Thursday, 19 September 2019

The Congress Manifesto 2019: A Charter to Weaken India

Updated: April 15, 2019 3:42 pm

Sitting in Opposition from 2004-14, I used to listen to the tall promises in the Congress Budgets.  An early lesson that I gave to myself was “Don’t go by what is said, the devil is always in the details”.  In the little time available, I have read the 53 pages of the Congress Manifesto.  My worst fears have come true.

The tukde-tukde Manifesto

At point No.30, at page 35, otherwise an innocuous entry which deals with review of laws, rules and regulations.  It repeals Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which defines and then punishes an accused in sedition.  Even for terrorists and hardcore criminals, it underlines the principles “bail is the rule and jail is the exception.”  It seeks to dilute the provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)   .  After having been spurned on various occasions to have a dialogue with the separatists, who want to settle for nothing other than cessation from India, it promised to have a continuous dialogue with them.  It promises to dilute the presence of the Armed Forces in the Valley.

The Congress is the principal creator of the Jammu and Kashmir problem. It created a special status; it unconstitutionally brought in Article 35A.  It rigged the 1957, 1962, 1967 as also the 1988 Assembly elections.  This eroded the confidence of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and now its Manifesto only brings smiles on the faces of the separatists and the terrorists.  A reference to “Kashmiri Pandits’ and their ethnic cleansing from the Valley is conspicuously absent in the Manifesto.

The Congress has always been soft on terror. Late Shri Rajiv Gandhi introduced TADA. Later the Congress revoked it. It revoked POTA. Now it wants to go further soft on separatism and terrorism.

There is only a lip sympathy in the assault required on Maoists violence, which Dr. Manmohan Singh had described as the greatest threat to India.  In the recent elections, as also in the case of JNU and urban Maoists, Congress and Congressmen have always flirted with the Maoists as fellow travellers.


Rahul Gandhi and His ‘Sweetheart Deals’ with Fly-by-Night Operators


How do parties and politicians fund themselves?  Indian political parties were traditionally funded with cash i.e. black money.  Many have now tried to get tax paid money due to the legislative changes and have started accepting donations either by cheque or through electoral bonds.

That, however, still does not fully answer the question.  How many politicians lead a comfortable life without having any apparent and declared source of income?  The Nehru-Gandhi family has been described by its supporters as India’s first family.  It, therefore, should be a role model.  Pt. Motilal Nehru gave up his law practice 98 years ago.  Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru was a tall political leader who was never a practicing lawyer nor was Indiraji ever involved in any professional or business activity.  The late Shri Rajiv Gandhi was an Indian Airlines pilot for a brief period and, thereafter, he was in full time politics.  On the basis of the available information, neither Smt. Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul Gandhi have ever worked for a living.

For generations the family did not earn from any commercial ventures.  They were in public service.  Most people in public life sacrifice their commercial careers and lead a frugal life.  Most members of the Nehru-Gandhi family studied outside the country for the last four generations.  Not many of them excelled in scholarship, with Panditji as an exception.  All have led more than a comfortable life.  They enjoyed vacations at multiple domestic and international locations.

The expose

An expose by media organisations revealed that the family owned a farm house in South Delhi which is now owned by the brother and sister of current generation of the family.  Periodically tenancies are created in favour of persons many of whom needed help when UPA was in power.  A capital creation programme was launched.  Rentals are paid by obliging tenants in advance.  It is unlikely that the tenants ever needed to live in Delhi because they have had no business operation in Delhi.  Not only did they pay large quantum of rentals as advance through make believe tenancies, they also apparently paid for a large number of employees who managed the estate.  The amount collected from these tenants through advance rentals and subsequently, the tenancies enabled the creation of the capital.  Several crores of this capital thus created was invested with the real estate company under cloud and which, like the tenants, entered into a ‘sweetheart deal’ that from the moment the proposed buyer paid the advance towards the real estate to be purchased, one was paid back annually under an ‘assured income programme’.  He thus got back a large part of his investment and the real estate.

Amongst the names of the tenants, the critical person is Jignesh Shah of FTIL and the real estate developer is M/s. Unitech builder through Sanjay Chandra.  Who else would enter into such a ‘sweetheart deals’ except the ‘fly-by-night’ operators who needed State patronage?

