In an election devoid of a unifying theme other than hate and fear, “Swiss Bank Money” has emerged as a major mantra on many a political lip.
From L.K. Advani to Sitaram Yechuri, bringing back “unaccounted money” stashed away in tax havens like Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Cayman Islands has become the refrain. The amounts mentioned are astronomic: The BJP says Rs 5,000 billion crore up from; CPI(M) pegs it at $1.4 trillion; JD(U) says it is $1,456 billion; Rs 692,328 crore in the last five years alone; anywhere between Rs 25 lakh crore and Rs 70 lakh crore.
Narendra Modi says the Swiss bank money have fuelled the stock markets, Advani wants the names of ministers who have been to Switzerland made public; the BJP wants to conduct a week-long survey to drum up public opinion following rumours and reports that India was not just unenthusiastic about French efforts at the G20 summit in London to make tax havens transparent, but plainly casual.
Underlying all the flagellation is the belief that the Swiss banks will readily divulge the names of Indian “tax evaders, corrupt individuals and criminals” like they did in a Florida tax evasion case involving UBS Bank, and the assumption that the current global financial crisis is the right time to strike the iron. An IIM Bangalore professor says “India will be in the top five league if all the ill-gotten money is brought back.”
Advani, for his part, goes the whole hog. Even if we take the lower limit of the estimated amount of Rs. 25 lakh crore, the money is sufficient to, he says:
• Relieve the debts of all farmers and landless
• Build world-class roads all over the country – from national and state highways to district and rural roads;
• Completely eliminate the acute power shortage in the country and also to bring electricity to every unlit rural home;
• Provide safe and adequate drinking water in all villages and towns in India
• Construct good-quality houses, each worth Rs. 2.5 lakh, for 10 crore families;
• Provide Rs. 4 crore to each of the nearly 6 lakh villages; the money can be used to build, in every single village, a school with internet-enabled education, a primary health centre with telemedicine facility, a veterinary clinic, a playground with gymnasium, and much more.
Questions: Are these numbers real, or are Advani, Yechuri & Co merely flaunting a fictitious chainmail and indulging in politics by insinuation? Will any government—even a BJP-led one—really be able to bring back the money? Will the Swiss banks oblige? Is all the money in Swiss banks illegal? Can our parties and alliance take the risk of rubbing individuals and industrialists who finance them on the wrong side?
Also read: S. Gurumurthy on funny money