Premises of the Supreme Court in New Delhi, India Image Credit: Reuters file

India’s Supreme Court has just made every citizen proud and has shown by its actions what a fundamental change a Court can bring when it acts to protect transparency of political funding and citizen rights. The SC has ordered the State Bank of India (country’s largest bank) to make public the list of donors who bought opaque electoral bonds.

This came after a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India had ruled that the opaque electoral bond funding political parties was unconstitutional and directed the SBI to make public the list of donors and donations.

The SBI baulked as big-ticket political donors funding would showcase that the lion’s share of political funding went to one party. While we already know that nearly 90 per cent of electoral bonds were given to the ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), this would not just reveal how much but, more critically, who bought and gave them bonds.

Get exclusive content with Gulf News WhatsApp channel

The SBI tried many stalling tactics via their counsel, distinguished senior counsel Harish Salve. Knowing the slippery slope, the SBI did not argue for traditional banking secrecy but claimed that they needed time to assess the data. The time they sought would have made the highest Court’s orders infructuous as they wanted to release the list post the general elections.

The Supreme Court, determined to save its own credibility, got tough with the bank and read them the riot act, even a veiled threat of holding them in contempt and directed that the list had to be out in the public domain on March 12 by the close of business hours. The SC put the SBI on notice, virtually saying that they would not tolerate any delay or too-clever-by-half manoeuvres.

Read more by Swati Chaturvedi

Hallmark of functioning democracy

With this riot act, SC has endeared itself to every citizen by saying that political party funding cannot be an affair of sealed envelopes. The Court has intervened on the side of the public good and upheld the transparency that is the hallmark of a functioning democracy.

The opaque electoral bond was a travesty in democracy which was supposedly brought in to usher transparency but did the exact opposite. Consider this: the ruling party would also know who donated to the opposition as the SBI is controlled by the union government.

Said a senior Congress leader post the SC judgement, “the court has undone the most malicious legacy of the late Arun Jaitley who had introduced the scheme”. With the latest tranche in January, electoral bonds have collected ₹16,518 crore, government data shows.

The electoral bond notified in 2018 is actually a bearer instrument in the nature of a Promissory Note and an interest-free banking instrument.

BJP got the lion’s share of nearly 55 per cent of the funds till March 2023 while its rival the Congress party got a measly 9 per cent.

Till March 2023, the ruling party received ₹6,566.11 crores while the Congress got ₹1,123.29 crores. These mind-boggling sums are an indicator of how the funds amassed by political parties have skyrocketed. And, all this was going on till the SC called a halt to this distortion of political funding should happen.

The biggest takeaway from this salutary SC judgement is that democracy works when the judicial arm lives up to safeguard citizen interests with integrity.

All Indians will be delighted that our democracy maintains its checks and balances of all the pillars of democracy. Finally, don’t believe the constant lament that Indian democracy is in danger.

All institutions value it and the SC has just shown us how it works.