When do you think thugs and muggers having a free run in a city will be kept in check? When you have a police commissioner feared by those law-breakers for his tough action, or when you have one who publicly declares street crimes cannot be controlled? Well, more than you and I criminals know the answer.
Likewise, when is there any chance of curbing the free flow and surge of huge black money in India's economy? When the prime minister or finance minister declares a war on black money, devises ways to check sources and growth of slush funds and goes at the black-money wallas hammer and tongs, or when he declares or signals from his hallowed seat that black money can never be eradicated? P. Chidambaram, India's former home minister and former finance minister at the Centre asserted recently in a television interview (Thanthi TV, 11th Nov 2017) that black money could never be eradicated in India. You will correctly guess what signal he, when serving as a Congress union finance minister, gave to black money hoarders about his government's resolve and keenness to fight them. All black-money wallas of his time would have merrily sensed his signal right.
It is India's misfortune that many highly intelligent people, like Chidambaram, are content being clever talkers and clever managers of people. They align with a leader who profits from those attributes and grab for themselves all that comes as rewards for their skills. Honesty of purpose and nation's growth and glory do not matter to them, and in any case they can cleverly project these virtues as dear to their hearts.
See what a man Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was. He was India's first home minister and deputy prime minister in Nehru's cabinet. When India gained independence, there were some 565 princely states located within India's borders. During British rule those princely states were strictly not governed by the Crown like the rest of India, though they were indirectly controlled by Britain. They were self-governing, with treaty obligations to Britain. While granting independence to India and to Pakistan, Britain released those 565 princely states also from its suzerainty, with liberty to become a part of India or a part of Pakistan or to remain independent countries. So those princely states were not subject to the laws of India and, after freedom, were India's equals in sovereign status. Nehru was not their prime minister, nor was Patel their home minister. Still Patel, with his integrity, determination and vision chiefly brought round all those princely states one by one to accede to India. India had to take police action against Hyderabad, and Kashmir's accession to India was a different story. But in all, Patel's achievement is incredible and phenomenal. Chidambaram is no less intelligent than Patel. However, Patel's other personal qualities set him apart by miles, and that made him rise to the occasion and achieve his mission.
Assume that Chidambaram was born earlier and was India's home minister in Patel's place. Then Indians would have heard Chidambaram cleverly explain why most of the princely states either aligned with Pakistan or chose to remain independent. If he had said, as the then home minister, "The princely states are not part of India, and have their sovereign right to decide their destiny. That ought to be respected in the comity of nations", can you argue against such mumbo jumbo?
Black money is chiefly a child of corruption and tax evasion. If Chidambaram says black money cannot be eradicated, he obviously means that corruption and tax evasion will keep thriving on a huge scale and they cannot be stemmed. The evils of corruption and tax evasion prosper only when the rulers themselves patronise and wink at corruption. No surprise that Chidambaram, as a top-level Congress insider and a former finance minister with knowledge of how government's finances are worked, says corruption can never be eradicated.
Generation and percolation of black money in their economy is not on such massive scales for, say, the USA as it is for India. That is not because Americans are intrinsically honest in paying taxes or that Indians are basically dishonest in that sphere. It is so because American political leaders and administrators remain largely free from corruption or graft, with a strong anti-corruption action machinery in place to apprehend and bring offenders to justice. What is the Indian scene? Let's have a look.
In 2011, Time magazine accorded a high second rank to the Indian 2G spectrum scam of UPA 2 on the journal’s list of Top 10 Abuses of Power, behind the Watergate scandal. When the Comptroller and Auditor General of India had estimated the government's loss in that scam at Rs. 1.76 lakh crores, UPA's Congress Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal publicly disagreed and declared it was actually "zero loss". Later the CAG estimate was found to be in tune with actual market potential. What signal would reach multitudes of corrupt leaders and black money dealers in the country, with government's declared zero loss theory in the acclaimed World No.2 abuse of power? If we imagine Kapil Sibal too in Nehru's first cabinet, as a colleague of Chidambaram, he would surely have said India had “zero loss” with a good number of princely states merging with Pakistan or staying independent. Would he not cleverly explain, "The princely states were not a part of India at all. So we haven't lost anything which belonged to us. In fact, it is those non-merging princely states which have really lost".
When black money has grown steeply in our economy over decades, long and sustained action is needed to contain it. That can be done only under the leadership of an honest and strong-willed prime minister in a stable government, assisted by a dedicated finance minister. The image of high personal integrity a prime minister and his finance minister earn for themselves is crucial to the success, even moderate success, of any government action against black money. Such a team alone will first enthuse officers to hunt black money holders and to think up measures to curb generation of black money and target its holders. If the finance minister is not quite inclined to go after black money for any reason, his officers will know it without being told and could guess the reasons right. In that case, barring a rare daredevil among them, officers too will lie low against black money except to the extent directed in particular instances, and will look the other way - to remain safe and secure. If Chidambaram and the prime ministers he served could not inspire a spirit of vigilant and robust action in officers to fight black money, one must gauge the situation correctly.
No country with a taxation system can eradicate black money 100 %, as with other crime. If a government, headed by the right person, can uncover black money to some significant extent by stern action, and keep the pressure on generation and proliferation of black money, it dissuades some sections of its citizens from concealing income or wealth and has a multiplier effect in curbing black money step by step. In this process, a culture of clean money will gradually evolve among citizens, leading to greater national gains. Like, for example, if the government extradites Vijay Mallya from the UK and brings him to justice in India over the massive loan defaults of his businesses, fiscal offenders will know they cannot plan to commit financial frauds and fly out of the country to escape action for good. Catching some big fish will automatically reign in numerous small fish. But first we need honest men at the top. If not, anyone should agree with Chidambaram's conclusion
No doubt Chidambaram is clever with his statements and explanations. No doubt also, corruption and black money have intelligent minds aiding and working for them. India needs more of fiery good souls than articulate clever men to battle her ills.
* * * * *
Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2017