The BJP has received more money in donations, especially through corporations, than the Congress for 9 of the last 12 years, official data shows. Moreover the gap between the donations received by the two parties has been growing.
All political parties must submit to the Election Commission of India details including the name, address, PAN, mode of payment and amount contributed by donors who have made donations above Rs 20,000 in a financial year to political parties, every year. The independent non-partisan political transparency group, the Association for Democratic Reforms, collates this data.
Donations to political parties typically spike in elections years and then decline sharply for non-election years. While it might have been expected that donors would shift their allegiances to the winning party, the BJP out-earned the Congress for seven of the ten years that it was out of power between 2004 and 2014.
Donations from corporate houses form the bulk of official donations to political parties in India, accounting for 88% of the Congress' donations over the last 12 years and over 90% of the BJP's.
The BJP's biggest donor over the last 12 years has been the Satya Electoral Trust, followed by the General Electoral Trust and the Torrent Group. The Satya Electoral Trust donated Rs 193.62 crore to the party over the last three years alone.
However, this is slightly misleading as the names of Trusts mask the names of the corporates who donate to them. For example, the Satya Electoral Trust was originally set up by the Bharti group and its biggest donors over the last three years, data compiled from documents it submitted to the ECI shows, are the DLF group, the Bharti Group and Indiabulls, while the Torrent Group, which donated directly to the BJP, also donated to the Trust.
Not all their funds went to the BJP---Rs 57 crore went to the Congress, as well, but essentially these three companies are also important funders of the BJP via the electoral trust route. Even less is known about donations made to the other large electoral trust, the General Electoral Trust, originally set up by the Birlas.
And then, not all donations over Rs20,000 have clear paper trails; parties continue to submit some donation details without PAN and other information on contravention of ECI guidelines--99% of such illegally anonymous donations between 2012-13 and 2015-16 were to the BJP, to the tune of Rs 660.51 crore. Additionally, some donations come from entities with ambiguity about the nature of their work or no internet presence--again, the BJP led here with over 250 such ambiguous donations worth Rs10 crore in total. With the passage of the Finance Bill 2017 and the legalisation of electoral bonds which will allow anonymity for corporates donating to political parties through this instrument, the space for transparency is likely to all but close.