FM Keeps the black money pot simmering

New Delhi: Political parties have a penchant for keeping the pot simmering. Black money stashed abroad has been a favourite handle for the Bharatiya Janata Party to target the Congress party over its allegedly corrupt ways. On Wednesday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley dropped hints that a minister in the previous UPA government could be one of those who had stashed money abroad. He added that he did not want to give details because he could not violate the treaty on confidentiality that India has signed with certain countries. Refusing to go into specifics, he said the names would be disclosed to the court, and then they could become public.

By refusing to disclose anything and yet dropping hints about the possible involvement of a former UPA minister, Jaitley has set a cat among pigeons. Incidentally, a day earlier Jaitley had ob

served that disclosure of names of those holding illicit foreign accounts will embarrass the Congress.

The Congress lost no time in hitting back. ”Do not blackmail us. Release all the names,” said senior lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi asserting that all this is a mere ploy to divert the people’s attention from the real issue — the failure to get back any black money stashed abroad.

He showed video clips of then prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi’s political campaign, wherein he is heard asking people to clap, as they would be getting … ‘‘Lakhs in their accounts within 100 days of the BJP coming to power.’’

Congress chief spokesperson Ajay Maken too latched onto the controversy and said:

“There is no need to blackmail the Congress. Whatever names they have, they should reveal and act as they have a government now. We want them to reveal all the names and not just that of 136 individuals. The BJP and the prime minister should tell the entire truth and not half of it. They should not go for vindictive and selective leakages.”

He recalled that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Rajnath Singh had said during the poll campaign that when the black money is brought back every citizen shall get Rs.15 lakhs in his account. ‘‘People of this country, including myself, are waiting for Rs. 15 lakhs to come into their accounts as promised by Modiji,” he added.

Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh also reminded the BJP government of its pre-poll promise and wondered if the money would be transferred through the high profile Jan Dhan Yojana as a “Diwali gift; or the people would have to wait till the next elections in 2019.

In the last few days, there have been other twists in this tale. The Attorney General recently told the Supreme Court during the course of its proceedings that the government cannot disclose the names of the account holders in foreign banks. He had cited international Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements as the reason for this non-disclosure. The Congress had always put forward this argument, only to be accused by the BJP of lack of political will. So, the Congress retaliated in a ‘we told you so mode.

Jaitley then came in with a rebuttal. He said that the whole thing had been misinterpreted and there is no reluctance on the part of the Modi government to release these names.

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