India’s black money debate
Making tall promises in a melodramatic manner at election rallies is easy but fulfilling those promises after coming to power is difficult. This is what the NDA government in India is realizing now. (Or perhaps they knew it but played blissfully ignorant about this fact before the general elections)
Come to think of it, the promise of bringing back black money stashed in banks abroad seemed too far-fetched in the first place. To date, nobody knows the exact amount of black money that is to be brought back. Ministers and spokespersons of the ruling party keep on doling out different numbers (from a few billion to hundreds of billions of dollars) on social media and various other public platforms (debates on leading news channels) but the question still remains as to how much money the Indian government is ultimately chasing!
At the beginning of this month, the Indian government claimed that they had realized Rs 3,770 crores from the disclosure compliance window granted to the Indian public for disclosing any monetary assets stashed abroad. This sum then went up to Rs 4,147 crores, but still remained a fraction of the amount mentioned in election rallies last year. Facing colossal embarrassment in front of the media and the public, the finance minister of India made a feeble statement that the major chunk of black money resides in India and not abroad as widely perceived.
If this is the case, then why make an election promise to bring back black money stashed abroad in 100 days by quoting an astronomical figure? The Indian government is totally on the back foot as far as its promise to bring back black money is concerned, and this can be easily gauged by the sloppy statements being made by ministers and the spokespersons of the ruling party.
The way that the issue of black money was presented to the general public at the time of elections shows the uneducated nature of the Indian voting public. Nobody questioned the way the money would be brought back. The public accepted the promise at face value just like it has accepted poll promises before elections since the country’s independence.
The BJP leaders knew that apart from a small minority of educated voters who are perhaps their vote bank, they were dealing with essentially semiliterate voters who are not only poor, but also do not have the wherewithal to find out how black money can be brought back to India or to understand if it is even possible to get it back in the first place. In a way this is a brazen attempt to mock the conscience of Indian voters, and the party succeeded big time in doing it!
Announcing on public platforms that black money would be brought back was signaling to all those who have kept the money abroad to either shift it or withdraw the money from those accounts. As per reports, people who have stashed money in foreign bank accounts have already started withdrawing the money from them. By the time the government completes all the formalities and asks the overseas banks to provide details, the black money stashes will have disappeared!
It should be a lesson to Indian voters that if such promises are made in election campaigns, then political leaders should be rigorously questioned as to how the promises will be fulfilled and in what time frame.
Also the so-called “independent media” (the fourth pillar of Indian democracy) should question the government about the promises made by them before elections. The Indian media did question the government, albeit after six months and after the opposition parties created a furor in Parliament in the winter session of 2014. Covering that furor made this issue hot again and the media was virtually forced to cover and debate it on national television.
As for the Indian public, life goes on as usual fighting the daily problems of electricity cuts, water shortages and rising prices as the good days promised by the ruling party before elections are yet to come and still remain a distant dream for the common man, raising the question: “Acche din kab ayenge?” (When will the good days come?) in response to the poll promise of BJP before the general elections that “Acche din aane wale hain” (Good days are about to come!).