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From the arc lights to reality

The celebration of the fact that Indian talent has been recognised at the Academy Awards must be accompanied by the determination to improve shortcomings at home, writes Sitaram Yechury.

india Updated: Feb 25, 2009 22:36 IST

The euphoria around

Slumdog

Millionaire

’s signature song —

Jai ho

— has transcended the song’s crescendo. Two Indians, from the ‘minority’ community, have won the Academy Awards this year for their contributions in the film; this reflects the country’s rich composite culture — the palimpsest we discussed last fortnight. It was exhilarating to hear Resul Pookutty invoking

omkara

and

shivratri

while dedicating the award to the nation. However, it is unfortunate that such Indian talents are recognised only when they appear under western banners. Personally, I rate A R Rahman and Gulzar’s contributions to Indian movies as much more important. Nevertheless, recognition at the world stage is always welcome.

However, we should also look at the reality. The National Family Health Survey-3 says that 56 per cent of our children don’t get any protective vaccination, 40 per cent are underweight and 70 per cent are anaemic thanks to malnutrition. A thousand children die every day due to diseases, which are preventable. Two-thirds of pregnant women in the country are anaemic. This is the reality of the present and future of India and the situation will worsen because the global recession is bound to render lakhs jobless.

The celebration of the fact that Indian talent has been recognised must be accompanied by the determination to improve these shortcomings. This can only be done by enlarging public expenditure to generate jobs and improve our inadequate social and economic infrastructure.

Instead of doing this, the UPA is preoccupied with bailout packages. These packages will only improve company balancesheets but not the purchasing power of the people, which is necessary to kickstart the economy. Already 71 gem polishers in Surat have committed suicide and the textile workers in Namakkal, Tamil Nadu, are selling their kidneys to stay afloat.

The government’s fiscal stimulus is not enough to meet this challenge. In net terms, the interim budget expects an extra capital expenditure of around Rs 40,000 crore, which is less than one per cent of our GDP and a meagre $8 billion, when neighbouring China has announced a package of $586 billion.

Unfortunately, whenever there’s a demand for increased public investments, there are many who wonder where the resources would come from. It is impossible to beat recession without the government incurring huge deficits. That was what the ‘new deal’ was all about.

In April 2007, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suggested that the rise in the number of Indian billionaires is due to State patronage. He asked: “Are we encouraging crony capitalism? Are we doing enough to protect consumers and small businesses from the consequences of crony capitalism?” Crony capitalism refers to a situation in which big business prospers thanks to its close relationship with the State, instead of its success being determined by free market. The various scams that have surfaced on the allocation of land for the Special Economic Zones, the mega spectrum telecom scam, the Satyam fraud and the subsequent exposes of such scams connected with family members of the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister — all testify this.

As a result of such an accumulation of ill-gotten wealth, there has been an outflow of capital from India. The Global Financial Integrity Report, 2009, says that illegal financial outflows from the developing countries have been growing at a compound rate of 18.2 per cent annually in this decade. How much of this is from India? Surely, this must be unearthed. The Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) Report, 2006, says India tops the list with $1.4 trillion (Rs 70 lakh crore) deposits in their banks. The veracity of this wealth must be checked and its return must be ensured. There are some 70 other tax havens in the world. How much more of the ill-gotten wealth is lying in these places?

Despite the confidentiality practised by Swiss Banks, the SBA website informs that it is the duty of banks to provide information under certain circumstances, which include money laundering and tax fraud.

The US Justice Department had obtained information about US citizens who held undeclared accounts in the largest Swiss Bank — UBS. Even though there was a hue and cry about the fact that the centuries-old code of secrecy of the Swiss Banks was being breached, the US authorities succeeded in their endeavour. If the US could do this, so must India. For us, it is not merely a question of tax evasion or fraud; the the issue is much bigger when Indian law does not permit holding of such huge assets abroad.

Crony capitalism can be combated only when this unaccounted money is brought back. Only then resources to sustain a quantum leap in public investment can be met more adequately and the lives of our children can be improved substantially.

(Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and MP)