Bringing back money from overseas havens

This has always been a ‘hot button’ issue in Indian politics. Politicians have been making a lot of noise and BJP had made it a huge campaign issue. As it is with most other issues in India, facts have been either scarce or twisted out of shape. Wild and crazy numbers are thrown about with ‘lists’ floating in Twitter and elsewhere showing figures running into trillions of dollars. A certain amount of nationalistic sentiment is being pandered to as well.

The issue is not religious, ideological or national. It is plain and simple economics. Let us look at what got us there and what can go about rectifying the situation.

How we got here

It would be not just churlish, but downright foolish not to acknowledge the various reasons that got us to this position. Most of it is self inflicted injury.

We had 90% tax rates and were taxing soap and toothpaste sets as ‘luxury’ not too long ago. Diluted versions of this nonsense packaged as ‘socialism’ continued until very recently.

Not just that, we developed a culture of worshiping poverty, and demonising success and treated industrialists and entrepreneurs as criminals except when it came to collect bribes.

We never provided safe, legal and red-tape free process by which such funds can be invested in productive assets in India itself.

We made it horribly slow, even impossible to import anything, even spares and crucial supplies, almost forcing industrialists to setup piggy banks overseas through under invoicing or other such tactics to keep their businesses running. Our overseas traveling ‘allowance’ for ‘hard currency’ was so pathetic, businessmen had to beg their contacts to buy them lunch or dinner to stay within limits, unless they had dollars stashed abroad.

We made retrospective and illogical changes to tax laws, making it impossible to predict what may happen in next few years, even to money legitimately earned and taxed.

And most importantly, our fiscal and monetary policies turned rupee into waste paper, declining in value year after year, eroding savings and wealth.  Even with sky high interest rates, it made little sense to keep funds in rupees unless forced to do so.

We made businessmen, politicians, babus and so many others stakeholders in this looters’ regime, batting for license permit raj, exchange controls and ‘socialism’ because it suited them perfectly.  Entrenched state employed labor, always much more organised than the unemployed and daily wagers, happily joined the bandwagon. They were minting money. The only losers were the real proletariat whose ‘protection’ these policies were created for in the first place!

Why it is difficult

  1. Firstly we don’t know how much or where. No one is going to give us a list.
  2. It is so easy to move money around. It takes seconds to transfer from Switzerland to Hong Kong or London.
  3. Switzerland has been tamed by Uncle (for his own benefit) but we don’t have similar clout. By the time a list is received, the money may be gone.
  4. New tax havens that are not democratic, open and driven by good conscience abound. We can do very little about them. Unless we are like Uncle Sam that can send marines or be a Godfather that makes ‘offers that cannot be refused’
  5. Recent liberalisation means that a lot of wealth CAN legally flow abroad.  RBI allows legal remittances of US$100k per year a limit that is going up. We have millions of NRIs with legitimate wealth abroad. It will be hard to tell which is which.
  6. It will take years of work for which no regime has the time or bandwidth. After all, another election is due in five years, not fifty. Quick results are important.

How to go about it

Take the cause into account in finding cure

That means the state acknowledges its own share of blame and hence treats the wealth stashed overseas as an opportunity and not as a pure crime fighting operation. Regardless of what the letter of law says.

Once this approach is adopted, the solutions will flow automatically in that spirit and hence have higher chances of success. We are also not at the mercy of tax havens that simply have no interest in cooperating. After all, we can’t even bring Dawood home, even after knowing his precise address and GPS location.

Not all overseas wealth is ‘loot’

Lot of it is just money kept abroad legitimately for various reasons. It is also important to keep the doors open for trade, commerce and business investments to flow.  It is important to sell this to the ‘aam aadmi’ so that pragmatic policies can be pushed and loony suggestions from the likes of Ramdev tamed.

Transparency and predictability is the key

Government should firstly declare policies in advance and guarantee that they will not change at least during its own term. Further, major opposition (now Congress) should be taken on board to make the tenure even longer.

Transparency is also key. Laws should be clear, concise, easy to understand and follow. Above all reasonable.

Incentives, not stick, except in rarest of cases

It is important to find quick ways of attracting funds to return. The best way obviously is if the tax payer or citizen voluntarily remits it home because he is getting a fair deal and decent returns. There is nothing wrong in offering an attractive amnesty because money once returned will stay and contribute to growth.  It is also far more cheaper and comes with less onerous conditions than foreign aid, loans or investments.

Hope PM Modi keeps these principles in mind in choosing the way forward.

 

Where did the liberals go wrong?

A recent article by Prof. Shiv Visvanathan, described as ‘public intellectual’ in his Wikipedia profile in Hindu (Is there such a thing as private intellectual?) attracted a lot of attention.

