Undoubtedly the biggest issue in the recent general election which caused an unprecedented anti-incumbency wave was high level political corruption. It led to inflation and the loss of enormous illegal public funds stashed in foreign banks that could have been utilized in the domestic economy. The BJP did not exploit this issue as it could have by going for the jugular. However Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi while campaigning did say that he would altogether remove corruption from the system and deliver immediate results after assuming office. The government, supporters claimed, would hit the ground running. Well, by a stroke of luck circumstances have provided the Prime Minister the opportunity to prove his credibility on both counts by delivering swift and spectacular results.
According to media reports the Income Tax (I-T) Department has prepared a report related to the activities of Mr. Moin Qureshi who has vast disproportionate assets and is suspected of illegally laundering and transmitting money abroad. After conducting a raid the I-T operatives reportedly seized 500 hours of telephonic transcripts of Mr. Qureshi in conversation with, among others, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s Political Secretary Mr. Ahmed Patel, an old time friend of Mr. Modi. The tapes reveal Mr. Qureshi’s interaction not only with Mr. Patel but also with the current Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director Mr. Ranjit Sinha and former CBI Director Mr. AP Singh who is presently a member of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
At the same time, thanks to the efforts of Mr. Ram Jethmalani who petitioned the Supreme Court (SC) for recovering illegal Indian money deposited in foreign banks, the court ordered the government to notify a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe black money stashed in foreign banks by Indians. The SIT will be supervised by two retired apex court judges. Responding to Mr. Jethmalani’s fear that crucial documents were destroyed in fire in a government office, the court also asked the government to secure safely all documents and names of Indian account holders in the LGT Bank, Liechtenstein, given to India by Germany. It might be recalled that earlier during the tenure of Mr. Pranab Mukherjee as Finance Minister the German government, apart from the Lichtenstein list, had offered information about four other lists of names of Indian account holders of foreign money which the Indian government declined to accept. The new government can avail of that offer now. Unconfirmed reports also suggested that apart from the list provided by the Finance Ministry to the SC there were other names withheld from the court.
During Mr. Mukherjee’s tenure attention had also been drawn to the affairs of another alleged money launderer, Mr. Hasan Ali. For many years the Enforcement Directorate (ED) continued investigation of Mr. Hasan Ali while he walked a free man. He had close links with international arms dealer Mr. Adnan Kashogi and was suspected of gun running. Mr. Hasan Ali like Mr. Qureshi also had links with Mr. Ahmed Patel. He held a secret meeting with Mrs. Gandhi’s Political Secretary as was stated in the Maharashtra assembly by the opposition and subsequently was confirmed by the intelligence department of the state police. On May 3, 2010 the question was posed in these columns:
“During his interaction with Hasan Ali was (Congress Political Secretary) Ahmed Patel representing himself or his boss, (Congress President) Sonia Gandhi? If he was representing himself why has Mrs. Sonia Gandhi not sacked him? If he was representing the Congress President how does Mrs. Sonia Gandhi explain her party’s links with the nation’s biggest money launderer who is being protected by the Finance Minister?”
There was, expectedly, no response.
Mr. Modi’s government has sufficient damaging evidence in the money laundering case to immediately swing into action. With regard to Mr. Jethmalani’s foreign bank accounts petition, after the SC directive the government is free to expeditiously pursue the names of all the Indian illegal foreign bank account holders by approaching German authorities. In both cases there would be no appearance of a witch-hunt because the government would not have to dig up old cases. It merely has to act upon current events that in the natural course have provided its agencies two hot opportunities for swift action.
Mr. Modi has streamlined his cabinet with the promise of delivering efficient and maximum governance. He can demonstrate the validity of his claim by immediate action in these cases. By all means let the government for the long term offer total amnesty and confidentiality to corrupt officials in return for repatriation of their ill gotten earnings to the state exchequer. There are simply too many corruption cases to allow prosecution of all. A Voluntary Disclosures Scheme would provide a practical solution to enforce zero tolerance for corruption after a cut-off date and at the same time hugely augment financial resources of the state. But such long term solutions can only be pursued after the government has demonstrated its will to act against high level corruption. That is why the two above mentioned cases demand swift action.
With the damaging evidence already available to investigators it should be possible to start prosecution in the money laundering case within the next fortnight. After prosecution starts it will have to be seen whether the corruption trail is pursued to its source. So, how will the Prime Minister respond? The nation is waiting and watching.