Sonia Gandhi, Deve Gowda and I can unite Opposition, says Sharad Pawar

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar has proposed that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda and he — three senior leaders with “no ambition to become Prime Minister” — should come together to unite the Opposition, travel throughout the country, give confidence to the people, and provide a robust counter-narrative to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, reports the Hindustan Times.

Pawar has also, for the first time, opened the doors of the NCP-Congress alliance in Maharashtra to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and said that while he had not discussed the issue with BSP chief Mayawati, he would be ‘happy’ since this association will pay dividends.

In an interview to Hindustan Times, Pawar laid out a detailed roadmap for the Opposition for 2019. He compared the current political situation to 1975-77; argued that disillusionment has set in against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, like it had against Indira Gandhi; and suggested that the Opposition focus should be on state-wide alliances instead of a national alliance. Pawar called for the leadership question to be left for after the elections, and while urging the Congress to adopt a “rational approach” on state partnerships, said that he has felt over recent conversations that Rahul Gandhi has “substantially improved”.

Emphasising the parallels between the current political climate and the situation in 1975-77, when he was a minister in the Maharashtra government, Pawar said that like Indira Gandhi, Modi too had “control of media, government and government agencies”.

At that time too, he said, people were pointing to the lack of an alternative platform, organisation and leader to pose a genuine challenge.

“The difference is there was one leader – Jayaprakash Narayan. Political leaders and people were willing to accept his advice. And ultimately on his advice, most leaders forgot their parties.” Pawar said that it was eventually after the election that the Janata Party came together and Morarji Desai was elected the leader.

He added, “I honestly feel that there are some leaders, like Sonia Gandhi, (HD) Deve Gowda and, while I should not say it, myself also…we have no ambition to become Prime Minister. At least I am speaking for myself. But I have ambition to bring all these forces together and provide a viable alternative. For that, some of us – the names I have mentioned – can travel throughout India and give confidence to the people of India because today, there is no JP (Jayaprakash Narayan).”

The BJP did not comment on Pawar’s remarks.

Pawar said his assessment was it was not possible to bring all forces at the National level. “Is it possible at the state level? I am in close dialogue with various state leaders and my own assessment is yes.”

Pawar then laid out the architecture of the state-wide alliances, which would have to rest on other parties conceding space to Congress where it was the dominant force and Congress recognising its era of total dominance was over and giving space to regional parties in other places.

In Kerala, West Bengal and Delhi, he spoke of the Left, Trinamool Congress and Aam Aadmi Party respectively as the number one forces around which the Opposition should rally.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi had broadly agreed with him, claimed Pawar, praising Gandhi’s approach of not projecting any leader before elections as the “correct, sensible approach”.

“He (Rahul) said there are some states where it is difficult for my colleagues to accept or digest this situation, particularly Kerala and West Bengal. In Kerala, they feel our fight with the Left is equal. In West Bengal, the position is not like Kerala, but the overall thinking of the leadership of the Congress party about Mamata is such that it is difficult for them to accept her. He told me that it is difficult in these two-three states. I told him you are the leader, and it is your job to convince.”

Comparing Sonia and Rahul, the NCP chief said that even though he had fought with Sonia Gandhi, they shared an excellent equation, she tried to understand issues and gave respect to other leaders. “Rahul is also showing it. There is a definite improvement.”

Pawar also said that he had recently met Mayawati. “She has consolidated the position in UP with Samajwadi Party and others. But she expects other parties to take a rational approach in other states. She is totally for a change and she is ready to work hard.” When asked if he would be open to allying with her in Maharashtra, he replied, “I have not discussed it with her. I will be happy. Her association will pay dividends in Vidarbha region.”

Pawar categorically ruled himself out of the PM race. “Irrational thinking has no meaning in politics. There has to be rational thinking. My party will ultimately contest 30-35 seats throughout India. I may get 50 percent maximum. With that number, if anyone dreams of becoming PM of this country, he is quite away from reality.”

