PALANIAPPAN Chidambaram deserves credit for being open about acknowledging that the sole task of the government is to collect money from the people. This principle got completely enshrined in policy once Sonia Maino chose him as the Union Finance Minister in 2004. From then onwards, the collection agencies of the Government of India were set targets that they were asked to fulfill by using the coercive means at their disposal to the fullest. Anything beyond the target set could be shared among the officials, and this was no small figure, as the financial machinery of government was empowered by Chidambaram to confiscate, imprison and harass at will. As in the time of the British Raj, the country has been bled since 1947 for the benefit of its new rulers. And now the Nehru Era has given way to what may be described as the Maino Era.
That Sonia Maino has very little time for her so-called relatives on the Nehru side of the family is no secret. These unfortunates seldom get invited to Number Ten, and almost never to the holidays in the Maldives or off the coasts of Spain and France that are the locations for get-togethers with the extended branch of the Maino family. As for the Vadras, this clan too have been placed in the same bracket as the Nehrus, which is as a group to be largely ignored socially, even as one Maino after the other gets VVIP treatment in India courtesy the individual who is the fount of their prominence and prosperity, the charming and steely Sonia Maino. Under what provision of the Constitution of India the extended Mainos are given VVIP privileges at airports and elsewhere is not clear, but there must surely be some such provision that is not visible to the naked eye.
What is very clear is that the Maino Era has converted India into a land of scams. A few of these have come to light, although the overwhelming majority still remain hidden, locked up in the records of agencies that regard their foremost duty as the care, feeding and protection of a single clan. However, despite the complicity of the Indian media in this state of affairs, change seems to be beckoning. A second freedom struggle appears to be taking shape against India’s ruling elite. Civil society may be slowly getting astir about the volume of loot that is leaving the shores of the country. For the difference between other eras and that of the Mainos is that in this yuga, illegal cash mostly gets sent abroad, through hawala networks based in Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, Dubai and Mauritius. Most such networks are linked to the unofficial headquarters of the South Asia hawala trade, the ISI. While Hassan Ali has been placed in jail—thanks to the patriotism and zeal of Chief justice Kapadia and his band of brother judges—there are dozens more still at large. They can be seen inside ministerial mansions or in 5-star hotels, and many take their orders from a shadowy fixer who doubles as a “political advisor” to a VVIP. This individual has intimate knowledge of the Nepal, Dubai and Mauritius hawala networks, although he is not familiar with the Malaysian and Thai networks, perhaps because the latter two are not as closely linked to the ISI.
However, despite his contacts and influence, this political fixer—sorry, advisor—is undisturbed by the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Bureau of Investigation and other agencies that are given the legal responsibility of taking action against illegal money transfers from India to foreign countries and vice-versa. It is this familiarity with hard cash and not any skill in politics that has enabled this fixer to remain at the core of governance in India since 2004. A check by the Intelligence Bureau into any of the nine mobile phones used by him would reveal details far more corrosive than the conversations of Niira Radia. However, for reasons that are opaque, the IB has refused to monitor the conversations and activity of this individual, just as it has been shooed off from intercepting the conversations and discovering the linkages of oher key players within the ruling elite who are in close contact with ISI-directed hawala networks
The arrest of an Al Qaeda operative from Kerala by the French authorities has shown the danger to national security posed by Home Minister Chidambaram’s policy of concentrating his attention only on protecting those close to The Madame, rather than focussing on those who are a threat to national security, including those at the higher rungs of certain political parties. That an Al Qaeda operative functioned freely in India was because of the lack of attention given to this network by the Union Home Ministry. Till today, none of this operative’s many associates in India have been rounded up or questioned. Nor has effective action been taken to discover and eliminate other Al Qaeda networks in India. Indeed, although agencies in Europe and the US have identified and apprehended more than a dozen suspected Al Qaeda operatives in India, thus so far the Home Ministry has not managed to locate even one such operative. We must remember that this is the same department of the Government of India that allowed David Headley to wander around unmolested in India. That allowed domestic networks to assist the ISI in executing the 26/11 Mumbai attack. There are more Headleys wandering around India, who are spotters for the ISI, but not a single one of them has been apprehended, except by foreign agencies, and that too only when these terrorists attempt to conduct operations elsewhere than in India.
