New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wanted the government to do away with serial numbers in electoral bonds to assure greater anonymity to donors under the controversial scheme.
In 2017, when the Modi government sought the opinion of different political parties on the scheme, the BJP said it did not want any marker that might be used to identify a donor.
“While it has been assured that the banks issuing electoral bonds will not disclose the identity of the contributors, we would recommend that the electoral bonds should be issued without any serial number or identification marks that can be used later on to identify the contributor,” BJP general secretary Bhupendra Yadav wrote in a letter dated 27 August 2017.
The letter was accessed by activist Lokesh Batra through the Right to Information Act.
The government, however, retained the feature as it launched the electoral bonds scheme for political funding the same year.
This particular provision of the scheme was also highlighted by other political parties, which expressed concern that the government bank issuing the bonds, the SBI, would know the identity of the donor.
By extension, they argued, the government and the ruling party would know the identity of donors and who they have donated money to, while the opposition parties and the voters remained clueless.
However, according to the administration, the serial number is invisible to the naked eye and only meant to prevent counterfeiting. It is not accessible to either the bank or the government, it has said.
Focus on anonymity
The fact that the electoral bonds scheme prioritises anonymity has been one of its more controversial aspects.
However, in the letter, the BJP threw its weight behind the focus on anonymity, describing confidentiality about donor identity as a “key concern”.
“Many companies have been unable to join the political funding process because of the fear of disclosure of their identities if they made payment by way of cheques or demand drafts,” Yadav had said in the letter.
“It is reported that some companies feared facing reprisals that were influenced by political parties — whether in or out of power,” he added.
Additionally, the BJP also wanted a provision barring bond purchases in cash. “We believe that the new electoral bond scheme should only allow funding by donors who have cleared KYC [know your customer] checks proposed on their purchase, and payment should be made only by account payee cheques or by electronic clearing systems or digital systems,” Yadav said.
The party also wanted a provision that would absolve political parties of any wrongdoing if the donor is a foreign source. The scheme only allows participation by Indian citizens or corporate entities registered in India.
“Political party should not be responsible to ensure that the donor is not a foreign source, since they will not have the identity of the donor,” Yadav said. “This responsibility of checking the foreign source should be on the bank issuing the bonds.”
The BJP also wanted the window for encashing the bonds to be 50-60 days. A bond beneficiary can only encash them within 15 days of issuance.