Tuesday, February 3, 2015

AAP donor scam: Isn’t BJP’s Rs 950 cr from unknown sources more immoral?

The allegations of financial misdemeanor against  AAP by the BJP, partly hiding behind an eponymous vigilante group, unequivocally exposes the national party’s anxiety over its fate in Delhi and its own immorality when it comes to political donations.

The BJP backed up the charges by AAP Volunteer Action Manch (AVAM), a curiously named group that broke away from the AAP, that the latter had received Rs two crore from bogus companies. Their charge is that AAP has received Rs 50 lakh each from four companies that were non-existent and the party was in fact indulging in money laundering. BJP leaders, including its neo-convert Shazia Ilmi, called it a “Hawala at midnight” because the AAP website showed the transactions materialising at midnight, and alleged that shell companies were routing black money to AAP.

What the BJP, however, didn’t mention was that the details came from the AAP itself because the party has an open system of listing of its donations on its website. The company names and moneys were posted on its website. The companies may be bogus, there may be motives behind their donations, but can AAP be held responsible for that? How can it be read as the AAP laundering money?

Regarding donations, AAP had made this point clear even earlier when questions were raised that a lot of money came from offshore donors. The party had put in the best possible safeguards: donations all in white - cheques/drafts, debit/credit cards and bank transfers - and overseas contributors ought to be Indian citizens. Perhaps what the party hasn’t given a thought is what if some sources of funds turn out to be dubious. At least its FAQ on funding  doesn’t deal with that.

At the present scale of donations, there cannot be a technical solution, until the process is made more elaborate, to verify the bonafides of the sources of funds. Physically verifying every donor is impossible, and in the wake of the AVAM allegations, the AAP could ask for more documentation before talking big moneys. The only option under current circumstances is to be transparent about who donates and how much, which the AAP is doing anyway.

The BJP’s glee, at the charges against AAP, hides its anxieties because in Delhi Narendra Modi appeared to have lost his tallness in front of Arvind Kejriwal. The magic and aura of a conqueror riding a countrywide juggernaut have suddenly disappeared and Kejriwal is standing up to him without any sign of intimidation. The BJP tried to localise the fight and cleverly converted it into an AAP Vs AAP battle by bringing in ex-camper Kiran Bedi, but it became too one-sided. Now the pre-poll surveys endorse what is apparent in Delhi - that AAP Is going to win hands-down. The last ditch option for the BJP is to defame its opponent.

While defaming the AAP, with the help of AVAM, what BJP - and the Congress too - betrays is its own immorality regarding money. About 75 percent of its funds come from unknown sources. Between 2004-5 and 2011, the BJP had received Rs 952.5 crore from unknown sources. Of course, the Congress was the king of this kind of money - Rs 1,951 crore.

The party that makes a virtue of the charges against the AAP of money laundering because some funds, as stated by the AAP itself, came from dubious sources, should also say that it doesn’t know the source of three-fourth of its donations. Obviously, nobody can vouch for their bonafides.
The catch is a Rs 20,000-bar. In any contribution that is less than Rs 20,000, the source doesn’t need to be disclosed. Consequently, most of the receipts of Indian political parties, including the BJP, fall into this category. One could easily assume that millions could be broken down into multiples of Rs 20,000 and routed to political parties, including the BJP. Does one ever know if it was a few millions or a few thousands and the motives were future policy pay-backs?

The BJP, or the Congress for that matter, before raising its fingers should volunteer for more transparency. If it’s really serious about not taking tainted money, black money, advance kickbacks from corporates, or money from criminals, it should ensure what the AAP has done - make it mandatory to have the sources identified and publicise it, even if the donations are less than Rs 20,000.

In the present case of dubious money reaching the AAP, there are two possibilities - one, somebody genuinely wanted to contribute (possibly bad money) and hence sent it through bogus companies; two, somebody, on one’s own or at the instance of somebody else, wanted to defame the AAP and hence sent money from bogus sources. The needle of suspicion should be on the BJP because it’s the immediate political beneficiary. However, what needs to be noted is that, even if it led to defamation, the world came to know only because the AAP has made it public. And the party doesn’t have any problem in the government investigating its source of funds. If the sources are bad, the government can prosecute the sources.

The real question is not about a couple of crore rupees that AAP has received, but the hundreds of crores that the BJP and the Congress receive from unknown sources. Will the BJP, or the Congress, have the moral courage to at least copy the AAP template on donations? Till then, there is no point speaking down from the pulpit.