spent “Rs 52 crore” against the Rs 70 lakhs allowed — hiked to Rs 95 lakh last year.

“I know the limit is Rs 70 lakhs but I spent Rs 52 crore and if you think I was the highest, I was not, so and so spent over Rs 70 crore,” said Chawla, quoting his conversation with the MP in question.

“So then where is our Model Code of Conduct, where are our rules? I will show something on the forms, the forms are accepted, and you are into the Parliament. And when you are in Parliament, what are you going to look after, me or you? “No, you look after your own interest. We have become oligarchic,” rued the author of the bestselling book “Every Vote Counts: The Story of India’s Elections”.

Billed as one of Asia’s biggest literature festivals, the Kerala Literature Festival is hosting an eclectic mix of literary and culture icons ranging from Nobel laureates, Booker Prize-winning writers, senior politicians to historians, film personalities, diplomats and artists.

The list of speakers include 2022 Booker Prize winner Shehan Karunatilaka, International Booker Prize winner Geetanjali Shree, renowned author Arundhati Roy, Nobel laureates Ada Yonath and Abhijit Banerjee, American Indologist Wendy Doniger, actor Kamal Haasan, and senior politician and writer Shashi Tharoor.

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