Compromise of public interest through such questionable deals

Besides the reasonable apprehensions of the tenancies being an investment of ‘political equity’ by those entering into the ‘sweetheart deals’, what happened to Jignesh Shah?  He had two companies – one with large quantum of assets and the other which had ostensibly duped lakhs of investors.  The investors were insisting that the Central Government amalgamate two companies and thus out of the amalgamated assets, the duped investors be paid.  Till 2014, the UPA Government did not take any action.  The investment of political equity have brought returns.  It is only when the NDA Government under Shri Narendra Modi was formed that the Department of Company Affairs passed the amalgamation order which has been upheld by the Mumbai High Court and is now pending challenge in appeal before the Supreme Court.  If the Government succeeds, the duped investors will get their investment back.  You needed a ‘Chowkidar’ to catch a ‘Chor.  ’With regard to Unitech, the less said the better.  Besides the 2G involvement at the time the favours were shown, many flat buyers had been duped, their monies siphoned off and the banks were not paid back.  The promoters, including one with whom Rahul Gandhi signed the arrangement, is still in prison.  Under the ‘sweetheart deal’ out of the instalments paid, most have been repaid back under the ‘assured income scheme.’  Capital creation through ‘sweetheart deals’ is exactly what Rahul’s brother-in-law did.

Here is a man who makes reckless allegations without any basis.  It was no rocket science for him to know who were conferring him with largesse.  He aspires to be a Prime Minister.  Such aspirants like Caesar’s wife must be beyond suspicion.  They must be unsuspectable.  With tainted hands, he must at least remember that ‘people in glass houses do not throw stones.’  The ‘Chowkidar’ has finally caught a ‘Chor.’

By Arun Jaitley

(The writer is  Union Finance Minister)


Nyay bluff

Most economists have already rubbished the Congress Party’s Nyay.  Between the Centre and the States, we are already giving to the poorest 20 per cent much more than what Nyay promises.  As the economy expands to depleting poverty, further amounts can also be increased.  To my initial query whether it will be reworking of the existing schemes or over and above the existing, the Congress Spokesman boasted that it will be over and above.  I went through the detailed paragraphs in point No.9 at page 19-20.  It contains the following statements:

  • Fiscal prudence will be maintained.
  • There will be pilots and testing phases.
  • It will be implemented in phases.
  • On how it will be funded, the Congress says that it will be funded from the future expansion of the economy.

Nyay, in the Manifesto, has now become a joint scheme of Central and the State Governments thereby diluting the initial announcement.  The State Governments may well suggest that these existing subsidies are more than what Congress promises?  To the vexed question of what happens to the existing subsidies, the manifesto says that ‘only merit based subsidies will continue’.  So the Centre will retain the power to say that some subsides can be subsumed, diluted or abolished since they are non-merit based while in others the number of beneficiaries reduced since with every passing year many people are moving out of poverty.


The Choice of Political Funding – Cheque, Electoral Bonds or Blackmoney from Contractors and middlemen


The past few days have witnessed several cases where the Election Commission and the revenue authorities, both separately and acting jointly, trying to curb the use of blackmoney in elections.  These actions have been particularly significant in States like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, North-East and Madhya Pradesh.  The Election Commission and the Income-tax authorities work in close tandem during elections.  In many cases, monies have been coming from Government contractors and beneficiaries.  In one State, contractors passed on monies to engineers who were to distribute it to the candidates.  In another State, which only four months ago elected a new Government, fifty thousand Government transfers became a revenue generating exercise.  Reports have also indicated that an amount of about Rs.1500 crore has already been seized.

The disinformation of the NGOs

NGOs always claim to be well meaning.  They have a tendency to either exaggerate or misrepresent.  Those dealing with elections and electoral reforms have come out with two categories of reports.  The first one says that since in its balance sheet the BJP declares much larger income, it should be assumed that it gets more donations than other parties.  The second report says that BJP gets the lion’s share of the electoral bonds.

Both display a lack of understanding of how parties function.  All parties need, on a pro-rata basis, the same amount of money depending on the number of seats they are contesting.  The only question is ‘What is their fund collection culture?’  Do they still prefer the old obsolete style of only blackmoney being collected or do they prefer to collect it by legitimate methods like crowd sourcing, cheque and electoral bonds?  Obviously, the BJP prefers the latter.  It declares larger income and gullible friends in the NGOs believe that they get more.  Do they honestly believe the balance sheets of the BSP and the SP, the TDP or several other parties?  They obviously don’t disclose the income that they get because most of these donations are in cash.  This has significantly reduced the credibility of the reports of these NGOs.

