India's Supreme Court has struck down a controversial election financing system ahead of national elections

India's top court on Thursday struck down a controversial election financing system that allowed individuals and companies to send unlimited donations to political parties without having to reveal the identity of the donor. Critics have long considered the system to be undemocratic and favor Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party.

A five-judge Constitutional Panel at the Supreme Court ruled that “electoral guarantees” were unconstitutional and violated citizens’ right to information from the government.

The electoral bond system was introduced by Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in 2017. Previously, political parties in India were required to disclose the identity of any donor who donated more than 20,000 rupees (about $240). But the latest political financing tool allowed them to disclose the amount of money they received from the bonds, but not the identity of the donors.

These bonds, purchased from the state-owned State Bank of India, were sold in denominations ranging from 1,000 rupees ($12) to 10 million rupees ($120,000).

Modi's party said the bonds reformed political financing by eliminating the use of cash, but critics say the system is opaque because of the anonymity of the donations. They also say the state-owned bank has a list of donors and recipients, making it easier for the government to access the information and influence donors.

The Supreme Court ruling comes just months before a national election and is seen as a setback for Modi's ruling party, which has been the biggest beneficiary of the system.

According to election watchdog Association for Democratic Reforms, anonymous donors gave more than $1.9 billion to political parties through these bonds between 2018 and 2023. Between 2018 and March 2022, almost 57% of these donations went to Modi's BJP. In comparison, the opposition Congress party received only 10%.

Only registered political parties that had received at least 1% of the vote in a previous parliamentary or state assembly election were eligible to receive these bonds.

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