Political Donations : India Inc’s ‘Secrecy’ Demand Is Outrageous

Our frugal corporate corporate are loath to waste their money. Surely, it is cheaper to keep the recipient under wraps. What a politician doesn’t know can’t hurt him — or the company, either… Surely there is no need for politicians to know who the Tatas or the Birlas or the Ambanis bankrolled. And yes, this also means we the people won’t be any wiser…


india-inc-secrecy-demand-isIndia Inc is throwing a little hissy fit. The cause of the tantrum is the revised Companies Act whose Section 182(3) states: “Every company shall disclose in its profits and loss account any amount…contributed by it to any political party…giving particulars of the total amount contributed and the name of the party…”
Companies in other democracies, at least of the advanced kind, have long been fessing up to which party they bankroll, but their Bharatiya counterparts insist they should not be so unduly burdened. And the Confederation of Indian Industry has asked the Government to accordingly change the newly framed law. The reason for resistance, reports the Economic Times, is fear:
No company ET spoke to was willing to speak on record on the matter. But a number of private-sector veterans said naming the political party that receives company funds is a requirement that carries some risk in, as an executive put it, “a volatile democracy like ours”…
The earlier version of the companies law allowed corporates to name persons while disclosing political funding. Most companies, therefore, avoided naming a political party, a senior industry executive said, on the condition of anonymity. “Such a clause will put us in a discomfiting position vis a vis political parties,” this executive said.
It is an alarming prospect. It’s bad enough when one ends up betting on the wrong political horse — but far worse when the winning steed knows about it. Of course, Americans and such like address this very same problem by spreading the love. Give generously to both sides, and one will surely win. But our frugal corporate honchos are loath to waste their money. Surely, it is cheaper to keep the recipient under wraps. What a politician doesn’t know can’t hurt him — or the company, either.
In the Hindu Business Line, R Murlidharan makes an eloquent argument in favour of allowing due discretion. Noting India Inc’s longstanding aversion to white political donations — despite tax breaks — he writes:
In this fluid, troubled political milieu, corporates are wary of making their political leanings clear, both for the fear of reprisal by political forces that were either not in their favoured list, or ranked pretty low in the pecking order, as well as for the fear of giving grist to the gossip mills.
While both accounting standards as well as the company law rightly require disclosure of related party transactions… insistence on a company giving complete details of the recipients of political donations hardly serves any purpose. Which is why corporates seek the comfort of donating from out of black money in their possession, with the political parties winking knowingly.
In other words, if we want companies to cede the “comfort” of giving black money to politicians under the table, we should make it easy for them to keep their white money donations equally opaque. Surely there is no need for politicians to know who the Tatas or the Birlas or the Ambanis bankrolled. And yes, this also means we the people won’t be any wiser.
But neither Murlidharan or the CII even consider the aam janta’s right to information. Or the notion that good governance requires transparency, which in turn ensures accountability. In a democracy, every citizen has the right to know who gave how much money to which party. And that’s the very aim of encouraging legal political contributions, and prosecuting illegal ‘donations’ — or what the rest of us would call, ahem, bribes. If we are going to crack down on corruption in this country, we have to target both parties to the crime — not give one a free pass. Happily, not every India Inc titan is this clueless about basic democratic values. Mohandas Pai told ET, “CII is acting out of fear…I don’t agree with this view…industry should be proud of our democracy and disclose who we fund.” Amen. n
– Firstpost: Why India Inc’s ‘secrecy’ demand political donations is outrageous

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