Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday claimed that the Bharatiya Janata Party is being “large hearted” by making changes to laws that will allow companies to give any amount of funds to political parties without having to make any disclosures. Taking part in the Finance Bill discussion in the Rajya Sabha, Jaitley said that the changes, which would only include transparency “to some extent”, could easily be used by other political parties to get anonymous funding.

“The arrangement would also have some advantages coming to those parties which are not in power, because the consequences of disclosure of identity which the donor has been worried about would not be there in this agreement,” Jaitley said in the Rajya Sabha. “The ruling party has to be really large-hearted to frame such a scheme.”

Jaitley was responding to criticism of changes introduced in the Finance Bill, which he claimed would improve transparency in electoral funding. Put simply, Jaitley introduced last-minute amendments to the Finance Bill, a piece of legislation that lists out the government’s taxation schemes, which would

  • Remove an existing cap that did not allow companies to donate more than 7.5% of their profits to political parties.
  • Remove a requirement that companies need to disclose which political party it is donating its money to.

These two last-minute amendments came after the original Finance Bill draft also introduced the concept of electoral bonds, anonymous monetary instruments on sale at banks that will allow anyone to donate money to political parties.

While Jaitley’s amendments attempt to push electoral funding into “white money” spaces, by encouraging people to use cheques or electoral bonds, it also makes it easier for corporate sources to anonymously donate any amount of money to political parties. In effect, Jaitley would like to encourage white money, but has no problem with special corporate interests funding political parties with no disclosure.

Anonymous donors

When Congress Member of Parliament Kapil Sibal said he was concerned that this lack of transparency would inevitably mean more funds going to the party currently in power, Jaitley argued instead that the anonymity would actually help parties other than the BJP.

“Donors have been conventionally been reluctant to use cheque, for reasons of disclosure of identity,” Jaitley said. “The idea is that the constituency of donors should be expanded.”

Jaitley claimed the BJP should be lauded for allowing large, anonymous corporate donations because it would aid other parties as well and specifically called on the Congress party to come on board.

Despite their rivalry, this wouldn’t be that unexpected: In 2016, the Congress did not object to an amendment introduced with the Finance Bill that allowed political parties to get foreign funds. The change, which was retrospective, also meant that both the Congress and BJP would no longer be guilty of violating rules, since they had been hauled up by courts for accepting foreign funds.

Surprisingly, the Congress took issue with the provision in the 2017 Finance Bill, but only in the Rajya Sabha – where opposition is only symbolic, since the bill need only be passed by the Lok Sabha, where it sailed through last week.