Wrecking is easier than creating

RN Bhaskar

The Bing generated image shows a Samson-like figure wrecking buildings.  Some people can be seen clapping in adulation.  Others are fearful. The recent move by the venerable State Bank of India (SBI) seeking more time from the country’s apex court for disclosing the names and details of Electoral Bonds suggests how the last man standing in the financial sector in India is also being knocked down.

It may be recalled that, on February 14, 2024, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India struck down the Centre’s Electoral Bond scheme — which facilitates anonymous political donations – as being unconstitutional. It underscored that the scheme violates the right to information under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution (https://www.scobserver.in/reports/electoral-bonds-constitution-bench-judgement-summary/).


The Apex court also issued the following directions:

  1. The SBI shall stop issuing Electoral Bonds
  2. SBI shall submit details of the Electoral Bonds purchased from 12 April 2019 till date, to the Election Commission of India (ECI). The details shall include the date of purchase of each Bond, the name of the purchaser and the denomination of the Bond purchased.
  3. SBI shall submit the details of political parties which have received contributions through Electoral Bonds since 12 April 2019 to date to the ECI. This must include details of each Electoral Bond encashed by political parties, the date of encashment and the denomination of the Electoral Bond.
  4. SBI shall submit the above information to the ECI within three weeks from the date of this judgement (by 6 March 2024).
  5. The ECI shall publish the information shared by SBI on its official website within one week from the receipt of the information (by 13 March 2024).
  6. Electoral bonds which are within the validity period of 15 days but have not yet been encashed by political parties shall be returned by the party and refunded to the purchaser’s account.

SBI wilted, possibly in contempt

Curiously, the State Bank of India, on 4 March 2024, asked the Supreme Court for more time till June 6, for disclosing the details sought (https://thewire.in/government/state-bank-of-india-extra-time-june-30-electoral-bonds-supreme-court).  The request had two terrifying implications.  First, the SBI was trying to skirt the Supreme Court Order, thus exposing itself to charges of contempt.  Second, the date sought was – in all probability – after the general elections would have been over.  By that time, the Electoral Bonds issue would have become infructuous because what was deemed unconstitutional would continue to benefit political parties and the donors who have supported the parties with their funds.

Not surprisingly, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) filed a contempt petition against the SBI  and other parties (https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2017/27935/27935_2017_1_1501_50573_Judgement_15-Feb-2024.pdf). The application stated that the SBI “has deliberately filed” the application on March 4, 2024, “at the last moment in order to ensure that the details of donors and the amount of donations are not disclosed to the public before the upcoming Lok Sabha elections” and that it “neither discloses the progress made so far & steps taken to comply with the judgment…nor it shows even part-compliance of the judgment…”.

More damning details

In an equally damning indictment, Thomas Franco, former general secretary of the All-India Bank Officers’ Confederation or AIBOC (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47iXqk4p2Fk) spoke with The News Minute. He explained why the SBI was lying. That the bank has been making such disclosures all along to the Finance Ministry. That it had all the information, but still did not want to comply with the directions of the apex court.

Even more damning was a statement from Subhash Chandra Garg, former Finance Secretary, under the present government (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oz2YzoIkD4A). He say at timeline 0:16 “all it requires is . . . to go to their bank account and sort on the date when the bond was purchased and compile that information. . . that shouldn’t take any time.”  He also says (2:46) how the “Supreme Court had earlier asked for the same information in the interim order in 2019 and the SBI had supplied that information though it was supplied in a sealed cover. Art that time they had not asked for any time . . . there appears to be an attempt to confuse the issue.”

The ability of the SBI to pass on this information regularly to the Finance ministry is brought out quite succinctly through documents by The Reporters Collective (https://www.reporters-collective.in/blog/sbi-electoral-bonds-data).

Clearly, the SBI was under immense pressure from the government not to disclose the details.  He recalled the way former heads of the SBI have stood up to government pressure and mentioned how Raj Kumar Talwar (1922–2002) who  served as chairman of the SBI preferred to stand up against government instructions, and was eventually sacked by the Indira Gandhi government in the emergency in 1976 for refusing to grant loans to people favoured by the government (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raj_Kumar_Talwar).

This is evident from the way SBI’s web managers were asked to delete all information relating to Electoral Bonds from its website (https://twitter.com/thewire_in/status/1765786281936642458?cxt=HBwWtIa7wZLRqoExAAAA&cn=ZmxleGlibGVfcmVjcw%3D%3D&refsrc=email).

Ironically, and sadly, even the website of the ECI does not make any mention of the Supreme Court verdict (https://www.eci.gov.in/issue-details-page/press-releases). The ECI is a Constitutional Body, whose loyalty should be to the Constitution and not the government. When the Supreme Court had declared the scheme “unconstitutional,” this ought to have been mentioned on the ECI’s website.

Clearly two venerable institutions were on the verge of being toppled and wrecked.

Past brinksmanship

The government has maintained a studied silence on this issue. Presumably, it is letting the SBI and the ECI to work out ways to wriggle out of this mess.

But the government has been guilty of other highly questionable moves earlier as well.


One way or the other, all the instances listed above have a bearing on the 2024 elections. That is why the Electoral Bonds issue could become a major milestone on the way India conducts both its law making and its elections.

With institutions under attack, India’s very future as a democracy could also be under attack.


Comments can be posted to RNB@asiaconverge.com