India Reveals Biggest Donors to Modi's Party Under Now-Banned Electoral Bond

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India’s Election Commission released new information Thursday showing the ruling party’s biggest donors under a now-banned political financing tool.

Megha Engineering and Infrastructures Ltd. was the largest donor to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party over the past five years, purchasing about 6.7 billion rupees ($81 million) of electoral bonds, data from the commission showed.

Qwik Supply Chain Pvt Ltd., Aditya Birla Group and Bharti Airtel Ltd. were close behind, based on Bloomberg calculations of the figures released. The BJP’s top five donors, including subsidiaries, made contributions of a total of at least 19 billion rupees to the party through electoral bonds from March 2018 until January 2024. The party earned 60.6 billion rupees via the bonds over the period, almost half of all funding raised through the system.

India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, shared some of the same donors as the BJP, with Megha and Vedanta Ltd. donating 1.58 billion and 1.25 billion rupees respectively to them. Vedanta Ltd. contributed a little over 450 million rupees to regional parties, while the Aditya Birla Group almost evenly divided its contribution between the BJP and a regional party in the eastern state of Odisha.

Founded in 1989, Hyderabad-based Megha Engineering and Infrastructure builds roads and dams and is involved in irrigation projects, power plants, transmission lines, communication equipment, renewable energy and media.

The company’s order book stood at more than 1.87 trillion rupees as of September 2023, according to a Jan. 10 note by Crisil Ratings. The group also owns a 50.2% stake in Olectra Greentech Ltd, an electric bus manufacturer with a long-term technology sourcing agreement with China-based Byd Co Ltd.

More than 90% of donations made by two other top donors — Qwik Supply Chain and Bharti Airtel — went to the BJP, compared with about 60% of contributions by Megha and Vedanta Ltd., the sixth-biggest donor, the figures show. The Keventer Group, which also markets a popular milk-shake brand, donated 3.52 billion rupees to the BJP and another 1.61 billion rupees to the Congress.

In a surprise decision last month, the Supreme Court banned electoral bonds, which had allowed political parties to anonymously receive campaign contributions from donors. The court said the system was unconstitutional and violated voters’ rights to information necessary for them to cast their ballots.

The data released by the Election Commission on Thursday came from the State Bank of India, the only lender authorized to facilitate the buying and cashing of the electoral bonds. The Supreme Court directed the bank to release information that allowed donations to be matched to recipients, shedding light on political parties’ source of funding through the bonds for the first time.

Opposition parties and critics have said the anonymity granted to donors under the electoral bonds scheme provided an unfair advantage to the ruling party. The Congress party collected only 14 billion rupees through electoral bonds over the past five years, or about 11% of the total bonds sold.

The data comes weeks before India’s national elections kick off on April 19. Voting will take place over seven phases until June 1. The results are expected to be declared on June 4.

(Updated with more detail on donors, context)

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