A reality-check exposes the hollowness of the BJP government’s tall claims on fighting corruption.
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The currency ban announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was trumpeted as a major step aimed at unearthing black money and which would thus deliver a serious blow to corruption in India. The vacuity of this claim has been conclusively demonstrated by now, but the BJP never tires of insisting that they have been fighting corruption.
A reality-check of a few of the measures taken by the government would bring the tall claims of BJP spokespersons crashing down to earth.
Money laundering made easier?
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, for instance, has claimed in an article published on Tuesday that demonetisation was “a bold assault on corruption”. One of the examples of the government’s “boldness” that he mentions are the amendments to The Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002 which have been supposedly brought in to make the law more stringent to deal with the menace of black money.
But he conveniently omits to mention the fact that the government has rolled back its earlier order which made it mandatory for gems and jewellery deals to report all sales above Rs. 50,000 to the financial intelligence unit.
As per the notification issued on 23 August 2017, dealers in precious metals, precious stones and other high-value goods having a turnover of over Rs 2 crore in a financial year had been "notified as persons carrying on designated business and professions under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002". This had made such dealers reporting entities under the Act, requiring them to intimate the relevant authorities about transactions above certain limits.
But the government issued another notification on 6 October, withdrawing the earlier one dated 23 August. A separate notification was supposed to be issued after considering the points raised in the representations received from various Associations in the Gems and Jewellery sector.
According to reports , the Rs. 50,000 limit for reporting had “dampened sentiments”, and the withdrawal of the limit apparently lifted the spirits of the jewellers. It has been one month since the order has been rescinded, but no new notification has been issued. This raises some obvious questions. Is the order only aimed at lifting the “spirits” of the jewellers who carry on legitimate business, for instance, or is it also intended to help lift the “spirits” of those with unaccounted money and who intend to park it in gold and jewellery? Given the fact that some of the major centres of the gems and jewellery business are in Gujarat, was the withdrawal of the restrictions aimed at appeasing some important players, or at greasing certain money channels ahead of the Gujarat elections? These remain unanswered questions.
The unending wait for Lokpal
Yet another example of broken promises by the BJP with regard to fighting corruption is the case of the Lokpal bill. The BJP came into power promising the appointment of the Lokpal (anti-corruption ombudsman). Well over three years have passed since Modi became Prime Minister, but the government has not even implemented the law enacted by the parliament to establish the Lokpal.
The government has refused to appoint a Lokpal, claiming that the Act says the Leader of the Opposition has to be a member of the selection committee. The government argues that currently there is no LOP in the Lok Sabha, as no opposition party has the numbers (by convention, a minimum of 10% of Lok Sabha seats) required for its leader to be called the LOP.
Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, however, argues that there are several laws which either define the LOP as the leader of the party in opposition to the government having the greatest numerical strength, or which states that if there is no LOP, then the leader of the opposition party with the highest number of seats will be considered so.
The government meanwhile keeps insisting that an amendment which will remove this difficulty is on its way, but three years don't seem to be enough for the BJP to bring about this amendment.
Electoral bonds to smoothen and whitewash corporate funding to political parties
The electoral bond scheme introduced by the BJP government in the Union Budget 2017-18 goes even further – it constitutes a grave threat to democracy itself.
The scheme allows those who want to donate to political parties to purchase bonds from authorised banks, against cheques or digital payments. The donor may then gift the bond to a registered political party, and the party can convert the bonds to money through its bank account.
As per this scheme, the identity of the donor will not be revealed. Rather than ensuring transparency in political funding, the Modi government has created a mechanism to allow political parties to receive funding from the rich and the corporates, without having to let the public know the source of the funding. Corporates can fund the political parties which promise to frame policies which will benefit them, while the parties can claim that their policies are framed keeping in mind the welfare of the people rather than their rich donors. The common people will have no means to know the veracity of such claims.
The Election Commission itself had stated that the government's move to introduce electoral bonds is a "retrograde" step which would compromise transparency in political funding.
"Bahut hua bhrashtachar, Abki baar Modi Sarkar" (Enough with corruption. This time, Modi government.) was one of the slogans of the BJP in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But one year after the disastrous demonetisation experiment which led to the death of more than 100 people, crippled agriculture and the informal economy, threw more than a million people out of their jobs, and accentuated the economic slowdown which was already underway, the BJP’s claims about fighting corruption come across as completely hollow.
All evidence shows that the assault of the BJP government was not on corruption. If anything, the assault has been on the economy and the working people.