The Bharatiya Janata Party called it historic. The Congress said it was devious. And Subramanian Swamy said it wasn’t nearly enough. For once, it turns out, it might be Swamy who has the right take on the matter.

The government’s decision on Monday to reveal the names of eight Indians against whom prosecution has begun for allegedly holding illegal cash abroad turned out to be less of a bombshell than expected, for a simple reason. For all the grand promises of bringing back billions of dollars of money stashed illegally, the final revelation turned out to break almost no new ground, according to even some BJP leaders themselves.

Despite passive-aggressive threats from finance minister Arun Jaitley that the revealed names would embarass the Congress government, the final set was less than explosive. In an affidavit to the Supreme Court, the Centre named three businessmen who are being prosecuted under sections of the Income Tax Act and the Money Laundering Act, all of whom have denied the allegations: former executive director of the Dabur Group, Pradip Burman; bullion trader Pankaj Chimanlal Lodhiya and five directors on the board of Timblo Private Limited, a Goa-based mining company.

Names already known

All three names already feature on the much larger index of 782 bank accounts that was given to India by France in 2011 after a staffer of banking behemoth HSBC walked out of the office with 11 floppy disks filled with names of secret account holders. Ever since, the Indian government has been attempting to use the information to prosecute those who have stashed illegal money away, despite pushback from the Switzerland authorities. The list itself, though, has been leaked and circulated in portions. A PTI report later in the day, however, claimed that only Burman's named had been taken off the HSBC list from France with the rest coming from "other countries."

According to the Indian Express, about one-fifth of the names on the list have been acknowledged by the alleged holders of the money, who have since begun to pay penalties for their transgressions. This also reportedly includes Burman, of the Dabur group, who insisted on Monday that his account had been opened when he was still a Non Resident Indian.

In January, the Economic Times reported that members of the Burman family had paid taxes after their names had cropped up in the HSBC list, even though they maintained even then that the accounts had been opened when they were NRIs. Timblo has, meanwhile, come under the scanner because of her alleged connections to the Goan government. Only Lodhiya’s name appears to be surprising, prompting him to say he was “shocked” to see it on the list and insist that he has no foreign accounts at all.

Producing a mouse

Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Sambit Patra insisted that the day was historic because the process of disclosure of names had begun. But his party colleagues didn’t necessarily agree. Subramanian Swamy, who is also a senior lawyer, said the government could have released the entire list, rather than just three. “There is no hindrance of law to disclosing entire list of account holders,” he said. “Don’t know why government was disclosing selective names.” Former law minister Ram Jethmalani echoed his thoughts. “It is a case of a mountain of labour producing a mouse,” he said.

Jethmalani, in fact, said he was reposing his trust in the Supreme Court rather than the Centre. The apex court is set to consider the government’s argument, that it can only reveal the names of those alleged account holders against whom investigation has been completed and prosecution has begun, on Tuesday. It could potentially choose to mandate that the government disclose all 138 names on the list as it stands.