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Fifth Column: Black or white, who cares

Some of us know where black money really exists in abundance. It oils the wheels of India’s election machinery.

Written by Tavleen Singh | Published: November 12, 2017 12:15 am
Demonetisation, Assembly Elections, Black Money, Corruption, Corrupt politicians Politics is the easiest and least risky way of making money in India (Express Illustration)

The first anniversary of demonetisation last week was marked by absurd claims from both cheerleaders and challengers. Social media had fun mocking both sides. The Finance Minister’s claim that it was an ‘ethical, moral’ step came in for jeers, as did former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s assertion (repeated ad nauseum) that what happened on November 8 last year was ‘organised loot and legalised plunder.’ A WhatsApp cartoon of the good doctor shutting his mouth, ears and eyes to the 2G, coal and CWG scams and screaming ‘loot, loot, loot’ over demonetisation went viral.

Have no fear, dear readers, I have no intention of discussing ever again in this column the cancellation of 86 per cent of our currency or its consequences. The subject bores me now, as it does most people I meet on my travels in our ancient land. We must hope that after this current round of elections the Prime Minister will stop defending what he did, because every time he does, he adds menacingly that he will not spare corrupt politicians and hoarders of black money. What he appears not to have noticed is that officials entrusted with this hunt for black money are famous for their own love of it. This is something that remains a deeply guarded secret usually, but every now and then, the tax department raids one of its own and out of secret lockers and ‘benami’ apartments tumble riches beyond the dreams of most rich Indians.

The Prime Minister and his colleagues in the government and in the BJP have spent much time exulting over the World Bank moving India up 30 notches in its annual report on the ease of doing business, but everyone concedes that new jobs are not being created. For this to happen, private investors need to start investing their money in new businesses, and it should not matter whether their money is black or white. As Deng Xiaoping famously said, ‘It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice’.

Now let me move on to a subject that I have talked of often in this column and will continue to do so. I do this to remind our political leaders that some of us know where black money really exists in abundance. It oils the wheels of India’s election machinery. Having covered many, many elections in long years of covering politics and government, believe me when I tell you that it is only at election time that us mere mortals catch a glimpse of real ‘black’ money. Not everybody does, but we who have the dubious privilege of watching elections from a ringside seat certainly do.

Here is what happens. When political parties finish choosing their candidates, the chosen few line up at party offices to collect whatever little the party bosses can give them for campaigning. This is always in cash because political parties always collect most of their funds in cash from businessmen, big and small, who always pay in cash, not digitally or by cheque. In recent years, some businessmen who like to boast about being ‘moral and ethical’ have made donations by cheque, but this remains a rare occurrence.

Usually what the candidates get from the party is a fraction of what they need, so then they start urging their friends and supporters to help them in any way they can. These contributions also always come in bundles of cash, which get stashed away in secret cupboards that only the candidate has access to. I have personally seen these stashes in the homes of the most honest politicians I know. When I say ‘honest’, I mean those that count among that small handful of our political class that have genuinely come into politics with the idea of public service.

Sadly these days most Indian politicians enter public life with the idea of becoming rich quickly without bothering to get a regular job or risking investment in some entrepreneurial venture. Politics is the easiest and least risky way of making money in India. The only risk is that of losing an election, and experienced politicians have learned to read the wind, so when they sense defeat, they stop wasting money on campaigning and save what they have collected for some other political purpose. Corrupt politicians spend what they save on cars, jewels and real-estate, and honest ones save it for a future campaign.

This is the real story of ‘black’ money in India, and it is obvious that this story is not going to change much in the near future. So dear Prime Minister, if you want to create the 12 million jobs young Indians need every year, then it could be time to pay attention to the wise advice of Uncle Deng. It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @tavleen_singh

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  1. Sudheer Thaakur
    Nov 13, 2017 at 8:02 pm
    sorry i normally agree with you. but not this time. this war on reducing cash in circualtion is absolute a must for india to transform itself. end the anonymity of cash abd see corruption die its won death.
    1. Kapil Sutra
      Nov 13, 2017 at 2:24 am
      Printed money Black or white is color blind,
      1. P
        Popot lal
        Nov 12, 2017 at 10:33 pm
        Only the Second Rate people read such low level columns! But then in our India these are the "Royals" to be never questioned as to what nonsense they write. Incidentally, Deng said that in the post-Cultural Revolution China when he saw openings for his nation with collaboration with the Capitalists from USA. USA wanted manufacturing without any Unions asking for higher wages etc. Both the Chinese leader and the US manufacturers saw a win-win relationships, but now China is having the last laugh! Incidentally, by all accounts, the Demonetization story is not yet over. Days of reckoning awaits these Louts! I can bet that the ic Mauna MMS will again be proven as a lap dog of the particular uneducated foreigners yet talking nonsense and he may also be charged for violating his Oath of Secrecy of the Office (as our PM--as he allegedly sent files for Sonia to oversee and make decisions). India's new emboldened national fervor is a welcome phenomenon!
        1. B
          Nov 12, 2017 at 9:01 pm
          "...should not matter whether their money is black or white. As Deng Xiaoping famously said, ‘It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice’. This has to be one of the stupidest statements ever made in the depressingly stupid Indian press. Deng's "black" and "white" was a comparison between Capitalism and Communism, not untaxed money versus legitimate funds. Tavleen is miserably shortsighted. Corruption unchecked ruins states. The Chinese know this all too well that is why Xi Jinping has cracked down so fiercely on corruption in China.
          1. I
            Nov 12, 2017 at 9:45 pm
            Xi's crackdown began in 2013. By that time China was already what you see today. Xi had little to do with the economic development of China which led to the massive levels of corruption, he is more interested in retaining the Communist Party's hold as the legitimate government of China. Corruption is a constant in all Asian countries, but it did not hold back the development of countries such as Japan, China and Thailand. So it seems to me that leaving aside the question of corruption, it is largely, the abilities of peoples that determine what they can achieve. Which is not say that I agree with corruption in India at all. But eve the absence of much corruption, India's growth trajectory taken as a whole would not be much more different than had taken place.
          2. Barb Dewyre
            Nov 12, 2017 at 9:01 pm
            Don’t take Modi’s victory for granted. You may be eating output of the posterior that you have been licking. Go back to cleaning the white behinds of you are used, you sycophantic Palmefar.
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