Some four years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a war on corruption. He electrified the nation and aroused Himalayan hopes. The other day, he shocked the nation by revealing, in the course of his address to Parliament, that banks’ non-performing assets (NPAs) now stand at Rs 50 lakh crore! That was before Nirav Modi and Mehul Choski scooted off with god-alone-knows how much. The total leak, on this spell, is put anywhere between Rs 11,000 crore and Rs 60,000 crore. One thing seems certain: we shall never know the truth of this fraud; just as we know little of any other. Issues, no matter how gigantic and scary, now only have news-value. They emerge and disappear from view like bubbles.
Now, think for a minute of the Rs 50 lakh crore that, as per the PM, has virtually exited the banking system. It is three times the total currency in circulation in India. This alone explains why Modi had to resort to the shock therapy of demonetisation. But demonetisation had nothing to do with fighting black money.
If black money were the target, the government would have done two things: gone after the black money stashed overseas to the tune of Rs 90 lakh crore, and, second, made the billionaire bandits who have defrauded our banks of a lion’s share of their capital to pay back.
All of them are, after all, within the country and within the reach of law. Why can’t they be treated on par, respecting Article 14 of the Constitution, with poor farmers who, for laughably small debts, are driven to suicide?
When the common man was made to endure inconveniences for weeks on end in the miserable days of demonetisation, he was given the false hope that this short-term pain would give birth to long-term gain. He did not know then that it was long-term gain for the likes of Nirav Modi. One man alone, this Nirav Modi, has wiped out the grounds gained, if any, from that prolonged, massive national trauma. We are now left looking foolish and cheated.
But that is not the worst part. The worst is that we are assumed to be incorrigibly stupid. So, it suffices to say that Nirav began blood-letting India in 2011, when UPA was in power. With one statement, the blood on the face of the present dispensation is wiped clean.
But we will never be told two things: (a) how much was sanctioned to, and availed by, Nirav Modi between 2011 and 2014, and how much was paid back by him; and (b) how much money he has cheated the banks of since 2014. We will also never be told why the agencies concerned had to wait patiently till the looters made good their escape lock, stock and barrel.
Surely, not even a fool would believe that economic crimes of this magnitude, spread over seven years, can happen without fraudster-politician nexus of a very high order. The very volume of the fraud shrieks against naivete in this regard.
As a rule, whenever crimes are perpetrated and criminals are not caught, such mysteries point only in one direction. The belated drama enacted post facto confirms this all the more. None of us believes that either Vijay Mallya or Lalit Modi or Nirav Modi will be brought back or the loot recovered from them. What is lost is the common man’s means of survival. The interests of the economic and political elites stand unaffected.
Shouldn’t it shock us that in decades of organised bank robbery, resulting in the accumulation of Rs 50 lakh crore of NPAs, the criminals in the banking system who have facilitated this blood-letting have seldom been held to account? Why can’t these anti-people colluders be punished on par with a Lalu Yadav? How can banking frauds be ever controlled so long as colluders continue to enjoy assured immunity?
We can only fervently hope that what little is left of the taxpayers’ money is not wasted through efforts to get the criminals back, which are doomed to be expensively ineffective, going by the Mallya experience. The government needs to tell us how much money has been wasted so far in bumbling about with this one extradition process?
Need to stand up
At the end of the day, these billionaire-robbers can be stopped only if we, the people, the end-victims, wake up and defend our meagre means of survival. For pensioners, in particular, whose only income, given that nuclear family is the urban norm, comes from interests earned from bank deposits, these are not mere crimes. They are swords thrust into their stomachs.
People like Nirav Modi, aided and abetted by the powers that be, are robbing them of their precarious status above the poverty line. It takes only a couple of Nirav Modis to drag millions of them into destitution and premature death.
Even according to existing provisions, the banks are liable to them only to the tune of Rs 1 lakh, irrespective of the amounts deposited. This alone is sufficient to make banks trigger-happy against citizens, against whom banks are protected. Surely, such legal provisions are not put in place for the sake of “We, the People of Indiaâ€¦”
The end of this road, if it goes unchecked, have no doubt, is anarchy. But that is no bad news to any ruling elite. History teaches us that a people will surrender their freedom only when their will is broken on the wheel of hunger and bewilderment.
The choice between living in freedom or in glorified serfdom needs to be made by every citizen here and now. That choice must begin with a date with truth. That truth is that we, the middle class, are orphans in this country. No one cares for us. But if we ourselves don’t care, and refuse to read the writing on the wall, who can help us?
(The writer is formal principal, St Stephen’s College, Delhi)