These days, especially in UP, Maharashtra and Kerala, young people are being indoctrinated to join up with those who see Osama bin Laden as a hero. In this, they are in the same company as the All-India Congress Committee, whose general secretary mourned the demise of the Yemeni terrorist, even protesting against a burial at sea. Presumably, the AICC general secretary would have liked a state funeral for Bin Laden, presumably in India.
The fact that both India and Pakistan get their legal tender from the same European source makes it easy for the ISI to print fake notes and get them disseminated in India. Thus far, we have been told by the UPA’s Maino men that it is truck drivers and the like who distribute fake currency. This is true. Some truck drivers allow themselves to be carriers, and spread fake currency across the country. However, Chidambaram is silent about the biggest user of fake currency, which is the political class. In election time especially, hundreds of crores of rupees of fake currency come into the hands of political leaders, who distribute them to unwary electors. A check on the money seized by the Election Commission may be expected to reveal to a degree the extent of political patronage of the fake currency networks. Because of their need for such counterfeit notes, political leaders protect the networks that distribute them in bulk. In the process, they protect networks that use the profits from the fake currency racket to fund terror activities in India. Such networks also spend large sums seeking to fanatisise elements of the population in India, thereby enabling them to get recruited into Al Qaeda. Since 2003, the fact is that India has become an important base for Al Qaeda. And the reason for this is the protection given by important politicians to the hawala networks that they use to send currency to Nepal, Dubai, Malaysia, Thailand and Mauritius for onward transmission to Swiss and other banks.
Hassan Ali is not the only hawala operator.While civil society must remain vigilant against the efforts of Ali’s VVIP friends to release him from either prison or life, there must be a demand to discover the other Hassan Alis operating with impunity in India. Recently the Government of India announced—you guessed it—a “High Level Committee to Tackle Black Money”. And who are the members of this revolutionary committee? The same individuals who have, in their official capacities, failed so comprehensively to eliminate Black Money in India. Unless elements within Civil Society are given the legal power to initiate action, to expect a compromised and corrupted officialdom to unearth Black Money is to indulge in fantasy. Anna Hazare is right in demanding that Civil Society and not what is so inaccurately called a Civil Servant needs to undertake the job of cleansing the system.
It is an easy matter to discover the extent of illegal flows. All that is needed is to compare the amount paid for items such as petroleum products, machinery and aircraft by state entities in India and compare them with the prices charged to buyers in Europe or in North America. Take the case of the $ eight billion deal for Airbus aircraft that was signed by Air India in 2007. Usually, there is a five per cent (sometimes even higher) discount given to the purchaser of such aircraft. European airlines have reflected this discount in their figures for cost of purchase. Has Air India done the same? And if such a discount was not given to the airline, to whom has it been paid? We are not talking of peanuts here, but of $400 million even if only a five per cent discount was given. Also, Airbus had committed to build a Euro 100 million facility in India as a consequence of the order. Has such a facility come up? If not, why not? In the case of oil, why is it that the oil sent to India costs more than that sent to some European countries? Is there a hidden discount that is going to undisclosed quarters? The same can be said about Defense deals, where India gets charged much more than more advanced countries. What needs to be done is for the Supreme Court of India to set up a committee that will look into international prices for the big-ticket items procured by the Government of India,and ascertain if the price offered to India is higher.If it is, then the conclusion is obvious.
A database needs to get created of the friends and relatives of VVIPs, whether these be Indian citizens or not, whether these are resident in India or not. If individuals with no visible expertise suddenly become flush with funds and get contract after contract from sundry entities—as they did in the course of the Commonwealth Games—they need to be closely examined, in conjunction with the law enforcement authorities of the countries where they are residing. Because of the widespread use of hawala channels that are ISI-controlled, a presumption has to be made that Black Money sent abroad is linked to terror. A swarm of letters rogatory need to be sent, based on the information already available to the CBI, the ED, the DRI and other agencies, information that they are at present doing nothing about. The agencies get active only when exposed and never pro-actively. Even in the CWG and 2G investigations, sources in Mauritius and elsewhere claim that informal requests have been received from high levels in India “ to go slow with the response” or even to “ claim that the information is not available, or is incorrect”. Someday, a government will come that will have the will and the competence to undertake an enquiry into the loot of India that is taking place. Fortunately, in this era of electronic money transfers, proof will remain for long periods of time, as such records cannot be destroyed as easily as paperwork can.