Arvind Kejriwal led AAP came with the agenda of transparent and clean politics. With flauting on donations and expenditure, the party has defeated its own agenda
Election battle for 2017 is intensifying day by day but Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is making headlines for all wrong reasons. Firstly Anti-Corruption Branch of Goa police issued summon to AAP’s Goa chief ministerial candidate Elvis Gomes in connection with a housing scam. Subsequently AAP was in news for irregularity in submitting the donor’s list to Income Tax (IT) Authorities. Over the period AAP has consistently claimed that large part of its donation is coming from known sources and always boasted of its transparency but this new development tainted the image of the party.
Funding related issues are not new to AAP and earlier it showed donation amounting to Rs 2 Crores received from four firms which never existed! Party MLA Devinder Sehrawat had also consistently raised the issue of irregularity in the party fund but this time the matter was so grave that Arvind Kejriwal’s political guru Anna Hazare broke his silence and advised Kejriwal to “walk the talk” before questioning others.
Media is rightly making a noise over the current disclosures relating to nasty affairs of AAP and we need to understand the facts and legislative provisions to understand what actually went wrong. The matter relates to financial year 2013-14 for which AAP submitted the list of donors to Election Commission (EC) who donated more than Rs 20,000 to the party. This list was submitted on September 30, 2014 and IT authorities found some apparent entries missing when they compared it with the donor’s list appearing on the party website and they issued notice to the party. It is surprising that the AAP didn’t reply to four notices issued to it from June to August and in contrast it removed the donors list from website. It was quite surprising that the party who claims to be the flagbearer of political revolution decided to remove the list from the website instead of replying to the questions raised by the income tax authorities. As usual Arvind Kejriwal raised flimsy grounds for removing the list from the website and accused the Central Government of harassing the donors. There are hundreds of people who donate to AAP and nobody can justify it with any stretch of imagination that Central Government is using its administrative machinery to harass the donors of a particular party.
Finally tax authorities issued one more notice on 14th October and the very next day its office bearers filed the revised list of donors with election commission. AAP consistently ignored the notices issued by the tax authorities and it took them months to respond to the queries relating to financial year 13-14. Such an inordinate delay raises
suspicion that either the office bearers were managing the books during the intervening period or they don’t care about the system and either of these two is not a good sign for our democracy.
A little bit of legal provisions needs to be mentioned here to help the readers understand the entire episode. Section 29C of the Representation of People Act, 1951 mandates every political party to submit the list of donors who have given an amount of more than Rs 20,000 by September 30 (i.e. due date of filing of income tax return). Section 13A of the Income Tax Act, 1961 which grants exemption to political parties from paying income tax requires the party to maintain the list of donors who have contributed more than Rs. 20,000 and also imposes a precondition of filing this list with election commission for granting income tax exemption. On a combined reading of both these provisions it is quite clear that list of donors has to be maintained and filed with EC for availing tax exemption.
Now a genuine question arises that if everything was clean and proper, what made a party which always boasted of its transparency to remove the list of donors from its website? Either the claim of Arvind Kejriwal was fake or else he has no knowledge about the affairs of his own party which I presume not be the case because of his autocratic style of functioning. Any of these two shows his incompetence to lead a democracy like ours. Dissatisfaction and dilemma of the party cadre is such that Munish Raizada, a US-based medico who was co-convener of AAP’s NRI cell, has launched “No Chanda” campaign as a mark of protest against the irregularities into the party affairs.
The story is not going to end by merely submitting the revised list to Election Commission. A political party has to
submit the details of donations received in the income tax return (Schedule VC of ITR 7) and time limit for revising the return for FY 2013-14 has lapsed [Section 139(5) of Income Tax Act, 1961]. It would be interesting to see whether IT department considers action of AAP as an honest mistake or otherwise.
Irrespective of the outcome of ongoing controversy, time will draw curtain over this also but it has raised some genuine questions like ‘If AAP led by Arvind Kejriwal, who was a tax officer is unable to comply with the requirements of tax legislation what kind of governance model will they bring if they are voted to power in the upcoming elections?’
(The writer is a Chartered Accountant and Anti Money-Laundering Specialist)