My Musings on Pranab Babu’s Presidential Candidature
by Shiva Kant Jha
I was closely observing the eagerness of the corporate world, the foreign lobbies, and their hired creatures at work at different fora to get rid of Shri Pranab Mukherjee from the office of the Finance Minister of our country as, of late, had had refused to toe the lines of the MNCs on many matters of economic and fiscal management. The Supreme Court’s decision in Vodafone Case became a flash point as it brought before the nation the dread of the corporatocratic dominance so aggressively being pursued in this phase of economic liberalization. There are reasons to believe that that decision might be viewed as our legal system’s contribution to neoliberalism. The Judgement was cast in the form of a simple categorical syllogism that ran: the major premise: that which promotes the incoming of FDI is good; the minor premise: that the Department’s view of the tax law, as adopted in the Vodafone Case, does not (or is unlikely to) promote that policy; hence the conclusion: the Department’s view is not good. This craze for FDI, dear to the neoliberals even at the wreck of law and morality. seemed too much to me. I wrote two letters to Shri Mukherjee first letter was dated Jan. 30, 2012. The second letter was dated April 23, 2012. I had ended my first letter inspiring him with the words of Tagore Tor Daak Shune Keu Naa Aase Tobe Eklaa Chalo Re and the second with the well-known words from Holy Quran Change Quote beautifully inscribed on the arc-shaped outer lobby of our Lok Sabha.
In these I evaluated the judgement, and suggested certain remedial measures including retrospective legislation to undo the effect of the judgement on some material points which helped the MNCs to promote their interest causing wrongful loss to our country but wrongful gains to those who did not deserve them both on the counts of law and morality. I read with delight what Mr, Mukherjee said his budget speech in our Parliament:
‘We cannot declare India as a tax haven simply to attract the foreign investment. I want foreign investment for technology, for development, for resources. ….Please remember that when the investment was also not there, we did not eat lizards.’
Mr. Mukherjee presented a bold budget, and he altered the law of income-tax so that the Rogue Finance of our time might not, through corporate structuring through tax havens and secret jurisdictions, deprive our nation of the legitimate claims on our revenue. The corporate world, and those who work for that on massive, but mostly tainted, consideration, moved heaven and earth to subject our government to all sorts of pressures and persuasions so that their unfair gains are not lost. If you are interested in watching this morbid melodrama so adroitly choreographed and staged by the MNCs, their foreign mentors, lobbyists and the mainstream media, please read the short articles under ‘In the Nutshell Series’ on my website http://www.shivakantjha.org.
What I had seen getting unfolded to kick up Shri Mukherjee to the high office of the Presidency of our Republic, I noticed well captured in the following words of Prof. Arun Kumar who wrote perceptively in The Hindu in his article dated June 22, 2012:
“Pranab Mukherjee is likely to be India’s next President. It seemed to be touch and go until the tide turned in his favour. It has been suggested that the corporates swung it for him not because he is one of the most seasoned Indian politicians but because they wanted him out of the Ministry of Finance. He has acted tough on retrospective taxation and GAAR – the measures in his recent budget to tackle black income generation. But it would not be surprising if the real pressure was from foreign shores. Indian corporates are sensitive to what their foreign counterparts think. So is our political leadership. Britain and Netherlands exerted strong influence on the Vodafone case. How much of our politics is being determined by such pressures? ”
This comment reminds me of what I had written in Chap. 26 (The Realm of Darkness: the triumph of corporatocracy’) in my memoir, On the Loom of Time, after reading what we all see written on the wall. I quote from page 434 to help you catch what I have suggested so cryptically:
“The outcome of the corporate imperium would be a corporate empire to which the peoples of the world must remain obedient. The global consortium of the corporations would look after the corporate interests. Any global corporation, wherever incorporated, would receive the protection by the consortium. Like the Concert of Europe in the European political history, the corporate consortium would work for the corporations. The structure of â€˜government’ must remain only to protect the corporations from people’s wrath. We all know how Palmerston justified his intervention to protect the commercial interests of Don Pacifico by invoking the doctrine of the Roman Empire: civis Romanus sum ( “I am a Roman citizenâ€), by which an ancient Roman could proclaim his rights throughout the empire48 to get his native State’s protection. An MNC would need this sort of protection in every land. We must note how this corporate imperium was brought about: an expert has insightfully saidâ€””The empire, unlike any other in the history of the world, has been built primarily through economic manipulation, through cheating, through fraud, through seducing people into our way of life, through the ecomomic hit men…â€
I had occasions in the past to reflect on some of the public acts of Pranab Babu. Whilst he always impressed me as a tactful politician, loyal to the cause he served, I had some reservations too on many points and issues. Even in my Autobiographical Memoir, On the Loom of Time (please see the homepage of my Website), I had occasions to comments on him: some of which I quote though they can be appreciated or depreciated only in the context of the exposition in the book: —
(a). In the Shah Commission Report [at p. 231 of On the Loom of Time]:
“I would highlight only one point which drew my attention because that pertained to the working of the Income-tax Department. It is generally believed that the income tax authorities, being statutory authorities would, always function in terms of law. The Shah Commission Report examined comprehensively how the powers under section 132 of the Income-tax Act, 1961, were misused in conducting searches and seizures in the cases of the Baroda Rayon Corporation and the Bajaj Group of Company. The persons, who were involved in such acts of the abuse of power, included Shri S R Mehta, the then Chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes, and Shri Pranab Mukherjee, the then Minister for Revenue and Banking. After elaborately examining all the relevant facts in Chapter IX of the Report, Justice Shah stated:
“….In the face of the overwhelming evidence in support of this view, Shri Harihar Lal’s protestations that he had reasons to believe that conditions for invoking Section 132 of the Income Tax Act existed,cannot be accepted. They stem from a reluctance to accept that he had allowed his judgment in the exercise of this extraordinary power to be swayed by extra-legal directions of his superior officer. The Commission is of the view that Shri S. R. Mehta’s action in directing Shri Harihar Lal to initiate action under section 132 of the Income Tax Act in this case amounts to subversion of lawful processes and an abuse of authority….”
