The prime minister’s ‘Learning Process’ from his recent United States visit included the emulation of US President Barack Obama’s weekly radio addresses. He seems to have now regularised a monthly, Mann ki Baat, broadcast from all AIR stations across the country, relayed by private channels. On November 2, regarding the recovery of illegal black money stashed away in foreign banks, he said: “I want to tell the people that please have faith in this pradhan sewak of yours … every paise that has gone will come back”.
Recollect his election speeches, “People say that if the black money stashed in foreign bank accounts is brought back and distributed amongst the poor in India, then each poor man will pocket Rs 3 lakh each.” And, “I will bring back every rupee that is stored away in foreign banks, any which way, and ensure that it is used for the rehabilitation of the poor in the country.” However, now he said that no one knew the exact figure of the amount stashed abroad “and nor did the previous government”!
On October 28, the Supreme Court ‘ordered’ the central government to disclose on October 29 all the names being investigated for alleged stashing away black money abroad and questioned why the government was “holding a protective umbrella for these people…. You don’t have to take care of so much of interest of these people… We don’t want the money of this country to go to other countries”. It further said, “We want all the names not one or two or three. Give us the entire information”.
During the election campaign, Modi further said, “There is so much of wealth stored in foreign banks. But, the government at the Centre has done nothing to bring back the money. Hence, there are suspicions that the central government too has something to hide. People are going hungry but the government doesn’t care.” People continue to go hungry, Mr PM — maybe more now!
Today, the government gives the same excuses that the UPA government had given when confronted with this issue. The UPA was mercilessly attacked by many of us then. Yet the Union finance minister today puts forth the same UPA arguments, “An unauthorised disclosure of information is fraught with both investigation and economic consequences. They can sabotage the investigation. They can attract sanctions in the form of withholding taxes” (PTI, November 2).
On the excuses that due to the Double Taxation Avoidance Treaties (DTAT) with other countries, India cannot share information about tax payers to authorities other than relevant tax authorities or with courts; India cannot make information public announcing names about whom information has been received and India cannot disclose names of individuals against whom prosecutable evidence is not found, the apex court opined that none of these conditions prohibits the government from giving this information in a sealed cover to the Special Investigation Team (SIT), which was set up on the court’s order.
The sealed envelope that the government was forced to submit as a consequence, containing 627 names, was not opened by this SC Bench headed by the Chief Justice. They have been passed on to the chairman of the SIT, a former Supreme Court judge.
Long back in 1959, the apex court ruled on the treaty-making powers of the Union government, which continues to hold good today. It had said, “There is thus no doubt about the legislative competence of Parliament to legislate about any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country and to give effect to such agreement or convention.” It had, however, put a caveat that “the treaty-making power would have to be exercised in the manner contemplated by the Constitution and subject to the limitations imposed by it”.
Clearly, therefore, our Constitution does not permit any such escape routes for people to siphon off money from our country. Though the BJP, at times, supported the Left parties in Parliament on the issue of such DTATs being unfavourable to our country, they, today in government, advance such protection to such people. Maybe such ‘protection’ that this Modi government is providing to black money hoarders abroad is part of the “payback time package” for those who have rendered invaluable financial and material support during the election campaign.
This Modi government is showing greater enthusiasm and eagerness in implementing the trajectory of economic reforms designed to provide greater profit maximisation opportunities for foreign and domestic capital, while imposing greater economic burdens on the people. Despite their claims of having begun an economic turnaround, the ground situation continues to worsen with factories closing down and unemployment growing.
Whatever relief that the rural employment guarantee scheme provided is being drastically curtailed. Price rise continues to take its toll. Our farmers continue to commit ‘distress’ suicides. Under these conditions, the large-scale privatisation of the public sector, drastic labour reforms and other such measures are, in fact, worsening the livelihood quality of the vast majority of our people.
Hence, the RSS and its political arm, the BJP, have returned to their basics — sharpening communal polarisation. The latest on this score is the sudden spurt of communal incidents in Delhi in anticipation of assembly elections that are due. In areas like Bhawana, Nandnagari, Trilokpuri and Samaypur Badli, former BJP legislators are allegedly creating communal confrontations.
In this they see their only way to consolidate the Hindu communal vote bank. This is ‘vote bank politics’ of the worst order that is designed to destroy the secular democratic character of the modern Indian Republic by posing serious threats to our social unity and integrity.
The pursuit of this diabolic agenda — a deadly cocktail of anti-people economic reforms and communal polarisation — cannot be allowed to succeed.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal