The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has finally realised that Hindutva slogans will not get it new votes in this elections; so, with 25 days to go, it has desperately picked on a financial issue – black money stashed by Indians in Swiss Bank accounts. By harping on ‘Swiss banks’, is the BJP deliberately keeping dozens of equally notorious tax havens out of focus? The fact is that after its recent stint in power, the BJP does not have the credibility to get the impact it did by training the Bofors gun on Rajiv Gandhi’s clean image. Let’s not forget that the Ketan Parekh scam and destruction of Unit Trust of India happened during the BJP-led government or that, even today, its senior leaders are squabbling publicly over the induction of ‘deal makers’ as key election managers.
The BJP is merely being opportunistic by lending its voice to the chorus of nations raging about tax havens sheltering tax-evaders. While it is a fact that Indian money in Swiss banks is staggeringly high and could range from $500 billion to $1,400 billion (Rs70,00,000 crore), that was the case even when the BJP was in power. It is also useful to remember that 25 years later we have no official conviction or knowledge of the beneficiaries of the Bofors scam! So LK Advani may thunder about Chidambaram’s wishy-washy request to the German government for the list of 100 Indians who have accounts in LGT Bank, but one doubts whether a BJP government will make the demand any more effectively – after all it will be working with the same bureaucrats and will be funded by the same businessmen who prefer to hoard their wealth overseas.
Contrary to what Mr Advani has said, people and politicians do not have to make a detour to Switzerland to open, withdraw or transfer money from their accounts. India is such a big market for tax-haven countries and many European banks that the banks come to potential customers offering what is called ‘private banking’. The bankers usually carry business cards with no designation, only a mobile phone number. Accounts are opened in the comfort of your office or in a five-star ambience. They offer a variety of services including the opening of trading accounts, creation of multi-layered investment vehicles to round-trip the money to the Indian market, portfolio management and also finance to give you a bigger play. Ever since the Reserve Bank of India allowed Indians to invest $200,000 abroad, these bankers could solicit business openly. They would start by discussing legal remittances and quickly go on to offer discreet investment of illegal accounts as well. We even had a smart Singapore-based Indian banker visit the MoneyLIFE office to check if we could give her leads to potential customers! So the amount of Indian wealth is outrageously large and the biggest users of tax havens are politicians, bureaucrats, government officials in all the investigation and enforcement agencies and businessmen. The BJP’s task force to prepare a report on the ‘staggering sums’ of black money in Swiss accounts has a couple of credible names; so maybe it will provide ordinary citizens a good starting point to fight the real battle against illegal, overseas wealth.