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Saturday, Sep 21, 2019

There are shades of grey when it comes to black money

Did the BJP mislead the country by promising more than it could deliver on black money? Has the NDA done more in six months than the UPA in 10 years to bring black money back? Asks Karan Thapar.

columns Updated: Dec 07, 2014 01:10 IST

Did the BJP knowingly mislead the country by promising more than it could deliver on black money? The Congress says yes, the BJP no. Second, has the NDA done more in six months than the UPA in 10 years to bring black money back? The BJP says yes, the Congress no. Now, let’s see if I can show you where the truth lies.

First, on April 17 in Thane, Maharashtra, Rajnath Singh said all the black money stashed abroad would be brought back within a 100 days. Venkaiah Naidu is wrong when he says this promise wasn’t made. More importantly, Rajnath Singh must have known this was a promise he could not deliver. He was, therefore, deliberately misleading.

Second, on one occasion whilst campaigning Narendra Modi said there was enough black money abroad for every Indian to receive Rs 3 lakh. On another, he upped the figure to Rs 15-20 lakh. You can find the first clip on Digvijaya Singh’s website and the second on Youtube. But on November 2, in Mann ki Baat, Mr Modi said: “Nobody knows, nor do I know, nor does the government know … how much money is stashed abroad.” In which case was Mr Modi misleading when he said every Indian would receive Rs 3 lakh or Rs 15-20 lakh? It would certainly seem so.

Third, in opposition the BJP repeatedly accused the Congress of not releasing the HSBC account-holder names and thus covering up. At the time, the Congress said the confidentiality clauses of the Double Taxation Agreements did not permit disclosure unless a proper prosecution was filed.

This is what Ravi Shankar Prasad said in response on January 18, 2011: “The government’s argument that it can reveal the names to the Supreme Court but not to the public due to double taxation is baseless.”

However, after coming to power the BJP has changed its stance. It now parrots the Congress line. So was it just uninformed earlier on? Or was it making irresponsible statements?

I have little doubt the BJP knowingly and deliberately made promises it knew it could not deliver. But then wasn’t that what Indira Gandhi did in 1971, when she promised garibi hatao? At the hustings parties promise the moon though they know they can’t deliver. The key question is: Do the Indian people take them seriously? I don’t think so.

The situation is very different when you ask whether the Modi government has done more in six months than the UPA in 10 years. First, virtually on his first day, Mr Modi set up the SIT. In contrast, the Congress was not just reluctant but repeatedly petitioned the Supreme Court to revoke the order for an SIT.

The second critical step is the October agreement with Switzerland, ensuring its co-operation even when the information is stolen, provided India can furnish its own evidence, and, secondly, an agreement to verify documents in a time-bound period. These are important achievements. Even though P Chidambaram says the process and understanding began in his time, the credit goes to the BJP for clinching the arrangement.

Finally, finance minister Arun Jaitley has claimed that of the 627 HSBC names, 427 accounts have been traced, 250 people have admitted to owning them and a handful of prosecutions have started. That is, indeed, good work for just six months. I don’t think anyone could deny it.

So, not surprisingly, both sides are partly right and partly wrong. On this issue its love all or, if you prefer, deuce!

The views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: Dec 06, 2014 21:50 IST