This post is part of the Global Voices special coverage on the Indian Elections 2009
Black money stashed away in overseas tax havens/secret Swiss bank accounts – is not a new topic in India. Dr. Munish tells us:
Black money in Swiss accounts: this is a phrase which I remember hearing from my childhood. People believe that Indian politicians, civil servants (bureaucrats or babus), rich people have their Swiss accounts and they deposit black money there!
Firm action will be initiated to minimise the presence of black money in the national economy. We will take determined steps to bring back the money (estimated at Rs 25,00,000 crore [$500billion] and Rs 75,00,000 crore [$1400billion]) illegally stashed in Swiss bank accounts and tax havens, and use it for infrastructure development, housing, health and social welfare schemes.
Though other political parties like the CPI(M) also spoke of launching a drive to unearth black money in their manifesto, the amounts stated by the BJP seemed so fantastic that it soon caught the public's fancy, and became a topic of debate.
Some people, like Shakthi, were impressed:
One of the biggest things that I liked about the [BJP] manifesto is the promise to get the 25 Lakh Crore Rupees of black money in Swiss banks back into the market in India. I can imagine what a heave that will give to our economy.
Others, like b50, were sceptical:
Will the BJP Fan Club please explain to me how the Swiss Bank billions can be bought to India and spent on infra within 100 days?
No one could however ignore the issue. Soon, various political parties were hotly debating, not only about the actual amount of black money stashed abroad, but also about who was doing what to get the money back.
The CPI(M) called the BJP's stated figures a ‘hoax’ and tried to re-claim the black money issue as their poll promise by pointing out that they had raised the issue ‘much before it appeared on the BJP's radar’. However, the CPI(M) also flayed the Congress for not doing enough to crack down on illicit funds.
The Congress, stung by competition's accusation that their government had not done enough to, stated that the BJP's claim of the aforementioned amounts was based on ‘bogus’ sources and hence lacked credibility. Furthermore, the Congress also raised questions as to why the BJP itself had not done the needful when they were in power earlier. At the same time, the party also claimed that they were on top of things and that ‘the government was already monitoring suspicious financial transactions’.
While the political parties thrust and parry on the issue in question, a PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court by eminent citizens seeking urgent remedial measures w.r.t the black money stashed abroad and its repatriation. The Court will the hear the case (including the government's response) on May 4th.
Yes, the knowledge of the existence of black money is not new news. Then why has it become a raging debate in this election? According to Dr. Munish:
[...]in today's global economic recession, the powerful countries like USA are making efforts to recover their lost money. That makes sense! Consider a situation: when in a home, we are out of money, what we do: we look around if some money is lying around (in piggy banks, in form of deposits). Same concept lies behind the desperation that the developed countries are showing: they have fixed their eyes on black money that their countrymen had stashed out of country!
Rising above our own political preferences, there is no denying that a lot, a lot of money is stashed by Indian elite in Swiss banks: and I am of the firm opinion that these political leaders –if exposed- will be belonging to all major and many regional parties. It may be a safe guess if you believe that each and every famous leader might have some money stocked there! Thus it is amply clear that if this money is recovered and used in India: India can overnight become a major country!
In the midst of this debate, the Swiss Bankers Association has said that this topic has become “good election fodder”. However, with the OECD pressing for a crackdown on black money stashed overseas as well as cross-border tax evasions, it looks like this time round, this is an issue that is sure to remain the focus of attention for now at least.