Milan Vaishnav, senior fellow and director of the South Asia programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: “Pawar’s assessment broadly strikes a chord with the mantra other opposition leaders have uttered: ‘localise, localise, localise.’ While the BJP pushes to nationalise and make 2019 about Modi, the best bet for the Opposition is to make this 543 unique elections. State-specific alliances avoid tricky pan-Indian questions about leadership that the opposition is in no place to answer right now.”

Vaishnav added that a big looming question is whether the Congress would be willing to take a backseat in electorally critical states. “Recent moves — Karnataka is a case in point — suggest it might be.”

Source: Hindustan Times

The Jio Institute Effect: Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Group to donate over Rs 1200 Cr to BJP in Electoral Bonds over one year, for Elections 2019

IndiaScoops.com Political Bureau | Mumbai | 11th July 2018: In a survey conducted by IndiaScoops.com, among political experts, political observers, journalists and representatives of political parties across India, it has come to light that the Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Group would donate or contribute an estimated Rs 1200 crore to the BJP coffers  via electoral bonds and in kind (or barter), in the coming 12 months in a run-up to Elections 2019.

IndiaScoops.com spoke to over 100 experts and knowledgeable sources nationwide to arrive at these estimated figures.

Not all this money will go directly in cash, about 60 per cent of it will be contributed in kind or barter. (airplanes, air tickets, vehicles, hotel stay, laptops, mobile phones, computers, etc.,)

prashant-bhushan
Senior counsel of the Supreme Court of India and RTI & PIL activist, Prashant Bhushan concurs with the figures arrived at by IndiaScoops.com, claiming that it is very likely that such amounts could be donated by the Reliance Group towards the BJP election expenses for 2019.

Several senior politicians from various parties across India, spoke to IndiaScoops.com off the record for this story.

Many politicians were unable to arrive at a definite figure. It is not possible to put a figure to the contribution of the Reliance Group to the BJP party as a majority of the contribution is in kind in terms of election hardware support. The cash contribution may be in the range of Rs 300 to Rs 500 crore. But the barter contribution cannot be estimated easily. This is never billed and is always written off as PR expenses. Hence, not even they (Mukesh Ambani) would have an exact figure of what amount was sponsored in kind, said a senior Congress politician from Delhi.

However, senior counsel (Supreme Court), activist and founder member of India Against Corruption, Prashant Bhushan was most evocative on the subject.  Prashant Bhushan supporting the above figure of Rs 1200 crore said:

Given the amount that the BJP government has enriched Reliance (both the brothers), through its policies and decisions, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ambani brothers give over a thousand crore to the BJP government through electoral bonds which is a non-transparent way of funding and giving kickbacks. Of course, large amounts running into thousands of crores could also be given in cash or in kind.

Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan was very clear that the Reliance Group, including both separate entities led by brothers Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani have received great largesse from the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre. “It will  not be surprising at all, if these companies contribute over a 1000 crore to the party’s election expenses. It is not difficult for such a large organisation to even make huge payments in cash over a period of time,” Bhushan elaborated.

IndiaScoops.com has learnt that in fact a substantial amount will be paid from the Reliance Group companies or associates abroad. This money would never come to the BJP directly, but would be used to fund election expenses from overseas. 

A senior AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) leader from Delhi who preferred to remain anonymous told IndiaScoops.com that Rs 1000 crore is just small change for the Ambani brothers put together. He said:

“I am surprised that you have arrived at this figure. I was expecting it to be in the range of Rs 1500-1700 crore at the least over a 12 month period, prior to election time,” he said, adding that given the huge defense contracts the Ambani firms have bagged without much prior experience in the defense sector, the ‘donation’ to the government could be even as high as Rs 2000 crore.”

According to media reports, data from the Finance Ministry, given in response to a Right to Information (RTI) request by BusinessLine, a total of 905 electoral bonds have been issued for a cumulative value of Rs 438.3 crore across three tranches. Data for the fourth phase of electoral bonds’ sale scheduled to be held from July 2 to July 11, 2018 is not known.

