Modi’s government is not lacking in political will to end the scourge of black money
Prime minister Narendra Modi’s plain speaking at a function organised over the weekend by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) would have caused practising chartered accountants in India to introspect on their true role. That he chose the occasion to speak about corruption, even as he complimented the CAs for being a “big pillar of Indian economy” was in many ways a demonstration that the government was not lacking in political will to end the scourge of black money.
Like in the case of demonetisation, the prime minister has chosen to employ the just-launched Goods and Services Tax as another weapon in the fight against corruption. While he has made it apparent that he would seek the support of every Indian as an ally in this effort, it is apparent that he wants those who come aboard to have a clean reputation as well. It was, therefore, not surprising that Modi should have asked some pertinent questions of his hosts at the function, which coincidentally was also the ICAI foundation day.
Pointing out that action had been taken against only 25 CAs in 11 years by the ICAI, he asked the audience and the office-bearers whether they genuinely thought that only 25 CAs had indulged in corruption in all this time while over 1,400 cases had been pending for a very long time. At another point in the speech, he mentioned that post demonetisation, over 3 lakh registered companies had indulged in suspected dealings, and then striking straight off the bat, observed that there must be someone who had helped these companies that had broken the law.
Thereafter, moving on to the government’s key objective to widen the tax base, he asked whether in a country like India there could really be only 32 lakh people with an income over Rs 10 lakh. People indulge in corruption only when they know that someone is backing their corruption, he said. It was evident that the prime minister was ready to do some tough talking and had come prepared with relevant facts.
However, with both demonetisation and GST being national projects, it is evident that the government wants all hands on deck so that the true objective of those two exercises are achieved. As in demonetisation and in assembly elections after that, when he and his party were careful to project a distinctly pro-poor image, this also seemed to be the endeavour when he spoke to the CAs on Saturday.
He first told them that their signatures carried a lot of weight, and then he asked them whether every time they signed off on the balance sheet of a company they remembered that some widow had put her life’s savings into that company or that some poor person had invested in it. Those words would be ringing in the ears of those who attended the ICAI function. The subtext of the prime minister’s speech was that the government knew and was closely analysing developments and that it was in no mood to be an idle bystander if it found there were impediments to its success.
From the government’s perspective, having taken the giant leap forward in launching the GST, and in the process also putting its credibility at stake, it cannot lose time with niceties and show results almost immediately. In that specific context, the prime minister’s speech has come at the right time.