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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 28 February 2024

  1. Transparent and Clean Political Funding
  2. China’s Bid to Expand Maritime Infrastructure


Context:

The Supreme Court’s decision on electoral bonds is a legal matter, and it is not necessary to provide any specific commentary on it. While respecting this decision, it is crucial to recognize that the introduction of electoral bonds has been a progressive measure in addressing the influence of black money in elections. As this provision was established during the current government’s tenure, it is incumbent upon them to ensure that any revised system aligns with the objections and directives of the Supreme Court.

Relevance:

GS-2

  • Parliament
  • State Legislature
  • Statutory Bodies
  • Constitutional Bodies
  • Government Policies and Interventions
  • Executive
  • Judiciary

Mains Question:

There is a necessity to enhance the Electoral Bond Scheme’s transparency in alignment with the directives of the Supreme Court. Comment. (10 Marks, 150 Words).

Electoral Bonds:

  • Electoral bonds serve as financial instruments akin to promissory notes, obtainable by both companies and individuals in India from the State Bank of India (SBI).
  • These bonds can be then contributed to a political party, which has the exclusive privilege to encash them.
  • Redemption is limited to a specified account held by a registered political party. Individuals, either singly or jointly with others, can purchase these bonds.

Electoral Bond Scheme:

Introduced in 2018, the Electoral Bonds Scheme aimed to revamp political funding in India. The primary objective of this scheme was to introduce transparency into the electoral funding process, aligning with the government’s vision of electoral reform in a nation transitioning toward a cashless and digital economy.

Amendments Made to the Scheme in 2022:

Extension of Additional Period:

  • A new provision was introduced, stipulating that an extra fifteen days would be designated by the Central Government during general elections to the Legislative Assembly of States and Union territories with Legislature.
  • Initially, when the Electoral Bond Scheme was inaugurated in 2018, these bonds were available for ten days each in January, April, July, and October, with an additional 30 days specified during the General election to the House of People (Lok Sabha).

Validity:

The Electoral Bonds are deemed valid for fifteen calendar days from the date of issuance. No payment can be made to any political party if the Electoral Bond is deposited after the expiration of this validity period. Upon deposit, the Electoral Bond is credited to the eligible Political Party’s account on the same day.

Eligibility:

Only political parties registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RPA, 1951), securing a minimum of 1% of votes polled in the last General Election to the Lok Sabha or the State Legislative Assembly, are eligible to receive Electoral Bonds.

Rationale Behind the Introduction of Electoral Bonds:

  • There is a need to improve the transparency of the existing system in accordance with the guidance provided by the Supreme Court. However, the initial consideration should focus on why the electoral bonds system was implemented.
  • Political parties possess the right to gather donations, and they are exempt from income tax on these funds. Those receiving donations are obligated to furnish details to the Election Commission.
  • While information on contributions made through bank cheques or drafts was available previously, there was a lack of transparency regarding cash receipts.
  • It is a recognized fact that the issue of black money has long been prevalent in our country’s political and electoral processes, prompting ongoing discussions on finding a solution.
  • Prior to the introduction of electoral bonds, substantial cash collections were legally permitted, but that is no longer the case.
  • The existence of black money posed a challenge to the political system, allowing funders to unfairly exploit political parties and their governments.
  • Recognizing this problem, the introduction of the electoral bonds system aimed to address and discourage the issue of black money, providing a potential solution to this long-standing challenge.
  • In 2017, the Government of India introduced the electoral bonds system, allowing individuals or institutions to purchase these bonds and donate them to any political party. Parties then redeem these bonds within a specified timeframe.
  • Notably, this system lacks a provision to publicly disclose information about the donors, the amount donated, and the recipient party.

Recent Developments:

  • The Supreme Court has expressed concern about this lack of transparency and directed the State Bank of India to cease the issuance of electoral bonds. The court emphasizes the need for proper transparency in electoral donation transactions.
  • It is important to acknowledge that the previous system, predating electoral bonds, suffered from significant transparency issues concerning how political parties raised funds.
  • Additionally, the source of substantial cash donations to political parties was obscure, making it impossible to trace the donors and assess whether there were any quid pro quo arrangements benefiting those contributing significant amounts to a political party.

Way Forward:

  • There appears to be a necessity to enhance the current system’s transparency to align it with the concerns raised by the Supreme Court.
  • The government could propose a revised draft before Parliament, although immediate implementation might not be feasible.
  • The nation’s journey involves the continual formulation, amendment, and abolition of laws in response to evolving circumstances. It is essential to approach the electoral bond issue with a long-term perspective.
  • The primary objective of any system or legislation is to prevent the interference of economic and muscle power in the democratic process and to ensure clean and fair elections.

Conclusion:

When amending laws related to political funding, it is imperative to avoid reverting to the old system of cash receipts by political parties, which could open the door to corruption, the influence of muscle power, and the use of illicit money obtained from unethical activities.



