Why this extensive charade in the first place that ensured that the Modi Government ended up with egg on its face?
It was just a fortnight back when it seemed everything was going well for the NDA Government. The Prime Minister had well and truly settled in office. His cabinet colleagues were slowly but surely getting on top of their Ministries. Whatever was left of the Opposition was pulverised by the average voter as evidenced by the recent election results in two States that went to polls.
Inflation was heading southwards. Business optimism was returning, albeit slowly. Green shoots were definitely visible. Pink papers shed their usual paranoia and began to talk purposefully. Even critics of the Prime Minister were grudgingly approving of him and his Government. Internationally, the PM was seen as a new star of Asia and not merely of India.
But the NDA Government suddenly seemed to be possessed by a death wish. In a move that would shame a Kamikaze warrior, the NDA Government, inexplicably and without any provocation, filed a writ in the Hon’ble Supreme Court last fortnight seeking to hold back the names of those who had bank accounts in tax havens.
Heavens indeed started falling down, almost instantly. The Congress, which till the day they were in power, did everything to keep the names of such accounts secret on account of India’s so-called obligation under the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement [DTAA] suddenly turned hostile and would have nothing of the argument that it propounded in the first place.
Strangely, the BJP, which till the other day lampooned the Congress, borrowed the worn out prescription of the Congress and championed it. The role reversal nevertheless was fast and smooth.
As the Government licks its wound after this legal misadventure, some pertinent questions remain unanswered.
First, why did the NDA Government hand over the list of Black Money account holders to the Special Investigation team [SIT] as early as June 27, 2014? Under whose authority? Does that mean that the SIT, and not the Government, was in charge of the investigation since June 2014? Are we to assume that the NDA Government has abdicated its responsibility to investigate matters relating to Black Money henceforth?
Second, if the NDA Government did hand over the “complete list” to the SIT as early as June 2014, why was the nation not adequately taken into confidence? Surely in politics perception management is crucial. On this, the NDA has failed badly.
Third, if the NDA Government did actually hand over the list to the SIT in June 2014, why did it shy away from stating this fundamental fact in its Affidavit to the Hon’ble Supreme Court filed on October 2014?
Fourth, if the SIT did have this list since June 2014, what did it do with it? (The same thing that it could have done without?). Any progress report? Any report at all? Those who question the NDA Government on the progress made by it since it took to office in May 2014 must remember that the SIT was constituted just a day or two later.
Fifth, if the SIT did have the information since June 2014, did it at-least inform the Hon’ble SC? Apparently, from the reaction of the Hon’ble SC it appears that it has not. If so, why?
Sixth, on the other hand, if the Hon’ble Supreme Court had indeed been informed by the SIT, then what was the need for the Hon’ble SC to seek the information from the Government as ‘stingingly’ as it did?
Seventh, irrespective of whether the SIT informed the Hon’ble SC or not, the fact remains that the Government did inform SIT which indeed is a creation of the apex court. Won’t any information to the SIT be deemed to be information given to the Hon’ble SC itself? Why did the Hon’ble SC chide the NDA Government and seek the “Complete List” yet again?
Eighth, if the NDA Government genuinely believed that the DTAA clause did apply and could not reveal any names of account-holders in tax havens, why then did it release the names of three account holders on October 27?
Ninth, if the NDA Government believed that the names could be made public only after launching prosecution, the reaction and statements of these three account-holders post revelation of their names on October 27 did not indicate that they were being subjected to prosecution under any law. If it is the factual position, why is it that the Government repeating this as a huge legal issue, which it is apparently not, when it comes to sharing information of such account holders with other countries?
Tenth, and a crucial question: Did the UPA Government, just as it demitted office, give amnesty to some of these account-holders? If so, under which law? Also, why has the NDA Government not made the names of such beneficiaries public? Importantly, what triggered the writ petition to the Hon’ble SC in the first place which lead to a series of events that left none wiser but definitely dented the image of the Modi Government?
These are questions at this point in time for which there are no answers.
The theatre of the absurd continues
It may be recalled that it was only recently that I had written on the functioning of the SIT [Black Money Issue – SIT on a wild goose chase] and expressed my doubts on its ability to deliver.
And pray why not? The SIT, it may be recalled, was constituted by the Hon’ble SC because of the failure of our institutions that deal with this convoluted issue of Black Money Viz., Secretary of the Department of Revenue, Deputy Governor of RBI, Intelligence Bureau Director, Director of ED, Director CBI, CBDT, Chairman and Director General Narcotics Control Bureau, Director of Revenue Intelligence, Director Financial Intelligence Unit, Secretary RAW and Joint Secretary (Foreign Tax and Tax Research).
Yet, the Hon’ble Supreme Court chose to constitute the SIT precisely with officers who head these very institutions which have failed the nation for decades leading to a situation where it had to think of an alternative delivery mechanism through the SIT.
What is interesting is that the apex court assumes in its wisdom that these institutions who individually have failed the nation would collectively be a success! Does the sum of negative integers add to a positive one? Well, the Hon’ble Supreme Court seems to hope so.
Let us not forget that the Government is an amorphous animal operating through individuals. As the “complete list” was prepared by the Government, in the backdrop of the formation of SIT, it would have led to a rather piquant situation when such list would have been compiled by its officers [Revenue Secretary for instance] who are an integral part of SIT.
The farce that was started in June was repeated all over once again last week, this time involving the apex court.
As per its directions the officers who comprise the SIT would have prepared the “complete list” and handed it over one again in a “sealed envelope” to the Hon’ble court only to be handed over by the Hon’ble Court to the chairman and vice-chairman of SIT who in turn would have invariably handed over the same “sealed cover comprising the complete list” to officers who comprise the SIT for “immediate further action!”
So on June 2014, these very men prepared the “Complete List” [but individually sat on it for years] and handed it over in a “sealed cover” to the SIT as Government officials, to get back the same as ‘members of SIT” and now are supposed “act” instantly! The world, is indeed, round!
Never in the history of mankind has so much premium laid on “acting” and “enacting.”
Can anything get more bizarre than this?
What should not be lost in the melee is that despite all the brouhaha what has been achieved is zilch. But the billion dollar questions remain. Why this extensive charade in the first place that ensured that the Modi Government ended up with egg on its face even as the nation got not a wee bit closer in getting the names [and the money] of the illicit money account holders? Who within the Government contrived to lose right from day one? Are there some who are weaving some incomprehensible web to shame the Government instead of ‘shaming’ the black money holders?
These questions will haunt the nation and the Government in the coming months. The earlier they are answered, the better for this Government.