Congress leaders in Karnataka have accused Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of misusing electoral bonds to raise money anonymously to fund not just assembly elections last year but also engineering defections to destabilize governments formed by other parties across the country.
The reactions come after a Huffington Post article on Wednesday, which claimed that the prime minister's office (PMO) broke rules for illegal sale of electoral bonds by citing exceptions to the rule.
“It is already widely known how electoral bonds were misused," Priyank Kharge, former minister and Congress leader said.
“They (BJP) are so blatant that it is allowing anonymous money to flow in for its political gains," he added. According to the report, rules for the issuing of electoral bonds were relaxed ahead of elections in Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana.
The BJP emerged as the single largest party in Karnataka in 2018 with 104 out of the 222 that went to the polls in May last year while the Congress got 78 and the Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) got 37. There were two independents who won as well as one candidate from the Bahujan Samaj Party.
The Congress and its estranged ally, the JD(S) have accused the BJP of using black money to lure legislators from other parties. A total of 17 legislators from Congress and JD(S) resigned and later defected to the BJP that led to the collapse of the 14 month old H.D.Kumaraswamy-led coalition government in Karnataka.
The BJP is fielding 13 out of the 17 defectors in the 5 December bypolls that will determine the future of the four-month old government of Yediyurappa.
The election affidavits made by the defectors show an increase in their wealth from last year, attracting sharp reactions from the opposition that has accused the BJP of paying huge amounts of money to engineer the defection.
Calls made to three senior national level leaders and two state BJP leaders went unanswered.
Kharge said that the funds from electoral bonds was used for “Operation Kamala"--a term coined in 2008 after the BJP allegedly devised a way to get opposition party legislators to defect in the aftermath of the assembly elections that year to get a majority.
“We will have to examine these charges first," Sanjiv Kumar, Chief Electoral Officer of Karnataka said.
Ever since it was introduced as a mechanism to clean the flow of dirty money into political parties, electoral bonds have been embroiled in a series of controversies that questions the veil of anonymity given to the scheme.
Introduced in January 2018, electoral bonds are monetary instruments that anyone can buy from state-owned lender, State Bank of India (SBI) and give it to a political party who can redeem its value.
According to a report by advocacy group, Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), BJP was the biggest beneficiary of the electoral bond scheme in 2017-18, bagging 94.5% of the bonds worth a little over Rs210 crore.
ADR said that the a total of 12,313 electoral bonds, valued at Rs6,128 crore have been sold since March 2018 to October this year.
The controversy of illegally raising funds adds to the bypoll drama in Karnataka that has seen all three sides trade serious charges including electoral malpractice, subversion of democracy and polarisation among others.
Yediyurappa, who has denied any wrongdoing in the resignation drama, has made several statements that acknowledge the role he and his national leadership played to bring down the government by engineering defections.