“On the uncontroverted statement of Shri S. R. Mehta that these papers were handed over to Shri P. K. Mukherjee, Shri P.K. Mukherjee’s action in obtaining and retaining seized documents and subsequent failure or omission on his part to return them to the Chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes or to any other concerned or duly authorized officers in the Income Tax Department, also amounts to subversion of lawful process and abuse of authority.â€
“The statutory provisions pertaining to the mode of the seizure of the documents, and the provisions governing the post-seizure procedure were blatantly breached. The dramatis personne of this morbid drama included the then CBDT Chairman (Shri S. R. Mehta), the then Director of Inspection (Inv.) (Shri Harihar Lal), and Shri Pranab K. Mukherjee, the then Minister for Revenue and Banking. It was shocking how lies and half-truths were traded, how the Administration allowed itself to become the stooges of the politicians. A reading of the Chapter IX of the Commission’s Report, would convince you that they had played their unworthy role in that strange melodrama. I have already quoted two short extracts from that Report in Chapter 11. The great Tulsidas said: “Let us not go on putting gloss on the unseemlyâ€: so I must stop pursuing these points further. ”
(b) How he had assessed our Parliament [at p. 321 of On the Loom of Time]:
“In February, 1992, Shri M.A. Baby, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha gave a notice of his intention to introduce the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 1992 to amend the Constitution of India providing that every agreement, treaty, memorandum of understanding, contract, or deal entered into by the Government of India with any foreign country “shall be laid before each House of Parliament prior to the implementation of such agreement…â€ Shri Baby spoke passionately in support of the said Bill. Shri Pranab Mukherjee, M.P. argued that seeking prior Parliamentary approval was problematic. He referred to the Treaty of Versailles, negotiated by President Wilson, which the U.S. Senate could not appreciate. Besides, he said, Parliament was not so constituted as to discuss the international treaties and agreements in an effective manner.
(c ). in the context of the WikiLeaks [at p. 329 of On the Loom of Time]:
“But what is worth noting is the way the politicians in power responded to the problem posed by the leak. Our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, and the Finance Minister Pranab Kumar Mukherjee advanced several reasons for not discussing such leaks: first, that the 15th Lok Sabha could not consider the issues which pertained to the period the 14th Lok Sabha; and, second, that the doctrine of diplomatic immunity did not permit our government to examine such reports. Both the reasons were wrong.”
But his role in presenting the last budget, and his position against the foreign looters of our nation have much endeared him to me and many others. There is a great likelihood that those who want to kick him up to make room for a compliant person to grace the chair of the F. M. would succeed. I wish if Pranab Babu reads Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara. The story is suggestive. Major Barbara, a much acclaimed officer of The Salvation Army, discovered, at the end of the day, that her glorious career had inglorious support. Her ascent had been facilitated by the tainted money from an armament manufacturer and a whisky distiller. She suffered after discovering her morbid reality. It seems her only misfortune was that her conscience was not yet dead. But what this story suggests is evident in matters at most places in our nation’s public life, providing a veritable ‘shock continuum’ to the citizens.
I would request my reader not to forget the wisdom so felicitously expressed by Chesterton in his well-known ‘The Mad Official’:
“These are peoples that have lost the power of astonishment at their own actions. When they give birth to a fantastic fashion or a foolish law, they do not start or stare at the monster they have brought forth. They have grown used to their own unreason; chaos is their cosmos; and the whirlwind is the breath of their nostrils. These nations are really in danger of going off their heads en masse; of becoming one vast vision of imbecility…”