The key signs of good governance are transparency in the exercise of power and insistence on following rules and criteria – without being influenced by personal interests. Those who have observed the increasing secretiveness of Narendra Modi government, are prompted to conclude that the government does not believe in this principle.
The clandestine moves in Kashmir and the surreptitious methods used in the formation of government in Maharashtra were enough to lay bare a ruling leadership that is afraid of law and transparent norms. And news reports indicate that this secretiveness is touching alarming levels in an area that should be most transparent, i.e. management of government funds. BJP MP from Karnataka, Anant Hegde has alleged that, although it was certain that the Fadnavis government would not win a majority in Maharashtra, a cabinet was cobbled together under Fadnavis in haste as a deliberate drama. The intent of the move was to return the central government's grant of Rs 40k Cr to the Centre and thus deny the benefit of that fund to a non-BJP government. If this is true, it will turn out to be a conspiracy which the central home minister, state governor, the prime minister and even the President are party to. For that very reason, the ruling party will easily deny this 'revelation' by its own leader. Even then, there remains the fact that the BJP used these four constitutional officials to execute its own midnight operation.
Regardless of the truth or otherwise of what Hegde said, it bears out how narrow the ruling party's approach to the public treasury is. But this is not the only instance of the BJP channelising public funds in accordance with party interests. Discrimination was alleged in the allocation of central funds for Kerala to meet post-flood and post-drought situations. This is also discernible in the schemes and funds Kerala is entitled to. Now, since the implementation of Goods and Service Tax (GST), the upper hand gained by the Centre in sharing of GST revenue is also turning out to be against the state. The understanding that either 14 per cent of the increase from introduction of GST or compensation would be provided, is not being honoured. Reports say that Rs 1,600 Crore under this head is being held by the Centre. Nor can the unilateral reduction in share from the Centre and lowering of the ceiling of borrowing, be seen as conforming to rule-based and apolitical criteria.
The most recent example of the secretiveness, is in the electoral bonds controversy that has come to public attention now. It was claimed that the bond system, that was proposed in the 2017-18 budget and notified in January 2018, will remove corruption and ensure transparency in political funding. But what has become clear so far is that donations to election funds have become more opaque than before. Analysis of the funds show that the majority of the funds among the massive funds received by the ruling party are Rs 1 Cr bonds which means that most of the donors are big corporates. If so, then will it not amount to a bribe in return sfor pro-corporate policies? Until last October, electoral bonds sold amounted to Rs 6,128 Crore. A major share of this flow of funds, at an average of 10 Crore per day, has gone to the ruling party BJP. During 2017-18, 95 per cent of donations made through bonds, was received by the BJP. And the time allowed for parties to submit accounts of one year, will also compromise transparency.
A petition is pending with the Supreme Court asking to stop the system of electoral bonds. Now another petition has also been filed in the light of new facts that have emerged. The provision that the name of the party receiving the donations should be kept secret was explained by the government that it was at the request of the donors, but that is untrue. It is also incorrect to argue that nobody will know who the donors are. Because the transactions are conducted through State Bank of India, obviously- that bank and via that the Centre - can also know the identity of donors. Information has also come to light that the Reserve Bank and Election Commission had opposed this system, and that at one point the prime minister himself had illegally intervened. It is not a minor allegation that former finance minister Arun Jaitley and prime minister Modi misled many, including the parliament. The amendment of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) with an intent to facilitate receipt of political funding, endangers even national interests. This would open the doors for foreign corporates and such entities to influence the elections in this country. Altogether it is getting time for the judiciary and the people to be vigilant, to regain transparency and thereby purge administration.