So begins a Bharatiya Janata Party Task Force report on black money, a euphemism for ill-gotten gains and illicit cash that is stashed away outside the tax net. The report, released in 2011, is significant not just because of its unabashed hyperbole or even because the party is now in power in New Delhi. It is also pertinent because one of the members on the task force is none other than the current National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval.
This, as well as the prodigious use of Kala Dhan (Black Money) as a stick with which to beat the United Progressive Alliance over the last few years of campaigning, explains why most believed the party had taken a complete u-turn when the BJP relied on a United Progressive Alliance-era excuse to avoid naming alleged holders of accounts in Switzerland and other tax havens. It said that doing so would contravene the double taxation treaties that India has signed with several other countries.
This week, the Supreme Court forced the government to submit all 627 names on a list India had been given by France of Indians who hold Swiss bank accounts. At this stage, it might be worth looking at what else the party’s own teamhad recommended doing on the issue. In addition to Doval, the group featured the Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s S Gurumurthy, Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore professor R Vaidyanathan and advocate Mahesh Jethmalani.
“As a nation, we owe it to the deprived and ordinary people of India and its future citizens to perform the sacred duty of unearthing these vast national resources hidden abroad which has the potential to transform the country into a developed nation much sooner than we can otherwise do,” the report said.
The recommendations are much more drastic than anything the government has done over the last five months.
The report recommends a new law that would declare the government as the “beneficiary of all monies, assets and bank accounts held abroad by or the benefit of Indian nationals without declaring the same to the Indian authorities”.
It suggests the Indian government should grab all money held abroad, and then set up a tribunal that would allow the account holders a chance to prove that the cash is notillegal. As far as concerns about this being slightly heavy-handed, the task force had an answer: “There can be no objection by any political party to such a measure as the law provides for due process and does not expropriate the assets of any. It only shifts the onus of proof on the person who has held undeclared wealth abroad.”
The government’s excuse in the court for not being able to reveal more than three names was that it would violate potential double taxation treaties with countries like Germany. It fell to the Supreme Court to insist that New Delhi should not give any confidentiality certificate to another country without first looking into potentially illegal cash. This is the reverse of what was advocated by the task force, which wanted India to use its “geo-political power” to insist on other countries giving it information about account holders, especially “tiny tots like Switzerland”.
“These countries, particularly the tiny tots like Switzerland, therefore will have an enormous and increasing economic and geo-political stake in our country," the report said. "The present and potential power of India should be used, like other nations, such as the US and Germany, are using their clout to track the black monies of their nationals stashed abroad.”
Anyone found guilty of keeping money illegal won’t have it easy if the BJP listens to its own task force. First, it would want to bar any such person from holding public office. It would require any electoral candidate to submit an undertaking that they don’t hold any money abroad. Moreover, the task force even suggests that “cancellation of citizenship” should be considered, because keeping this money abroad is akin to treason.
“Domestic black money is a vote of no confidence on the government only while as illegal Indian wealth abroad is a vote of no confidence on India as a country and hence treason,” it said.
Quoting news reports that UPA government cabinet members had been visiting Switzerland fairly often, the task force said that it was clear they weren’t going there to ski in the Alps and the same shouldn’t happen under a BJP government. “Hence the PM should take the nation in to confidence and inform about foreign travels to tax havens by his cabinet ministers,” it said.
In addition to pushing around Tiny Tots, the task force recommends that India play a key role in altering the way the entire world looks at financial transactions and tax havens. Unhappy with “Anglo-Saxon laws which facilitated development of these secretive jurisdictions”, the task force called for India to “evolve a new architecture suiting Asian value systems for the twenty first century based on transparency and integrity... As a responsible member of G-20 and FATF, UNSC etc we should take the lead for all emerging markets.”
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