You can find it here

Prof Visvanathan’s main point was that ‘secularism’ as practiced in India by left liberals alienated the majority which in turn was exploited by Narendra Modi successfully. He also, correctly in my opinion, highlighted the anti-Hindu bias of the secular class who were not objective or fair. He is also right in pointing out the debates and dialogue were always part of Hinduism and Indian religions (a term he used, perhaps, to avoid acknowledging the obvious) have not been anti-science as Christianity has been.

Yet he himself falls victim to the same secular disease, citing the ‘Ganesha and milk’ example, confusing (or cleverly equating) superstition with Hindu religion. Similar stories abound in other religions, particularly Christianity, and not just in India.

Be that as it may, he comes pretty close to repeating as well as endorsing the ‘pseudo secular’ arguments of the right. That must bring smiles to a lot of faces. A lot has been said about this particular article in the mainstream media as well as social media.

What should ‘liberals’ do?

Coming back to the main objective of this article, the key question is, what can they do to get it right? To come straight to the point, here is our list of things liberals can do

  1. Purge hardcore Marxist/Maoist activists in liberal camouflage
  2. Purge anti-Hindu hate mongers, evangelist bigots and Jihadis
  3. Be loyal to the core principles and not to corrupt dynasties
  4. Use Indian culture, not imported ideologies to sell liberalism
  5. Be fair to moderates in the right wing to isolate the fringe

Lets elaborate on each point further.

Purge hardcore Marxist activists in liberal camouflage

In the West or elsewhere liberals have always been left of center, but they have rarely, almost never been hardcore communists and Maoists. Violence, especially on the scale often resorted to by the Marxists is as repugnant to them as right wing extremism. And they do not hesitate to say so. Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Tony Blair or Gordon Brown, Malcolm Fraser – you can think of many other examples. We just don’t have politicians, ‘intellectuals’ and media personalities of such calibre that are genuinely liberal.

However, in India, you practically need to be a card carrying member of one of the Marxist Maoist gangs to be accepted as ‘liberal’. Words like ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ have become useful camouflage for mass murderers, rapists and their ideological mates and fanboys who romanticise them. Such ‘liberals’ ignore or play down horrible crimes of their ‘comrades with arms’, to paraphrase Chidambaram. They actively play a role in providing ideological cover fire to the violent leftist fringe. Arundhati Roy’s ‘Gandhians with guns’ example comes to mind. They hardly raise their voice when Marxists brag about target killings and mafia style behavior in Kerala or rape and butcher dozens to clear land for Chinese businessmen in Bengal. Nor do the deaths of dozens of innocent policemen and civilians in bomb blasts by leftist extremists disturb their sleep. Instead these politicians are allowed masquerade as ‘progressive’, attend seminars and talk shops where the creme de-la creme of Indian liberals hobnob with them.

The bias that Prof Visvanathan pointed out is seen here too. While criminal acts by right wing fringe is attributed to their ‘ideology’ tarring anyone remotely associated, we are asked to believe that left ideology itself is pure and their heinous crimes against humanity simply ‘deviations’.

What is even more ironic is that many of these ‘liberals’ are drawn from the ranks of the same upper caste/class elite, a class they routinely disparage. Sitting secure in their air conditioned bungalows in big metros, often funded by the same imperialist capitalist satans who they love to hate in public, they support various loony causes, including the ‘right’ of tribals to live in poverty, undisturbed by development which is termed ‘violence’. Green cause, environmentalism, liberalism have all become tickets to frequent flier miles, conferences in comfy European cities and well funded awards, scholarships and endowments to these elites.

By purging these charlatans from their ranks, genuine liberals can ensure their message is more moderate, free of negative agendas and hence more likely to be heard.

Anti-Hindu bigots and jihadis are NOT liberals

You often find evangelist fanatics and bigots that wish Hindus ‘come out of darkness’ in their Diwali “greeting”, jihadi sympathisers and fanatics like Syed Ali Geelani that spew venom against Hindus and India show up in ‘liberal’ talk shops, freely furthering their cause even as their ‘freedom of speech’ is defended by the left liberal crowd. Of course, the same champions of free speech promptly crawl back under rocks when someone draws an inappropriate cartoon. Hardly any liberal came to the defense of Ms. Tasleema when she was being hounded by vote-bank chasing Marxists. Freedom of speech, to our liberals, is reserved only for anti-Hindu hate propaganda and vitriol.

A hardcore Marxist posing as liberal obviously has reasons to please evangelists and mouth pro-jihadi arguments disguised as ‘human rights’. After all the former keeps you in limelight and the cash flowing and the later an ideological compulsion, a reflection of the ‘all weather’ friendship forged between the terrorist Pakistan and its northern communist neighbour.

A genuine liberal should not just stay away from such crowd, but also make clear their opposition.

