Ranjona Banerji: Will anyone take HuffPost’s stunning expose on election funding controversies any further?

19 Nov,2019

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The Huffington Post carries an expose by Nitin Sethi into the controversial “election bonds” introduced as a method of election funding, by the 2014-2019 BJP-led government. Sethi’s investigation shows that the idea was run past the RBI, which found several red flags, all of which were taken down by the then Union Finance Minister, the late Arun Jaitley.

The two-part series, alleging serious financial finagling to get more anonymous funding, is based on government documents and intra-governmental memos:

https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/rbi-warned-electoral-bonds-arun-jaitley-black-money-modi-government_in_5dcbde68e4b0d43931ccd200

https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/electoral-bonds-narendra-modi-election-commission-opposition-arun-jaitley_in_5dce3cd1e4b01f982eff5c62?ncid=other_trending_qeesnbnu0l8&utm_campaign=trending

The Huffington Post investigation makes clear the manner in which the BJP government pushed through its opaque funding scheme, in spite of all misgivings by the RBI and others, is a clear pointer to how corruption has been given a chance to flourish.

In any normal country, this would have created a huge public storm. But as we know by now, any information which puts either Narendra Modi or his government in even a mildly bad light is lightly touched upon and then ignored. The faeces may fester in a corner, but we collectively pretend it isn’t there and we can’t smell it.

We saw that happening with the Hindu’s expose on serious irregularities in the Rafale deal, also based on government documents. The Supreme Court provided a curtain for the government and now we can all pretend this is some nonsense dreamed up by Rahul Gandhi. At least, that’s how most of the Indian media will play it.

Many media outlets have picked it up but they hide behind a flimsy veil to cover their own posteriors: “The Congress said…”. “The Opposition commented…” and so on. Sethi has uncovered the extent to which government ministers lied, including in Parliament, and how that was covered up. Lying in Parliament is not however such a big deal any more, judging from the muted reactions.

Of course, unfortunately for India, the Huffington Post story broke on a day when the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University decided on a protest march, over the massive fee hike gifted to them, to Parliament and the Delhi Police decided to slam down on them with violence. The ongoing story got our “news” channels fully involved, not surprisingly. It was Delhi, it was visual and they could run some evil student twist.

The force used by the police on the students seemed disproportionate but only if you consider India a democracy and not a totalitarian state. And then we also had several Delhi journalists trying to interpret NCP leader Sharad Pawar, never an easy task even if you are a Maharashtra journalist who knows Pawar well, over government formation in Maharashtra.

Regardless of good and bad news days, the massive Huffington Post “Paisa Politics” series opens serious questions about corruption at the core of the corruption issue: election funding. Even when these funds were introduced, concerns were raised by civil society and opposition parties. Now it seems that the Reserve Bank of India also had similar worries.

The onus is now on the rest of the media to pick up Sethi’s massive story and run with it. Of course, “new” channels will continue with pro-government pitches on whether Muslims should shut up about the SC judgment on Ayodhya and how JNU students are all anti-national and whatever else Goebbels and his gang have decided for the day.

But with any luck, we have some segments of the media which are willing to take a story on its own strength.

This is The Wire on the Huffington Post story: https://thewire.in/government/electoral-bonds-rbi-finance-ministry

And an analysis from April this year:

https://thewire.in/law/supreme-court-interim-order-electoral-bonds-inconsistent-with-laws

I have quoted The Wire because it has not taken cover behind the “Congress said…” defence.

Sadly, my advice would be don’t hold your breath on mass media courage. If only the majority would prove me wrong…

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and columnist. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal

 

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