The Prime Minister is playing an intensely political game.
Apart from attacking the Opposition parties for criticising his demonetisation move, which is par for the course in the cut and thrust of public life, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday for the first time indicated that the poor — or holders of Jan Dhan or zero-balance accounts — may be rewarded under his rule, but there appeared to be a hint of condoning illegality in the lure. Addressing a pre-election rally at Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, expected to go to the polls next February, the PM urged the poor, in whose accounts many unscrupulous holders of black money had offloaded some of their cash piles by promising a commission, not to return the money — in effect, to forego the promised cut as they will become the new owners of all of it.
He said he was working on devising ways to make this happen. Essentially, this means that the “black” money, after being deposited in a bank, will become “white”, but under a different ownership.
Will this be taxed? It might be, but this is not so far clear. But one thing is clear. The owners of the Jan Dhan accounts who agreed for a cut to act as money-launderers are now likely to find themselves owners of “white” wealth for taking the trouble to stand in a bank queue, if Mr Modi keeps his word.
Effectively, the original owner of the black money will face punishment if the Jan Dhan account holder reveals his identity (which he is likely to do under governmental pressure and for reasons of greed, since he now stands to come into a great deal of money even if he has to pay a tax on it as a price of converting black to white), but the pigeon will not only go scot-free but also be handsomely rewarded.
In short, the illegality committed by him with eyes wide open will be applauded, not punished, because he is poor. The cynical view will be that anything goes in politics at election time.
This is evidently an extraordinary moment in the history of jurisprudence when the holder of the most powerful constitutional office in the land, who has sworn to uphold the law, seems to be endorsing a thoroughly dubious banking deal between two citizens — a rich man and a poor man — to form a joint enterprise to beat the system.
On election-eve, perhaps what he really wishes is to put some cash into the accounts of the poor since he failed in his earlier promise to deposit Rs 15 lakhs in everyone’s account by unearthing black money stashed abroad. The Prime Minister is playing an intensely political game. But he must not sanction any violation of the law.