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Saturday, Dec 03, 2022
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Opinion

AAP’s Political Donations, Truth Or Dare?

Truth be told, BJP is the guiltiest in conducting the most expensive elections during the past two years.

AAP’s Political Donations, Truth Or Dare?
AAP’s Political Donations, Truth Or Dare?
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

In the face of belligerent and accusatory if not adversarial questioning by BJP spokesmen and the media, Aam Aadmi Party seemed to have been pushed on the backfoot while defending donations it received from four companies which apparently do not exist. Pleas by AAP spokesmen that its funding is more transparent than others, that it had listed the companies on its own website and that it would not have done so if it knew that the companies were allegedly 'fake' cut little ice with aggressive BJP leaders.

Union minister Nirmala Seetharaman even called AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal a "thief". Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also jumped into the fray to declare that AAP had been caught "red handed" while accepting dubious donations.

But before one starts berating AAP, a few basic questions need to be answered. First, how were these fake companies given registration by the competent authority and when? Second, how these companies continue to figure on the website of the ministry of company affairs if they do not operate? And finally, how did these so-called fake companies open and operate bank accounts from which four cheques of Rs 50 lakhs each were issued in favour of AAP?

By all accounts the cheques did not bounce and the banks seem to have credited the amounts and sent SMS alerts at ‘midnight’ which were pounced upon by Shazia Ilmi to tartly speak of 'Midnight Hawalas' or 'Midnight Ghoatalas'.

If the companies were indeed shell companies then neither the union government nor the banks can escape their responsibility. Arvind Kejriwal appears to be making a perfectly reasonable demand when he says that the government ought to get the issue investigated by the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate, Revenue Intelligence, Ministry of Corporate Affairs and any such body that it thinks fit. But to that Seetharaman’s retort has been that a thief cannot decide who would investigate the theft.

The trouble is that the Government or the BJP does not appear serious enough to investigate the matter. There is little doubt that these companies operated from modest dwellings and under fake identities as some TV channels have sought to demonstrate on screen. But strangely no attempt was made to track down the people who were paying the rent for these 'office space'. Nor did any TV channel think it worth to approach the concerned bank or banks and find out when the accounts were opened, who introduced them and what kind of transactions have been taking place.

It would be stretching the imagination to think that AAP first helped businessmen to create shell companies and then accepted 'donations' by cheque to legitimise the operation. However, it does seem odd that the party would not be curious to know the identity of such generous donors and would be completely in the dark -- unless the cheques arrived by post.

It is also possible that wealthy donors to AAP would like to keep their identity as much of a secret as possible. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi attacking Kejriwal as an anarchist, a Naxalite and worse, it would be a brave businessman indeed who would openly donate such large sums to AAP. It is not entirely impossible, therefore, to visualise some such people taking the precaution of hedging their donation. After all shell companies are not exactly unknown in this country, as BJP leader Nitin Gadkari would surely vouch for. Wasn’t Gadkari accused of propping up his drivers and other minions as directors of shell companies that he promoted?

It does seem improbable that big business would like to have anything to do with AAP, which revels in rubbing them the wrong way. But anyone in a position to donate Rs 50 lakh is unlikely to be without an agenda. That is why it is easier to smell a conspiracy and imagine a situation in which the donors all along wanted to embarrass AAP by making the revelation at the right time. In this scenario too the donors would have taken precautions to cover their tracks and it is doubtful if we would ever get to know the real identity of the donors.

But the government can certainly act on two fronts. One, it can crack down on the banks and the Company Law Board for registering spurious companies and allowing them to operate accounts in banks. It should not take very long for the government to trace the sources of the money put in the accounts and nab the people involved in the operation. If this does not happen before the Delhi election, as AAP clearly apprehends, then it would fuel the suspicion that the government itself had something to do with the operation.

The other front on which the government can act is to make political funding more transparent. While AAP does make the valid point that neither the BJP nor the Congress have so far agreed to subject funding of political parties to the Right to Information ( RTI) Act, more far-reaching changes need to be debated in public. To cite just one possibility, only five per cent of the population or less pay Income Tax. But one per cent of the Income Tax collected could amount to as much as Rs 1,500 crore, which can be paid to political parties of the tax payer’s choice.

But even more important is to put curbs on spending by political parties. BJP is clearly the guiltiest in conducting the most expensive elections during the last two years. And there are reasons to believe that even in the current Delhi election, it is far ahead of others in spending money. Media reports speak of the party putting up over 300 hoardings in Delhi, each said to cost around Rs 15 lakh for a fortnight. It is slightly amusing, therefore, to find BJP leaders frothing in the mouth like bulls in a china shop and gleefully charging at AAP for accepting, by cheque, a measly Rs 2 crore.

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