India’s election season is on. It is a very well known accepted fact that countries, particularly the powerful ones, meddle in the elections of other nations, to set up a government of their choice. Nations like Russia and China, which are virtual dictatorships, which seek to subvert democracies, are known to openly dabble in the elections of other nations, particularly the smaller ones and set up their puppet regimes. China is known to have rampantly indulged in such dubious practices, particularly in Africa, where for a few hundred million dollars only, the entire democratic electoral process of a small nation can be hijacked and a puppet dictator can be installed, thus making that nation, a Chinese colony. But it was the stealthy involvement and interference of Russia in the 2016 American elections, that led to a maverick Donald Trump being elected as the US President, that came as a huge shocker. The world woke up to the dangers of meddling of one nation in the elections of another and many nations have thereafter placed curbs on social media and surveillance of cross border funds flow has been increased. It is illicit foreign funds which enable such interference.
India too has often been a victim of meddling by foreign countries in its internal politics and elections, through ideological interference as well as illegal funding. Some Indian political parties whose ideology was openly aligned to their foreign mentors, were also known to be funded by them. In addition to that, a number of bogus and pseudo charitable organisations were known to receive huge foreign funds, in the run up to the elections, which were then illegally diverted into funding our elections, by supporting political parties of their choice. This curse has been plugged by the BJP government, by amending the FCRA, banning and closing down over 30,000 bogus NGOs and also tightening India’s tax laws and foreign exchange laws, to prevent such illegal inflow of funds into India. Various government department likes the ITD and ED, apart from the RBI, are now known to maintain a strict vigil, with very strong surveillance systems to prevent any such inflow of funds, that can meddle in India’s elections and distort the same. Even the likes of GreenPeace and Ford Foundation, which was found to have illegally funded the AAP have been banned from receiving any foreign funds, on these charges.
While social media is the new threat to elections in any democracy and can be easily misused to influence voters, it is the deployment of foreign funds into elections that is a real threat to a country’s democracy. India has been seeking to cleanse itself of the scourge of black money into elections and various stringent measures have been taken. No person can now give a cash donation exceeding Rs.2,000 to a political party, even though they defeat this law, by putting in the names of bogus donors and for cheque based funding, electoral bonds have been introduced, which a donor can buy from the SBI’s designated braches and gift it to a political party of his choice. While this process keeps the donor’s name anonymous, which Mr.Jaitley says will help to clean up the system, it is too early in the day to judge its success.
But despite these comprehensive measures and surveillance, the funding and meddling of any foreign country into our elections cannot be ruled out. It is a two step process for any country to illegally fund Indian candidates of their choice. The first is to bring money into India, under a legal garb, which can come in by form of bogus exports, which the likes the diamond industry is known for, bogus FDI, sale of an Indian company to a foreign at highly inflated prices to bring in money and also by way of funding any infra projects, such that money is remitted into India. After having got money into India, the next step is to now misuse it, which is just not difficult for any entity with a mischievous and illegal intent. The most common method for it is to book bogus expenses and divert the money into election funding. The other criminal option is to ship currency into India, which was reported to have been often done in the past, but will perhaps not be easy this time, with heightened surveillance.