Even the most committed supporters of the BJP will be hard pressed to justify the party’s performance on the issue of black money abroad. Finance Minister Mr. Arun Jaitley urged the Supreme Court to modify its earlier order to grant full disclosure about the identity of tainted Indian foreign account holders. The government cited provisions of the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) which India had entered with foreign governments to make its plea. This has infuriated the petitioner of the black money case, eminent lawyer Mr. Ram Jethmalani, who has described the government’s stand as being criminally motivated. The BJP government is answerable on several counts.
First, the BJP took a diametrically opposite stand when in opposition and accused the UPA government of protecting the corrupt by not disclosing names of foreign account holders. The UPA government too had cited the DTAA commitment to withhold the names. Regardless of the merits of the plea to avoid disclosure the BJP has no justification for its brazen contradiction between what it said as opposition and as government.
Next, regarding merits of the plea there is under existing law no bar on any Indian to hold a foreign bank account. Many of the names in the lists provided to the government by other nations include legitimate account holders. If the government does not want to disclose their names the suggestion by former Additional Attorney General Mr. Biswajit Bhattacharya merits attention. He advised legitimate account holders to voluntarily disclose their names. Suspicion then would remain on those who choose silence.
According to provisions of DTAA names of only those account holders may be disclosed who have deposited money earned criminally. That led Mr. Jaitley to inform media that names of persons having black money accounts will be made public as soon as charges are framed against them in courts of law. This is reasonable. But it raises new questions instead of answering old questions.
The government is privy to the names on the lists even if the public is not. It should be the easiest thing for government to spot the suspicious names depositing money abroad without visible means of acquiring it. For months on end the BJP before being elected harangued the previous government for covering up the truth. It repeatedly claimed that within 100 days of assuming power it would bring back to the nation all the black money deposited abroad. Five months have passed since the government was sworn in. It had access to all the names of listed account holders. Yet Mr. Jaitley is saying that names will be publicized after charges are framed. Why have no charges been framed during the past five months?
On any dispassionate assessment the BJP is indefensible on the issue of black money. Politics is all about public perception. How should the public perceive the government stonewalling on the issue after five full months of inaction? Can people be blamed for concluding that BJP leaders are themselves also complicit in corruption?