The Rs 1200-crore figure, though arrived at after a lot of research and after speaking to several knowledgeable sources, is at best speculative in nature, given the fact that no official information is available anywhere, and data submitted to the Election Commission of India, by political parties is grossly incorrect.

Reliance Group spokespersons refused to speak to IndiaScoops.com on the subject and the Rs 1200 cr figure remains at best estimated or speculative – it could be far more, but at any cost is not likely to be any lesser, which means these are minimum or conservative figures, never-the-less, it is an indicator for the common man of the kind of funding the BJP party is likely to receive over the next one year from corporates alone.

Other political parties put together won’t even get a 10th of the amount from the Reliance Group, our research indicates.

According to an Economic Times report dated 17th March 2018, in the first issue of Electoral Bonds, Rs 222 crore of bonds were bought to make donations to political parties. The issue opened for subscription for 10 days on March 1.

Since these transactions by nature are almost anonymous it is impossible to detect who purchased these bonds, and more so who are the ultimate beneficiaries of the Rs 222 crore. However, political experts and knowledgeable sources claim that the Reliance Group through its subsidiaries purchased almost Rs 250 crore of Electoral Bonds in the last three issues from March to June and almost Rs 150 crore was purchased in the first tranche in March 2018. This purchase would also give the company a proportionate tax exemption for the previous financial year as the purchase and donation would be shown in the books of accounts of the previous financial year.

According to an India Today report dated 21st June 2018, the much hyped Modi Government’s electoral funding reform is skewed, to cash-starve the opposition parties, particularly the Congress and smaller regional parties. Out of a total of 11 centers for sale of electoral bonds, to donate funds to the political parties, seven are in states with BJP Governments. Six out of seven new centers opened in April are in BJP ruled states, reports India Today.

The Bengaluru center opened in April issued bonds worth Rs 38 crores just ahead of the Karnataka assembly polls. The Congress party had hit out at the Modi government and alleged that the BJP opened centers in state captials where the BJP is in power and ignored cities like Hyderabad & Patna. Under the new scheme, name of the beneficiary party cannot be made public, reports India Today.

Banks Refuse to Disclose Buyer Details   

In response to RTI queries, the State Bank of India has refused to disclose details of buyers of the electoral bonds, political parties which have redeemed these and the bank’s reports sent to the government on their sales, calling it personal information held by it in fiduciary capacity exempted from disclosure, an RTI response showed, claims a PTI report dated 28th June 2018.

The details provided by the bank shows that in March 2018, it sold bonds worth over Rs 222 crore, while in April the number dipped to Rs 114.9 crore.

Mumbai saw the most enthusiasm among donors to purchase electoral bonds says the PTI report, with Rs 122 crore of bonds being sold from the SBI’s main branch in the maximum city. In April the sales stood at Rs 53 crore, it said.

Activist Venkatesh Nayak, who filed the RTI application, contested the response of the SBI stating that denial of information about buyers of electoral bonds and receiving political parties is “patently erroneous”.

“The CPIO is treating both the buyers of EBs (electoral bonds) and the political parties as being in a ‘fiduciary relationship’ with SBI! This is in complete violation of the master circular issued by the Reserve Bank of India regarding the basis of customer confidentiality. Para #25 of the July 2015 Master Circular,” he said.

“The amount collected from the sale of Electoral Bonds under the first issue of the scheme is Rs 222 crore as on March 9, 2018,” minister of state for finance P Radhakrishnan had said in a written reply in the Lok Sabha.

Criticizing the move, senior advocate Prashant Bhushan had said “Instead of introducing a cashless system in electoral funding to track donations and expenditure, the Centre has done the exact opposite,” Bhushan said at a programme on “Political Corruption and Dangers to Democracy”, organised by Swaraj Abhiyan and Jana Sangrama Parishat, as reported by the Economic Times on 26th March 2018. Bhushan claims the system of Electoral Bonds only adds to corruption and benefits only one political party – the BJP.