Context:

China’s extensive foray into larger maritime expanses has become a major global apprehension, particularly evident in its construction and acquisition of maritime infrastructure at key locations, notably in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the South China Sea, and the broader Indo-Pacific. The upswing in its naval activities, coupled with the assertive acquisition of crucial maritime assets beyond its designated boundaries, has prompted nations to scrutinize Beijing’s long-term expansive goals.

Relevance:

GS-2- International Relations

  • Groupings & Agreements Involving India and/or Affecting India’s Interests
  • Bilateral Groupings and Agreements

GS-3- Infrastructure

Mains Question:

Through initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative and the String of Pearls strategy, China aims to extend its maritime influence, raising questions about its long-term objectives. In this context, provide an analysis of China’s possible intention behind the initiatives and the role that India can play in this regard as a net security provider. (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Analysing the Various Facets of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI):

China’s Objectives:  China’s carefully calculated and ambitious plans for maritime expansion are apparent, particularly when examining the operational methods of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) investments.  
These investments are designed to bolster China’s maritime influence and connections in all directions, aligned with the goal of shaping a global power imbalance.  
Inextricably linked to this intention is its String of Pearls strategy, aimed at encircling and exerting control over littoral South Asian countries, thereby influencing their maritime trade and naval support networks.
Littoral States as Client States:  In its expansion endeavors in South Asia, the primary focus remains the transformation of small states into client states – a concern exacerbated by recent developments in the Maldives.  
The worry persists, as these client states can act as buffer zones around India’s strategic maritime space, facilitating China’s naval expansion in the IOR.
Maritime Infrastructure:  In the IOR, China is making substantial extraterritorial investments in maritime infrastructure.  
The objective is to acquire critical assets from other nations while strategically positioning itself in vital maritime zones.  
China aims to enhance its access and proximity to distant maritime zones by creating support networks in littoral states through diverse investments.
Global Stability:            A closer examination is warranted to understand the implications of China’s maritime objectives, particularly in terms of infrastructure control.  
China’s hybrid strategy, involving the simultaneous expansion of its naval capabilities and acquisition of infrastructure, reflects its ambition to reshape the global maritime landscape in favor of its extensive encroachments.  
The proactive acquisition of marine infrastructure by China, particularly in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), has become a significant point of contention in global geopolitics.  
China aims to assert control over critical marine infrastructure through various initiatives. Numerous naval projects, encompassing port expansion, drone submarines, air-to-air refueling, specialized missile systems, carrier-based stealth aircraft, and underwater drones, have been proposed.  
Undoubtedly, the intention is to establish a formidable naval presence by maintaining control over crucial maritime infrastructure.  

Way Forward:

The Response:

  • Given China’s extraterritorial efforts, it is imperative for global stakeholders to promptly formulate a comprehensive plan. Priority must be given to the interests of small littoral states.
  • The focus should revolve around countering China’s strategic acquisition and control of maritime expanses and infrastructure in these contested regions.

The Role of India:

  • As the primary Net Security Provider in the region, India needs a long-term, clearly articulated perspective that acknowledges the potential consequences of China’s expanding influence.
  • By aligning with these perspectives, India can sensitively inform major stakeholders about China’s motives and engage them in the task.
  • The singular agenda should focus on adhering to established maritime laws and conventions, necessitating a coordinated and proactive response before the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) escalates into a conflict zone.

Alternative Supply Chain:

  • In response to the escalating challenges posed by China’s maritime objectives, particularly in infrastructure control, a united front is imperative.
  • Countries must resist the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), opting instead for alternative projects such as Japan’s “Asia-Africa Growth Corridor” and India’s “Security and Growth for All.”
  • While Australia, the EU, Indonesia, Japan, and the U.S. are implementing strategies to counterbalance China’s maritime ambitions, India’s efforts should aim to involve them in these alternative initiatives, collaborating to establish a comprehensive “Alternative Global Supply Chain Alliance” that considers both civilian and military purposes.

Multi-modal Partnership Mechanism:

  • Global cooperation is vital to restrain China’s influence and control over extraterritorial maritime zones and infrastructures. To counter its expansion motives, enhanced vigilance in maritime affairs must be consolidated.
  • It is crucial to establish comprehensive multi-modal partnership mechanisms to safeguard critical maritime infrastructures, assets, and activities, with India playing a pivotal role.

Conclusion:

While preserving its strategic autonomy, India must collaborate with non-residential maritime powers to foster necessary response considerations. The effectiveness of the existing multilateral security framework hinges on key elements such as diplomatic initiatives, military strategies, supply chain efforts, and robust multilateral cooperation. As the Net Security Provider, India’s priority should be to demystify the complexities arising from China’s assertive projection, offering viable alternatives and a non-zero-sum partnership platform for nations affected by these issues. This approach is essential for India to fulfill its role effectively.


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