(Published in Sify.com, on October 27, 2014, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/show-us-the-black-money-news-columns-ok1eTjdfacbhe.html)
It has been more than five months since the BJP swept to power, on the back of anti-incumbency combined with the Modi wave.
While the Congress pretty much broke a world record for maximum scams in which a government’s ministers have been involved, the UPA’s hemming and hawing on the black money issue was a crucial factor in its loss of the elections.
On the other hand, the BJP made the tall promise of bringing back the black money within its first 100 days in power. Theories were floated that the country could be run tax-free for three years, if only the black money stashed away abroad was brought back.
Worryingly, the BJP has begun to behave exactly like the Congress on this subject. While it had called out the Congress on its refusal to reveal the names of the defaulters, the NDA government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, seeking reversal of the court’s July 2011 directive. At the time, the UPA government had protested that it couldn’t reveal names under the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements (DTAA), an objection that the apex court cast aside.
In the face of this, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s reiteration that it was the NDA which instituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to look into the black money issue rings hollow.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had accused the UPA of “paying lip service” on the issue, before he came to power, has now acknowledged a “setback”. Just like the Congress did at the time, he has cited confidentiality requirements in an agreement with Germany, which precludes the revelation of a list of Indian account holders in Liechtenstein’s LGT Bank.
In a letter written by senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani, and signed by him under the title ‘Expelled Member of the BJP’, it is mentioned that this agreement is superseded by the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which has been ratified by both Switzerland and Germany. In the letter, Jethmalani also accuses Modi of bypassing the SIT with regard to exposing the names.
All that the BJP has produced is a teaser, saying that a high profile former UPA minister is on the list of defaulters.
In the meanwhile, the Congress’ main pitch at the assembly elections across the country has been that the BJP is behaving in the same manner that the UPA did in office – a self-defeating argument for its cause. Congress leaders have alternated this cry with the defensive clause that an individual leader’s misdemeanour cannot be linked to the party as a whole.
Somewhat farcically, former UPA minister Chidambaram, when confronted with the issue in an NDTV interview, explained that the reason they had not drafted a written agreement about the disclosure of names was that the elections were announced before they could. Even more bizarrely, he said that any government that had been in power for 10-15 years is bound to face corruption charges, and blamed it on the “excesses of individuals”.
There is a danger of black money becoming a pure election issue.
And the figures are overwhelming, the stakes too high, for us to allow that.
Unofficial calculations estimate that nearly $ 500 billion has been stashed away by Indian taxpayers in foreign bank accounts. Washington-based think tank Global Financial Integrity put the figure at $ 460 billion.
The problem is not just money that has been stashed abroad. A leaked report of a study that the government had commissioned estimated that about $ 1.4 trillion, more than three times that which is supposed to be held in foreign banks, has been hidden in India itself.
Where is all the money going?
Why do we still have a tax deficit of more than $ 100 billion?
If political parties are to avoid accusations of wrongdoing, they must be willing to be accountable.
For one thing, I don’t see why all donations to party campaign funds are not made public. The current figure for donors’ names to be made public is ridiculously high at Rs 20,000. Most parties claim that the chunk of their donations is from individual contributions for less than that amount. If that is indeed the case, should the threshold for declaration not be lower?
It would be far easier for the government to track black money inside the country, since it doesn’t have any other country’s regulations to deal with.
But, is the government willing to search it out?