The national president of Swaraj India discusses the Sahara-Birla diaries, funding of political parties and how demonetisation has wrecked the rural economy in the last 50 days.
Akhil Kumar: Hello, my name is Akhil Kumar and today we’re here with Yogendra Yadav. Mr. Yadav is a well-known public intellectual, he also has his own political party named Swaraj India which he started after leaving AAP (Aam Admi Party). He has previously been a professor at the Jawarharlal Nehru University. Today, we will talk to him about the Sahara-Birla papers. Mr. Yadav, recently the Sahara-Birla papers controversy has returned to public debate due to Rahul Gandhi’s theatrics. He said that if he said something, there would be an earthquake in the parliament. But the fact is that these papers that were supposed to bring the metaphorical earthquake have been in the public domain for a while now. A lot of print and online media have already reported about the papers, but for some reason this news did not appear on TV media. But now that this news is airing on TV media and everyone knows about it, I want to ask you about the extent of corruption that has become clear through these papers. The general public has not fully understood that. It is being perceived as an unsubstantiated agenda-driven attack from the opposition and the AAP against the Modi government. This has led to confusion around the veracity of the documents. So at this time, what is the importance of these papers and if you could briefly tell us the story behind these papers?
Yogendra Yadav: Akhil, Rahul Gandhi’s theatrics did not benefit at all, infact it might have caused some harm. When Rahul Gandhi spoke in parliament, he hyped it up too much, saying an earthquake will come etc. and eventually he said the exact same thing as Arvind Kejriwal. Arvind Kejriwal said the same thing that Prashant Bhushan had written in an affidavit and submitted to the Supreme Court. There was nothing new. Either way, when Congress talks about corruption, I laugh a bit. There is no credibility. Rahul Gandhi did not even have the honesty to admit in the beginning that the papers also name people from his own party and that they would be removed from the party. So Rahul’s speech must have weakened this case; it didn’t carry any weight. But there was one benefit – all the television and newspaper media outlets that were silent on this issue for one month, they were forced to report about it.
The real question is what is the problem here? Is it a serious problem or not? The prime minister’s name has been mentioned. Is the issue being raised frivolously? Or is it actually serious? First, I would like to remind you that the charges have been filed by Prashant Bhushan. Whenever Prashant Bhushan has spoken, whether it was the 2G scam or the Colgate scam, he hasn’t done so without evidence. I know him and many times I tell him, you’re more of a judge than a lawyer. He plays his role like a judge. When Prashant Bhushan spoke out on 2G and Colgate scams, the BJP supported him, saying Prashant Bhushan is a crusader, he has shown the reality. Today the same Prashant Bhushan is speaking and he’s a liar. See the reality. First, this issue which is being kept in the public domain, these are not vague unaccountable allegations. They are very detailed. That means that it isn’t just someone with an ulterior motive declaring that those named have illegally taken thousands of crores or five hundred crore rupees. It’s not like that. Who gave how much money to whom, on which day and where, has been meticulously documented. Whether it is true or not, we do not know but it is detailed information. Second, it is authenticated information, not just some random paper found on the road. It was found in a raid. There are signatures of income tax officers and those signatures have been verified. Third, an inquiry on this information has taken place. At least of half the information. After the Birla papers were found in a raid, the government conducted an inquiry. The income tax authorities interrogated everyone. Statements were collected. Some people denied the allegations and that was inquired into. After all this, a four-volume report was made, an appraisal report which Prashant is presenting to the Supreme Court. That report says, after the first inquiry, that all these documents are real and on the basis of these papers, an inquiry should take place. The situation has reached to this point.
After this, we’re saying that there needs to be an inquiry. Look, the Birla and Sahara situations are two different situations. One raid took place under the Congress government and the other took place under the BJP government. Both papers implicate members of both the parties, not just the prime minister. After the first inquiry, these papers are credible. I’m not saying that on the basis of this, the prime minister should be considered guilty, he should be punished. But at least a full inquiry should begin. That is our only demand. Neither did Prashant Bhushan nor Swaraj India say that the prime minister is guilty, a thief, corrupt etc. All we’re saying is that this is a serious issue. At least it is more serious than the Jain-Hawala scandal. It’s more serious than the issues raised by the Bofors case. Atleast an inquiry must take place. It is the right of this nation to know if all these big politicians – not just the prime minister, other big politicians have been implicated too – were involved in this scandal or not. To know this is the nation’s right. That’s all we’re saying.
