Arun Jaitley has nothing to hide

Arun Jaitley has nothing to hide

By M.J. Akbar | 25 October, 2014
Arun Jaitley
One can safely assume that the bulk of the black money left India in recent years, and there was a stampede outwards during the UPA decade.

Religion, which has much to say on the subject, generally recommends that the best way to suffer is in silence. Silence, alas, is not natural to democracy, even when suffering is writ large on the face of those who have lost an election. The siren lure of television has made the dilemma worse, for television demands talk.

It would have suited Congress interests better if they had kept quiet over illegal Swiss bank accounts. Instead, it went on a media offensive against Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. The party and its supporters missed a simple point: Arun Jaitley has nothing to hide; nor is he interested in protecting anyone. It was only a question of when names would be disclosed, since government was hindered by a technical obligation thanks to a clause inserted by the previous UPA government in a bilateral treaty with Switzerland, by which government can reveal names only after there is evidence for a charge-sheet. Congress used it as cover for sustained duplicity because it knew that its own worthies were on this less than honourable roster.

UPA pursued an opaque strategy in order to achieve a grand fudge. It placed disclosure on a slow track to nowhere, for its only intention was to buy time up to the 2014 general elections. If by some astounding miracle Congress had won enough seats to prop up a ramshackle coalition this year, the slow track would have evaporated into a no-track. And bandits would have continued to laugh all the way to their Swiss banks.

If you want confirmation, consider this fact revealed by the central bank of Switzerland, and cited by the Hindustan Times on 22 October. I quote: "Indians' money in Swiss banks jumped 40% in 2013 to nearly two billion Swiss Francs CHF [nearly Rs 14,000 crore] from 1.34 billion Swiss Francs CHF in 2012 [about Rs 9514 crores], according to Swiss National Bank's latest data."

The Finance Minister is not interested in protecting anyone. It was only a question of when names would be disclosed.

What was the reason for this sudden high jump of Rs 4,500 crore in illegal flows to Swiss accounts? Incidentally, we do not know how much more has disappeared into sanctuaries on rapacious, tiny islands whose only income comes from banks laden with hot money. These banks ask no questions about source of deposits because beneath their solemn façade they are the biggest beneficiaries of fiscal crime. We can, however, make an educated guess about who sent the money out of India. Some of this money could be from businessmen; but 2013 was not a year marked by any economic boom. Instead, there was serious economic decline. But one sector recorded a quantum leap in growth — the corruption sector. And the big players in corruption were ruling class politicians.

The significant fact about 2013 is that it ended four months before the start of the 2014 general elections. By winter it had become clear to anyone who was not totally blind that Congress was going to lose the elections. Any lingering doubts vanished when BJP announced, in September, that Narendra Modi would be the party candidate for Prime Minister, and historic crowds began to turn up for his public meetings. I suspect that money began to shift into Swiss [and similar] accounts at a hectic pace once the crooks knew that their golden decade under a collaborative and participatory UPA regime was winding down, fast.

Narendra Modi has done more to pursue this stolen wealth in four months than Congress did in ten years. The Prime Minister has drawn a moral line for his government in an unambiguous statement: "I shall not steal; nor will I allow anyone else to steal." Contrast this with Dr Manmohan Singh's excuse for looking the other way while thieves in his ministry ravaged the nation: "coalition compulsions". Such an alibi is embarrassing, at the very least. Under this thin camouflage unbelievable amounts were stolen and spirited out of the country. It is near impossible to offer an accurate assessment of how much Indian wealth has disappeared from the country, but the Global Financial Integrity, a Washington think tank, has put the figure at $462 billion, or nearly Rs 29 lakh crore, counting from the advent of freedom in 1947. One can safely assume, however, that the bulk of this money left India in recent years, and there was a stampede outwards during the UPA decade. So far this traffic has been on a one-way street. That free run is over.

Democracy by television has a problematic fault line for political parties. Decibels required for a day's sound bites can drown out any consideration of the fallout. An offensive can so easily boomerang, particularly if the target is no more than an illusion. It is not easy to duck a boomerang. It would have been far wiser to opt for discretion, and patience, in the first place.

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