Top donors to Indian PM Modi's party include Vedanta, Reliance-affiliate, under opaque scheme

Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit, in Gandhinagar

By Vijdan Mohammad Kawoosa, Siju Varghese and Sachin Achar

MUMBAI/ BENGALURU (Reuters) -Top donors to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party since 2019 under an opaque funding scheme that has now been scrapped included Megha Engineering, Reliance affiliate Qwik Supply Chain, MKJ Enterprises and Vedanta, data made public on Thursday showed.

The data, released by the Election Commission of India under orders of the country's Supreme Court, showed top donors to the main opposition Congress party also included Megha Engineering and its affiliates, Vedanta and MKJ Enterprises.

The data was the first time that the names of corporate political donors and their beneficiaries under a controversial funding mechanism have been made public. India is holding national elections starting from April 19 and political financing has been seen with suspicion for decades.

Modi's BJP was the largest beneficiary of the electoral bonds system that allowed individuals and companies to make unlimited and anonymous donations to political parties. The BJP garnered nearly half of the total bonds sold worth 165 billion rupees ($1.98 billion) between January 2018 and February 2024.

The Supreme Court scrapped the system last month, calling the bonds "unconstitutional" and saying contributions "by companies are purely business transactions made with the intent of securing benefits in return".

Modi is expected to win a rare straight third term in the election.

The data released by the election watchdog showed that Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited, along with another of its group's companies, Western UP Transmission Company, gave the BJP electoral bonds worth 6.64 billion rupees since April 2019.

Qwik Supply Chain, an affiliate of billionaire Mukesh Ambani's Reliance group, gave the BJP 3.75 billion rupees, Madanlal Group, including MKJ Enterprises and Keventer gave 3.93 billion rupees, Vedanta gave 2.54 billion rupees and telcoms company Airtel gave the party 2.1 billion rupees through these bonds in the same period.

For Congress, Madanlal Group companies gave 1.72 billion rupees, followed by 1.37 billion rupees from Megha Engineering and its affiliate, and 1.25 billion rupees from Vedanta.

One of the most surprising donors included a flashy "lottery king", Santiago Martin, who has been accused for over a decade by the India's tax authority and financial crime fighting agency of fraud and money laundering. He has never been convicted, though many of the cases against him are pending.

Martin and his firm have denied wrongdoing, saying in October that they obey the law and he was India's highest taxpayer in the financial year to March 2003.

Martin's Future Gaming and Hotel Services donated 5 billion rupees ($60.12 million) each to two regional parties: Trinamool Congress from the eastern state of West Bengal, and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in southern Tamil Nadu state.

Martin's company donated 1 billion rupees to the BJP, and 500 million rupees to Congress as well.

Apart from electoral bonds, parties also raise funds through direct donations from people, companies and entities called electoral trusts, which have also largely donated to the BJP.

As of March 2023, the last available public filings, the BJP had a war chest of 70.4 billion rupees, almost 10 times of the 7.7 billion rupees the Congress had.

($1 = 83.1640 Indian rupees)

(Reporting Vijdan Kawoosa in Mumbai, Siju Varghese and Sachin Achar in Bengaluru, Krishn Kaushik in New Delhi; Writing by Krishn Kaushik and Shivam PatelEditing by Susan Fenton and Frances Kerry)