What the experts say?

Former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi spoke out against electoral bonds, warning they would lead to capitalists running the country.

“I used to say that any reform is a good reform. But, I have my reservations about it now. One reform which was done recently is very, very destructive. Electoral bonds have been introduced….Crores of rupees paid by companies: you will not get to know who has given money to whom. Now, that is not transparency,” Quraishi was quoted by The Hindu in a report dated 3rd July 2018.

According to an India Today report dated 21st June 2018, RTI information for the first three months show that maximum funds came from Mumbai (Rs 213 Cr), the commercial capital of the country where most corporates are based. Among the other top donor cities are- Delhi (Rs 73.6 Cr), Kolkata (Rs 70.0 Cr), Bengaluru (Rs 51.8 Cr), Chennai (Rs 18.0 Cr) and Gandhinagar (Rs 12.0 Cr). Out of Rs 51.8 Crores, Bengaluru got Rs 38.9 Cr in the month of May during Assembly polls. Among the seven centers introduced in phase three, bonds were purchased only in Bengaluru and Gandhinagar. Not a single bond was purchased in five other state capitals ruled by the BJP so far. To en-cash the tax benefits a total of 520 electoral bonds worth Rs 222 crore in value were sold in March alone. In April, only 256 bonds of Rs 114.9 crore in value were sold while in May only 204 bonds worth Rs 101.4 crore were sold.

During 2016-17, the BJP alone received Rs 290.22 crore or 89.22 per cent of the total donations to political parties from Electoral Trusts formed to facilitate donations to political parties says the India Today report. To which political party funds donated through electoral bonds went to, will now be a closely guarded secret and the information is not available through RTI.

Electoral bonds increase anonymity and do not enhance transparency in any manner, there is another equally important issue of unbridled government control over the selection of cities where the bonds would be available for purchase claims a post in Factly.in.

Since the electoral bonds have to be purchased/collected by physically visiting the designated SBI bank branch, it is highly impossible for someone in the states of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir and Goa to purchase the electoral bonds since no SBI branch is authorized to sell electoral bonds in these states. In other words, citizens & other entities in these 11 states are being kept out of this scheme. It has to be noted that regional parties are ruling some of these states and they are at a great disadvantage, claims a post in Factly.in.

Violation of the scheme guidelines

When the scheme was notified in January this year, the guidelines mentioned that the bonds would be available for purchase for 10 days each in the months of January, April , July & October. But in 2018, the bonds were available for purchase for 10 days each in the months of March, April, May and July. The months of March & May were not mentioned in the original notification. Though the central government can specify an additional period of 30 days, that can be done only in the year when the Lok Sabha elections are due i.e., 2019 and not in the current year (2018), claims a post in Factly.in.

‘Software updation’ – the reason for not extending this to other cities

In response to an RTI application that sought the reasons for not extending the electoral bonds to SBI branches in the rest of the states, the Department of Economic Affairs, Government of India mentioned ‘Software Updation/Modification’ as the reason for not extending the scheme to all the cities claims a report in Factly.in.

There are two basic questions that remain unanswered in this age of technology. Why would updation/modification of software take so many months and why is updation/modification of software city specific?

Such flimsy reasons give credence to the belief that the Central government is intentionally keeping certain states/cities out of the scheme, claims Factly.in.

What are Electoral Bonds?

An electoral bond is designed to be a bearer instrument like a Promissory Note — in effect, it will be similar to a bank note that is payable to the bearer on demand and free of interest. It can be purchased by any citizen of India or a body incorporated in India, says The Hindu.

How do you use it?

The bonds will be issued in multiples of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000,  Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh and  Rs 1 crore and will be available at specified branches of State Bank of India. They can be bought by the donor with a KYC- compliant account. Donors can donate the bonds to their party of choice which can then be cashed in via the party’s verified account within 15 days.

What are the other conditions?

