MONEY MATTERS

Yet another diary implicating our leaders in corruption is in the news. This one first surfaced in Karnataka. Apparently, a Congress legislator close to the party bosses in Bengaluru had meticulously jotted down the names of senior leaders with the amounts of money written against each name. As is the settled practice now, instead of spelling out in full the names of the recipients of the unaccounted cash, these were reduced to abbreviations. But anyone reading the initials wouldn’t need to wrack his brains to make out who these initials stood for. In all, the amount disbursed by MLC Govind Raj totalled over Rs 600 crore.

Unsurprisingly, the response of the giver and the recipients was familiar: The diary was fake and a handiwork of the BJP. Of course, you did not expect either Govind Raj or the beneficiaries of his ill-gotten munificence to mutter a collective mea culpa and beg for mercy. No, instead, as in the case of the previous such diaries, they too would brazen this one out. Though the diary was seized from the bedroom of Govind Raj during an I-T raid last year, and the seizure duly acknowledged by independent witnesses, it is hardly likely that anything would eventually come of it.

The reason why earlier such diaries ended in abrupt closure of investigations lies in well-established precedents. Beginning with the infamous Jain Hawala diaries in the 1990s, to the recent Birla and Sahara diaries, political payments seem to enjoy an informal amnesty. However, this does not mean the entries therein are false. They are not. Barring probably the mischievous Sahara diaries, others were mostly genuine. As is the Karnataka diary of Govind Raj.

But what should concern us is how various recipients use those funds. Let us be honest. Elections are a costly affair. Politicians need money—and get it without much effort depending on their winnability. The Birla and Sahara diaries reflected the fact that ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP was the obvious favourite. And the party had mounted one of the most expensive campaigns. The Congress wasn’t lacking in funds, either, being the party in power for a decade. But the donors had more or less chosen the winner in BJP.

Citing the order in the Jain Hawala case, the Supreme Court dismissed the PIL seeking investigations into the Birla and Sahara diaries. However, the Jain Hawala diaries were one hundred per cent authentic. Once his troubles ended, and S.K. Jain, the main figure in the scam, was a broken man, before his death he confided in close friends that he had indeed “distributed” some Rs 60-odd crore to eminent politicians and bureaucrats.

Having made over Rs 150 crore as a middleman in a particular power sector deal with a South Korean company, the Jain brothers believed that they could grow much bigger if they bought the goodwill of the powerful people. When the diaries were seized in a raid, they feared that they would be slapped with massive tax evasion and racketeering. Therefore, they per force denied their veracity. Yet, they gave Rs 5 lakh to a leader from an eastern state. Yes, they gave Rs 10 crore to a political party.

However, a number of names in the Jain diaries showed pure bribes. For example, to a senior minister in the V.P. Singh government. Or to a senior Gujarat-cadre IAS officer. Or to a then upcoming businessman close to the Gandhis. The point is that when you are out buying influence, you need to pay to wheeler-dealers close to the seat of power, as also to those who preside over major political parties and need enormous funds to fight elections. 

The Karnataka diary highlights the open loot underway in the state under the Siddaramaiah government, with individual ministers routing money through a designated point person. It also evokes suspicion because some of the recipients have no business to receive party funds. 

In sum, all parties, including the newly-minted AAP, take tens of crores in donations in black, but the trouble arises when these are diverted into private pockets. 

Despite a senior Finance Ministry official denying that a new Rs 1,000-denomination note is being reintroduced, speculation persists. It may be because usually well-informed quarters believe that sooner than later, the newly-introduced Rs 2,000 note would be quietly withdrawn.

BRIDGE GAP -BETWEEN RS 500, RS 2000

Despite a senior Finance Ministry official denying that a new Rs 1,000-denomination note is being reintroduced, speculation persists. It may be because usually well-informed quarters believe that sooner than later, the newly-introduced Rs 2,000 note would be quietly withdrawn. Indeed, some economists have made a case for restoring Rs 1,000 notes as the highest denomination. It will act both anti-inflationary and hinder black money growth. Remember, in the US the highest denomination bill in circulation is of one hundred dollars, while in the UK it is of 50 pound sterling. 

In fact, some people have made a case for the introduction of a new Rs 200 note, arguing that the gap between the current Rs 100 and Rs 500 notes is inflationary. In the US, they have dollar bills of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 denominations. There is nothing between Rs 100 and 500 and, again, between 500 and 2000. Time the RBI took note of what the financial market speculation is all about. 

1,500 KG SLIP

What should be the normal weight of a newly-born child? If you trust Mamata Banerjee, it should be 1,500 kilogram. Yes, 1,500 kilogram. Speaking at a public function in Kolkata the other day, the West Bengal Chief Minister also said that new-born babies weighing “500 to 600 grams” are premature. Expressing concern at the poor health of young mothers and newly-born babies, she directed the state government doctors to take immediate remedial steps.

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