New Delhi: Two donors linked to Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Group donated the majority of their electoral bonds to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the latest set of documents disclosed by the Election Commission show. 

Laxmidas Vallabhdas Merchant, a top Reliance official who oversees their accounts and tax compliance, sent his entire donation through electoral bonds to the BJP. 

The other donor, Qwik Supply Chain Private Limited, donated Rs 375 crore of its total Rs 410 crore to the ruling party. It gave the rest to two Maharashtra-based parties – while Rs 25 crore went to Shiv Sena,  Nationalist Congress Party got Rs 10 crore. 

Qwik Supply Chain Private Limited was the third largest donor in the country. The two sent BJP a total of Rs 400 crore in electoral bonds, a scheme now declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Based on new evidence from the company's corporate accounts, The Reporters’ Collective had earlier ascertained that the Qwik Supply Chain is part of the Reliance Group.

A Reliance Industries Limited spokesperson had reportedly said in response that, “Qwik Supply Chain Pvt Ltd is not a subsidiary of any Reliance entity.” The statement, however, did not deny the linkages of Qwik Supply Chain to other Reliance-affiliated companies or the common directors on board this web of firms.

Last week, The Collective was the first to reveal that the Reliance official, a Group Controller for the Reliance Group, was one of the top 100 electoral bond donors in the country. 

Meanwhile, on 17 November 2023, Merchant donated Rs 25 crore through bonds. With this donation to BJP, Merchant became the 82nd largest donor in the country. The contributions coincided with state assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram.

Screengrab of latest disclosures by the Election Commission. The alphanumeric code for Merchant's bond buys matched those on the BJP’s list.
Screengrab of Laxmidas V Merchant’s LinkedIn profile

The latest disclosures by the Election Commission of India, on March 21, released alphanumeric codes allowing, for the first time, to find out who donated to whom.

The first disclosure made by the Commission on March 14, listed a “Laxmidas Vallabhdas Asmita Mercha”. To ascertain if the typo-riddled document was indeed referring to the same Merchant linked to key Reliance acquisitions, including the Network18 media in July 2014, The Collective relied on multiple verifiable sources.

A publicly available investment document showed that Laxmidas Vallabhdas Merchant and Asmita Merchant are related individuals. The document, listing buyers of debentures in a non-banking finance company, also shared the address of Merchant.

Screengrab of a draft red herring prospectus of Manappuram Finance Limited, a Non-Banking Financial Company (NBFC)

The Collective matched this information with documents released by Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries Limited. When the information matched, we knew it was the same individual.

Screengrab of a Reliance Industries Limited document listing out employees that have been allotted Equity shares under Employee Stock Option Scheme.

Reliance Group’s acquisition of the Network18 media empire involved a Reliance-backed Independent Media Trust buying 99% stake in six privately held firms. The takeover of the six companies gave the Reliance Group ownership control over Network18, from its founder Raghav Bahl.

In the same month the trust took over Network18, Laxmidas Merchant was appointed director in the six firms.

What made Merchant’s donation, executed in his individual capacity, possible is the devil in the electoral bond law’s fine print.

The fine print of the now-scrapped scheme allowed several entities – individuals, groups of individuals, NGOs, religious and other trusts, Hindu Undivided Family units and all other entities recognised by law – to purchase electoral bonds, without disclosing their identities.

This allowed big, listed conglomerates to rope in unknown individuals, private limited companies and zero-revenue companies to donate on their behalf while keeping away from the glare of public scrutiny.