Every party that is registered under section 29A of the Representation of the
Peoples Act, 1951 (43 of 1951) and has secured at least one per cent of the votes polled in the most recent Lok Sabha or State election will be allotted a verified account by the Election Commission of India. Electoral bond transactions can be made only via this account.

The bonds will be available for purchase for a period of 10 days each in the beginning of every quarter, i.e. in January, April, July and October as specified by the Central Government. An additional period of 30 days shall be specified by the Central Government in the year of Lok Sabha elections.

As explained by finance minister Arun Jaitley, the electoral bonds will not bear the name of the donor. In essence, the donor and the party details will be available with the bank, but the political party might not be aware of who the donor is. The intention is to ensure that all the donations made to a party will be accounted for in the balance sheets without exposing the donor details to the public.

According to a report in Live Mint/PTI, dated 6th February 2018, there is no
plan as yet to make Aadhaar mandatory for donors under the electoral bonds scheme, which is aimed at cleansing the system of political funding, the government has informed the Lok Sabha. The government had notified the scheme on 2 January.

“There is no proposal currently to make the use of Aadhaar” mandatory under the scheme, Jaitley had said in a written reply in the Lok Sabha on 2 February 2018.

Will Electoral Bonds be tax deductible?

During the Budget presentation in February 2017, the Finance Minister had proposed that the maximum amount of cash donation that a political party can receive be capped at ?2,000 and that parties be entitled to receive donations by cheque or digital mode, in addition to electoral bonds.

In a press conference that followed, he had added that donations would be tax deductible. “A donor will get a deduction and the recipient, or the political party, will get tax exemption, provided returns are filed by the political party,” said Jaitley.

(This post is the first part of a 2-article series. The second post will be published next week)

Editor’s Note: This is a developing story. This post will be updated as inputs come in. Many people whom IndiaScoops.com spoke to are yet to revert to us with their feedback. You can send us your feedback and inputs on indiascoops AT gmail.com. We welcome suggestions and data from members of the public. We regret that we cannot individually reply to your emails or queries.

Elections 2019: In a run up to polls, BJP to spend over Rs 12,000 crore on Social Media, Ads and Digital PR in the next 12 months

BY PRANAV GHOSH | Mumbai | 26th May 2018: According to informed sources, media planners, social media experts, advertising industry professionals and election strategists, the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will spend over Rs 12,000 crore in the next 12 months in a massive build-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

IndiaScoops.com spoke to nearly 150 experts from various fields in India and abroad to arrive at these figures and the real picture is still more shocking. Of this figure, 50 per cent of the above amount of Rs 12,000 crore will be spent 3-4 months before the elections.

About 60 per cent of the total amount, or Rs 8000 crore is expected to be in black money or will be spent indirectly – not by the party – but by its well-wishers, party supporters and sympathizers and industrialists close to the BJP in a proxy digital war that has almost begun on social media.

Experts claim that about Rs 4-5000 crore will be paid abroad, from party supporters in the US, UK and Europe, but online campaigns will be directed at audiences and viewers in India.

A pro-BJP group in the US is creating about 500 new Facebook pages, 1000 Twitter accounts and about a 200-odd “news” websites, to peddle BJP  fare and propaganda to the masses which will targeted and directed at Indian viewers. Another similar group based in Canada is working in the same direction.

The BJP and its arms will employ about 7 lakh professionals pan-India to run its online campaigns, social media promotions and other related work like online poster and artwork design, etc., over the next 12 months. In the two months prior to the election, at least 10 lakh professionals will be employed full-time all over India in a massive digital war. An additional 20 lakh free-lancers and party workers will support this 7 lakh-plus digital army throughout the year.

Also Read: BJP hires more than 5000 IT professionals for final Karnataka Election salvo

2014 Figures

According to an article published in the Hindustan Times dated 20th April 2014, Media buyers and sources close to the BJP’s campaign said the party could end up spending about Rs 5,000 crore by May 12,2014, when the last phase of polling takes place. Sam Balsara, chairman and managing director, Madison World, which is handling the BJP’s media planning, refused to say anything beyond “we are moving as per the approved plan”. This was in 2014, when the Modi wave was at its peak. This time in 2019, the BJP is much richer, much stronger and more desperate to win and will go all out to ensure a resounding majority like it got in 2014.

