Implications of foreign funds received by Congress and BJP

Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee and CNS Columnist 
In the context of movement against the Kudankulum nuclear power plant the PM had himself directly accused the movement of receiving foreign funds implying thereby that there were some foreign powers who were not interested in seeing development in India and therefore sponsored anti-development movements. Realty was that the office of the movement was being run from a Church. But most fisherfolk who formed the base of movement were Christians and it was quite natural for them that a movement to protect their interest should be run from their Church. Funds for the movement were collected from people.

The movement had not used the Church funds as was insinuated by the PM. Again the bank accounts of a Delhi based organization INSAF were seized as the Home Ministry accused the organization of indulging in anti-national activities. The organisation has taken a sympathetic position with respect to the tribal movements asserting people's rights over their natural resources. The President of the organisation is Dayamani Barla, a tribal activist accused of being a Maoist and put in jail in Ranchi for some time, now contesting as a Aam Aadmi Party candidate from Jharkhand (which itself proves that she is not a Maoist as the Maoists have given a call to boycott the elections).

Now we learn from a Delhi High Court judgement on a PIL filed by retired IAS officer E.A.S. Sarma and an organisation relentlessly working for electoral reforms Association for Democratic Reforms, that Congress and BJP have been illegally receiving donations from foreign companies. They have violated the Representation of People Act, 1951 and the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 1976. The HC has asked the Home Ministry and Election Commission to take action within six months. How do we expect the Home Minister belonging loyal to Congress party (or BJP if it comes to power after the ongoing elections) to take an action against his own party? Election Commission can of course take a strict action if it chooses to do so. But HC itself could have passed a judgement punishing the parties or at least putting some kind of temporary restrictions on them until they were cleared in an enquiry. Giving them six months will allow them to contest the ongoing Lok Sabha elections without any problems and also form the government if they are in a position to do so.

Most donations to the two biggest national parties have been given by UK based Vedanta or its associates. Between 2003-4 and 2011-12 Vedanta and its subsidiaries gave Rs. 8,78,50,000 to INC and Rs. 19,41,50,000 to BJP. Now, Vedanta has mining interests in this country and by making donations to both parties it is obviously preparing the ground for smooth allocation of mining contracts to its subsidiaries. The mining proposals are so destructive that the Supreme Court allowed a tribal community last year to determine whether they would permit Vedanta to mine bauxite from Niyamgiri hills in Orissa, which would be a cultural interference in the lives of tribals. 12 tribal villages rejected the proposal. But it doesn’t happen like this everywhere. Or for example, Dow Chemicals has made a donation of Rs. 1,00,000 to BJP. Dow took over Union Cabide, guilty of Bhopal Gas tragedy. The victims of tragedy are still fighting for fair compensation. The toxic waste still needs to cleaned up. By bribing BJP, which is in power in Madhya Pradesh for third consecutive term, the company ensures that no strict action will be taken against it. Earlier the Congress, during whose regime the accident took place, had allowed the CEO of Union Carbide to escape from India immediately after the accident when he faced the possibility of an arrest. Thus both parties are guilty of compromising the interests of people. It is interesting that the aggressively 'nationalist' BJP, which also used to claim at one point that it was a party with a difference, has received donations from Vedanta more than double the amount received by Congress and it has also not felt shy of receiving donation from tainted Dow which has clearly indulged in anti-national act.

What the political parties are doing by accepting donations from foreign companies is nothing short of treason. Sedition case must be filed against them and the amount they have received illegally must be recovered from them immediately. They should even be banned from contesting elections for the next six years. This would also give opportunity to some fresh parties and alliances to run the country.

However, nothing like this is going to happen. It is one of the two parties which will lead the next government. Why will they take action against themselves? But the Election Commission or Supreme Court must do something about preventing the parties from receiving big donations from companies – international or national. Otherwise our politicians, elected as people’s representatives, would continue to serve corporate interests. Currently Narendra Modi is using Adani helicopters during campaigns for Lok Sabha elections. In case he wins and head the next government wouldn’t Adani seek undue favours from him? This politician-corporate nexus culture is a threat to democracy and must be prevented from operating.

So long as political parties would be allowed to receive donations from private corporations our democracy will be hijacked by them. It'll never be a pro-people system. We would be under the illusion that we are electing people's representatives but in reality they would be the representative of some or several corporate house(s).

It is also time to think whether state funding of elections would clean our elections of this corrupt money. State funding would also put different parties on more equal footing. We must find a way of removing corporate influence from our political system.

Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee and CNS Columnist 
24 April 2014
(The author is a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee and a senior social activist. He is the Vice President of Socialist Party (India) and member, National Presidium, Lok Rajniti Manch. He has led National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and is a former faculty of IIT Kanpur. Presently he is a faculty at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) BHU. He did his PhD from University of California, Berkeley and is a visiting faculty for a number of US Universities and IITs in India. Email: ashaashram@yahoo.com)

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