The journey of funding reforms

I have been associated with the entire journey of political funding reforms.  As Law Minister in the Vajpayee Government, I had moved a Bill legitimising donation of cheque provided the same are declared to income-tax and the Election Commission.  To incentivise these donations we provided that the amount donated to political parties would be deductible expenditure.

Shri Pranab Mukherjee, as a Finance Minister during the UPA-II, brought out a second reform in the year 2010.  Blessed with great wisdom and depth, he realised that merely providing for cheque donations won’t bring a change.  Donors fear the consequences of their revealed identities being linked to a political party to whom they donated.  He very wisely masked the identity by creating a pass-through electoral trust in 2010.  A donor could donate to a registered electoral trust which in turn would donate to a political party.  The disclosure will only be of the name of the electoral trust and the link between the identity of a donor and the party would be snapped.  This practice legislated by UPA-II, is still in progress and utilized by some.

In 2017, based on the principle of masking the identity link between the party and the donor, the NDA created the instrument of electoral bonds.  This instrument provides for a complete white money donation.  The bond as a banking instrument of State Bank of India, a Party had to deposit it in a single declared account by the political party.  Both at the hands of the receiver and the donor, it is white money through a declared channel.  As far as the transparency is concerned, as against the original system of cash which was non-transparent throughout, there is an improved transparency in the electoral bonds.  The donor declares in his balance sheet the quantum of bonds that he has bought.  The State Bank of India has a record of the donors.  The recipient party declares the amount of bonds it has received.  The link between the donor and the identity of the party is masked in the same way as is done in the case of electoral trust.  Thus, both the electoral trust of 2010 and the electoral bonds of 2017 assured a total white money and improved transparency but masking the identity of the link between the donor and the party.  This obviously has been done to encourage donors to donate white money without fear of consequences.  Surprisingly the attack is against the bonds and not the electoral trusts because the earlier was brought by the NDA and the latter was by UPA.  The underlying principle of both is the same.  If the bonds don’t exist, the consequence will be that donors will have no option but to donate only by cash after siphoning monies from their businesses.  The recent Election Commission and IT raids have shown that it is taxpayers/ Government’s money, which, through PWD and other Departments of the Government, is being siphoned out and round-tripping into politics.  Is that a better option or the reformed system of all white money and improved, if not a perfect transparency?  NGOs and commentators must look beyond their nose.

                AJ


Earm loan waivers

The Congress does not commit to the loan waiver but says that it has done so in several States.  If you look at the track record of Karnataka, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, a miniscule effort has not even been put.  Even the PM-KISAN is on hold in Congress States.

Public Health

It is extremely desirable that public health institutions be strengthened.  The Congress is only giving slogans on healthcare.  Shri Narendra Modi has implemented the Ayushman Bharat where 50 crore people get hospital treatment free.

Women’s reservation in legislatures

In 2010, as the Leader of Opposition in the Upper House, I was instrumental in having the Constitution Amendment Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha where the Congress brought it.  In the next four years, it did not press for it in the Lok Sabha.  How can its track record be believed?

The GST

The Manifesto repeats that the Congress will try for Single Rate GST.  Today most food items are taxed at zero.  Aam Aadmi items are taxed at 5 per cent.  The 28 per cent slab is almost over.  In the next round, the two standard rates of 12% and 18% will be merged into a mid rate.  Thus you will have, besides the non-merit goods, goods and services, taxed at zero, 5% and at about 15%.  The Congress says irrespective of the product and the category of consumers using it, there will be one single rate.  This effectively means that electronic goods, air-conditioners, television sets, washing machines should be taxed at the same rate as food items, chappals and coarse cloth.  Rahul Gandhi got this wisdom from Singapore which does not have poverty.  Both rice and Mercedes car in Singapore are taxed at 7 per cent.

The Manifesto compromises national security and has sham and bluff promises with little detailed understanding of the subjects involved.  It is an irresponsible document which has never to be implemented since Congress looks a certain loser.

By Arun Jaitley

(The writer is  Union Finance Minister)

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