But a veteran media planner, who is working closely with the BJP, told HT on condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media: “Planned spends on all media, including print, television, outdoor, internet and radio would be close to Rs 4,500 crore. The party has set aside an additional Rs 500 crore, which will be used, based on need, to beef up the campaign in critical constituencies and states in the last few days of campaigning.” This is on record and the figures quoted are from industry experts. It does not include the local spend by MPs and their supporters as well as third party sympathizers and “well-wishers”.

According to an article in The Hindu dated 19th April 2014, Anand Sharma, former Union Commerce Minister in UPA 2,  was quoted as saying, “The use of money and resources by the BJP in these elections is unprecedented. At least Rs. 10,000 crore is being spent by the party to project only one person.

On TV, the BJP bought about 2,000 spots a day across Hindi, English and regional news, general entertainment and sports channels. A spot in most popular entertainment channels cost about Rs 80,000 per 30 seconds. The budget: Rs 800-1,000 crore. It spent another Rs 150 crore during the T20 World Cup. The online and radio budget is about Rs 35 crore, the same HT article dated 20th April 2014 had claimed. Asked to comment on its ad budget, a senior BJP leader said, “The expenditure would be about Rs 700-750 crore.”

“The BJP’s spending is at least four times that of the Congress,” said Santosh Sood, former COO, Rediffusion Y&R, a media buying agency. This time in 2019, it is expected to be 6 to 8 times that of the Congress, senior politicians claim.

Government & Election Commission Spending in 2014

According to a PTI report dated 16th March 2014, the projected expenditure to elect the 16th Lok Sabha is set to rival the USD seven billion (approximately Rs. 42,000 crore) spent by candidates and parties in the 2012 US presidential elections.

A study carried out by Centre for Media Studies on poll spendings says “unaccounted for” money pumped in by “crorepati” candidates, corporates and contractors has pushed up the expenditure to elect 543 MPs.

Out of the estimated Rs. 30,000 crore, the exchequer will spend Rs. 7000 to Rs. 8000 crore to hold the electoral exercise for the 16th Lok Sabha.

While the Election Commission is likely to spend around Rs. 3,500 crore, the Union Home Ministry, Indian Railways, various other government agencies and state governments will spend a similar amount to put in place means to ensure free and fair poll. In 2019, the figure is likely to go up by at least 25 per cent.

According to an article in FirstPost dated 5th March 2014,  BJP and Congress are planning to spend Rs 400-500 crore on an ad blitz, and the parties organisations could end up spending another Rs 500-1,000  crore for other forms of campaign-related expenses – banners, hoardings, organisation of public meetings, transport of key campaigners by helicopter or chartered flights, etc. Assuming the smaller regional parties together spend as much as the Congress and BJP put together, we are talking of total party spends in the region of Rs 2,000-4,000 crore.

Add the candidate spends,  and general election 2014 will cost anywhere from Rs 10,145 crore to Rs 17,000 crore for the parties. Add the Election Commission’s own expenses and the cost of deploying forces to ensure a free and fair poll, we should be looking at a total democracy cost of anywhere from Rs 11,000-18,000. In 2019, experts estimate the total expenses of Lok Sabha 2019 to be in the range of Rs 30,000 crore.

Modi Govt Ad Spend in 3.5 Years

The Modi government spent a whopping Rs 3,755 crore on its publicity in three-and-a-half years till October this year, a reply to an RTI query has revealed recently.

The expenditure on advertisements from April 2014 to October 2017 on electronic and print media and outdoor publicity is Rs 37,54,06,23,616, according to the reply given by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. Again these are official figures. The unofficial figures including monies spent by well-wishers and party friends is almost double this amount.