The Narendra Modi government is reeling from the punch delivered by the Supreme Court in the electoral bonds case. To begin with, it was so unexpected.

For more than ten years, the Court had stuck to strictly legalistic interpretations of laws and the Constitution. It had not delivered justice. Not even when human rights were imperilled or the spirit of the Constitution eroded.

But now, we have a volte face. A landmark judgement reiterating important democratic tenets and taking them to logical conclusions.

There is general rejoicing over the Court’s finding that elections cannot be funded secretly. In a democracy, voters must know the names of those who have donated to a party to judge whether it will sell them down the river for political advantage in future. We have already seen some evidence of this.

‘The News Minute’ has unearthed a suspicious pattern of income tax proceedings being abandoned against corporate defaulters as soon as they contribute to the ruling party.

If the Court shows determination to enforce its will by compelling the State Bank of India to publish the list of electoral bond donors, we can expect a further flurry of activity. When the data becomes easily available to activists without RTI formalities, they can trace links between lucrative government contracts, and questionable policy changes favouring crony capitalists on the one hand and electoral bond purchases by such companies or their associates on the other.

Scandals are bound to be unearthed. Which will then provide fodder for PILs against corporates and government functionaries. Particularly because, in cases relating to corruption, courts have held that (even without specific evidence of bribery), an inference of a quid pro quo can be legally drawn if suspicious events occur in close succession.

But, will the Court decision also clean up the murky ways by which parties deploy the donations? Discussion on the subject has not yet gained momentum, even though everyone knows that spending limits fixed for election expenses are easily gamed and inducements are always offered to buy votes.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) broke this vicious cycle during the Delhi and Punjab elections by openly advising voters to take the bribes on offer and cast votes based on their convictions. The strategy seems to have worked, since AAP swept the polls in both states.

There is little chance, however, that the Election Commission in its current avatar will actively proceed against election-eve vote-buying, even though the Supreme Court has directed it to perform its duties.

As for the cache being used to buy legislators and topple state governments, we can only speculate. Some of the electoral bond funding must also have greased media channels and whipped up political frenzy.

Where the money went is sure to be more disturbing than where it came from. Will we ever learn the truth of every such transaction?

Confusion reigns regarding media reports about the Court’s instruction that funds raised illegally under the electoral bond scheme should be returned to donors. It is not clear if the Court even made such an order.

Many individuals and institutions are studying the implications and dimensions of this aspect of the judgement. There is no doubt though that the government and the ruling party have sustained a severe shock on the eve of a countrywide ballot following the Court’s rulings.

But, like rabbits caught in powerful headlights, they seem incapable of responding. Silence has been the standard Modi reaction to adverse criticism during the entire decade of his prime ministership.

Recently, however, he has made an oblique reference to the volley of comments provoked by the court verdict. At a function held in Uttar Pradesh, the PM took a swipe at the judgement by saying that he would face a PIL in the Supreme Court if, like Lord Krishna, he picked up even a scoop of rice from a Sudama.

The allusion is clearly to the electoral bond case. And there are several curious features about the jibe.

For a start, it is no surprise that the Prime Minister has chosen to ignore the constitutional points on which the Court struck down the electoral bond scheme. Instead, he has shifted the discussion to familiar emotive religious territory. And adopted the symbolism of a well known and beloved Hindu scriptural story, redolent with moral messages.

In the process, he has revealed an ominous subliminal disdain for democracy as well as for the core ideas of a popular Hindu text. These are the results we can expect when scripture is quoted for political purposes.

The Sudama episode is an endearing tale about Krishna’s behaviour as king. It is the story of a childhood friend who journeys to Dwaraka with a pitiful gift of puffed rice and is welcomed by Krishna with affection and honour.

The narrative is meant to remind persons in power to stay in touch with their humble beginnings and respect old associates. But, Modi has imbued the reference with an air of injured innocence by pretending as usual to be a persecuted victim.

Comparisons are odious and, in the present case, they simply don’t tally. The reference to Sudama is aimed at creating the impression that the head of the country is being vilified by an insensitive judiciary for tiny amounts offered by poor Indians to thank him for his royal benevolence.

All of which is of course untrue. Modi is not Lord Krishna, nor is an electoral bond donor Sudama. The allusion is false and misleading in every way.

The huge amount raked in by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) through electoral bonds is not chicken feed; how can it be compared to Sudama’s handful of rice? This is a fortune that has fuelled every BJP manoeuvre and trick to win elections and to topple the governments that are formed when elections are lost. The Sudama reference trivialises a major constitutional offence, which the best government lawyers could not justify.

It is laughable to put electoral bond holders on par with the poverty stricken Sudama. These are corporates with agendas, not common women and men, carried away by affection for the Leader.

Through this comparison, Modi claims both divinity and royalty. He seems to have forgotten that he does not owe his position to the divine right of kings. He has been elected by voters and his party and is answerable to them. Every grain of rice collected when in office must be accounted for under the Constitution and laws of the land.

Unfortunately, his attitude towards citizens is shared by many politicians, for whom voters are merely dupes, who must be cajoled during elections and can be roundly ignored afterwards. Which is certainly not the morality prescribed in the scriptures for even an absolute monarch.

This contempt for democracy reminds me of the Congress MLA, who celebrated an election victory in Bangalore by hoisting a banner, on which he appeared enthroned in royal regalia, sporting the pagdi-crown of the Mysore Maharaja!

There could be, however, some unintended truth in the reference to Sudama, if we equate the donors to crony capitalists. Much of the electoral bond money must have indeed come from those whom Modi cultivated during his days as Chief Minister of Gujarat, the corporate families, who are accused of being his alter ego and controlling the levers of government.

This first response to the Court judgement is a foretaste of what is to come. It is a warning that we can expect more of the same. There will now be justifications of an illegal policy using religious imagery and Hindu references.

The BJP will downplay serious crimes by reducing suspicious transfers of money to handfuls of rice. And elevating the Prime Minister to a divine king beyond criticism or the reach of the judiciary. While, at all times, it degrades the very religion that the PM pretends to protect.

Renuka Viswanathan retired from the Indian Administrative Service. Views expressed here are the writer’s own.