It is true that most liberals are not religious, in fact many are atheists or agnostic. However, a genuine liberal keeps his own religious faith or lack of it to himself. Propagating such ideas is obviously not wrong. Promoting atheism or campaigns against ‘superstition’ can be done in an unbiased way. Worse, it cannot be selective and designed to favor ‘competing’ faiths. That is like ranting against Coke for promoting obesity but declaring that Pepsi is fine. It is little wonder such ‘progressive/liberal’ frauds have failed to cool inter faith tensions or influence the populace.

Be loyal to the core principles and not to corrupt dynasties

Five decades of Nehru/Gandhi dynasty rule has created a not-so-small-scale industry that keeps many left liberal ‘intellectuals’ gainfully employed at tax payers cost in exchange for crass sycophancy and propaganda dressed up as pearls of liberal wisdom. This industry is recession proof and remarkable resilient. Like water eroding concrete over time, power and money corrupts and erodes intellectual honesty and values.

While it could be argued that Congress is more secular or liberal as compared to, say, BJP, despite tons evidence to the contrary, it does not justify extreme bias or crass partisanship. Nor does it justify blind hatred towards the political right. It is not just the Gandhi clan, many other dynasties of dubious reputation, some outright plunderers and most corrupt as well as casteist or in other ways regressive, have enjoyed the left liberal endorsement in exchange for the usual tax payer funded gigs and rewards or in the fond hope that these politicians would by some miracle, make India liberal and secular notwithstanding their primary focus on looting the public.

Liberals should instead promote their values across the entire political spectrum and not become songbirds and mouthpieces of corrupt dynasties. In most democratic countries, there is room for a conservative or right wing alternative. It is to India’s benefit if such alternative exists and represents the genuine and legitimate aspirations of a huge percentage of its population, whether or not it constitutes a majority, wins a particular election or not. Liberals should also encourage a gradual drift to moderation everywhere, instead of showing visceral hatred for dissent. Show by example what it means to be tolerant, liberal and caring.

What have instead been subjected to in the name of liberalism is rabid intolerance, extreme bias, hypocrisy and hate propaganda with scant regard to truth.

Use Indian culture not imported ideologies to sell liberalism

We often hear from our liberal elite that Hinduism is ‘syncretic’. Sadly this true statement is only used in the context of taking on what is perceived as majority community intolerance or to justify vitriolic attacks on Hindu religion or its Gods. It is rarely, almost never used in a positive sense – to convince Indians of the need to be tolerant, liberal and accommodating. Because that is not inconsistent with, in fact perfectly in sync with the uniquely Indian concept of ‘global family’ or “vasudeva kudumbakam” a concept that has been with us for centuries, long before liberalism became a convenient disguise for Marxists.

There is really no need to package tolerance as a imported Western magic potion with the unstated addendum that Hinduism is intolerant unlike Christianity. Genuine respect shown to the majority religion will only improve credibility of those wishing to isolate the so-called ‘fringe’ not tarring every Hindu Indian with the same black brush.

Be fair to moderates in the right wing to isolate the fringe

If BJP or any of its leaders take even a small step away from their ‘Hindutva’ agenda, more than its hardcore followers, it is the liberals that get worried. It is almost as if they feel their careers and wallets are threatened by the right’s adoption of moderate position. Modi’s ‘toilets before temples’ comment, sincere or otherwise, was greeted with derision by the liberal elite, who even tried to turn the Hindu sentiment against him for the remark. Similar moves were made when he sought to show a friendly face to Muslims. L. K. Advani who was branded right wing fanatic suddenly became a favorite of liberals when he go into leadership tussle with Modi.  Whenever a BJP government takes any step to help Muslims, it is criticised for ‘going back’ on its non-appeasement policy. Vague unsubstantiated allegations were made in left wing media about temples being destroyed in Gujarat to make way for roads during the last elections, simply to promote rivals agendas and pander to the same ‘Hindutva’ sentiments.

Such hypocritical moves clearly show liberals are far more interested in preserving their ideological foes. Like Pakistan army nourishing jihadis to milk aid dollars from Uncle Sam, our liberals, who have turned their cause into a valuable business franchise, are loath to see it suffer.

Even if some of BJPs pro-minority actions are symbolic or just propaganda, something every political party indulges in, it is very much in the real interest of liberals to support it, instead of trying to score brownie points with Hindutva brigade by criticising it. But that as we mentioned earlier, that requires genuine interest in the cause.

Conclusion

As a nation we have too much religion in public space and most of it is ‘show business’. A gradual adoption of more secular, liberal ideas, without having to give up or destroy faith, can make a huge difference to many things, large and small. For instance, it can make it that much easier to move or demolish a place of worship that is standing in the way of a crucial highway. It can also let small incidents remain small, localised and not blown out of proportion and trigger violence and anarchy.

A lot of that depends on how genuine liberals think, talk and inspire.