A.K.: The documents that were submitted by Common Cause (an NGO) to the Supreme Court for this case were rejected because they didn’t provide enough evidence to start a full enquiry. Now a lot of politicians too are questioning the validity of these papers, saying that these documents could be fake. But this problem is quite serious because it has also been reported that atleast 100 members of about 18 political parties have been implicated in these papers. What do you have to say about this? This tactic of rejecting the validity of these papers, that people are being wrongfully implicated, that they’re being framed, what would you like to say about that?
Y.Y.: The more I hear from these politicians – reject these, it’s rubbish, it’s a lie – the more my trust in these papers increases. Then the inquiry must happen. If so many politicians are bothered by the release of these papers, at least an inquiry should take place. There is more to it than meets the eye. BJP members are stuck on one thing today that the Supreme Court has rejected the papers as hard evidence. This is an absolute lie. When there’s a court hearing, both sides speak, both the lawyers speak, sometimes very sharply, the judges ask questions, sometimes very hard questions. This is called observation. It is not written and that is not recorded by itself. Many times, it so happens that the court observations make you think that the case is going in a certain direction and when the judgement comes, it goes in a different direction because every judge has a different way of asking questions. In this case, so far there have been three hearings. The first time Mr. Shanti Bhushan went. At that time, there were very sharp observations. The judges said that the Sahara group is known to create fake documents; how can you present these documents in court? They talked about fabricated documents but not about all the documents and they asked them to bring more evidence.
The second time the judges said that they are not satisfied and asked them to bring more evidence. The third time, Prashant took the four-volume appraisal report to the Supreme Court. Then there was a decision to look at the report in February. Right now, the Supreme Court has not given an order of even one word. In today’s date, the Supreme Court’s old law is in place. The old decision which applied to the Jain-Hawala case. The decision was that if important people are implicated in such papers, diaries, then an inquiry must take place. The Supreme Court’s constitutional bench’s decision in 2013 in the Lalita Kumari case was that if any material is found, without finding out whether the material is real or fake, an FIR can be lodged on the assumption that it can be real. This is what the Supreme Court says. If the Supreme Court changes its decision in February, then it can do so. But in today’s date that is the law… So the BJP shouldn’t claim that the Supreme Court has given a decision.
A.K.: So in this case does all the responsibility belong to the court? The way that these papers are being rejected, the way politicians are forcefully saying that we’re not involved in this, that all of this is a lie… If everyone is saying that this is a lie, then why are they scared of an independent inquiry? Do you think that this is only a matter to be dealt by the court or political parties and senior leaders should themselves take an initiative so that the public can get some clarity?
Y.Y.: Look, with respect to the court, there is so much confusion. So much confusion that whether there should be an inquiry into this matter or not is thought to be the court’s decision. This isn’t the court’s decision. First the decision has to be made by the government, the income tax authorities, CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) – they’ve had the material for 1.5 years. Prashant Bhushan has only said that for the past two years they’ve been inactive with the material. Now the court should force them. Even if the court doesn’t force them, for example if the court says that it will not order an investigation, this doesn’t mean that the CBI should not do an investigation. This doesn’t mean that the IT (Income Tax) authorities should not do an investigation. It is their duty to investigate. The court forcing them to do so is the very last option.
One thing I do not understand. The prime minister says I do not take bribes and I do not let others take bribes. He says he’s very nice, very honest. There is no bribery situation. He says he’s crusading against black money in the whole country. That’s a very good thing. In such a situation, if you are being implicated in a scandal, then why doesn’t the prime minister himself say that the investigation should take place? Why doesn’t the prime minister say that these allegations are false, are baseless but I am not scared of anyone and that I will set an example in this country and so I should be investigated? He quotes the Ramayana a lot, right? How was Sita tested? The prime minister should say I’m ready to be tested. Why hasn’t he said that for so many days? I haven’t been able to understand that. What’s the problem? He says so many things, he makes fun of others, he says all kinds of things but why isn’t he saying such a normal thing? His party members say that the prime minister’s prestige will be tarnished by this. How will it be tarnished? If the prime minister allows the investigation and if it is established that there is no truth in these documents, the prime minister’s prestige will increase. If such an allegation cannot be put against the prime minister, if the PMO’s prestige is hurt due to this, I would like to ask the BJP members what they were doing in the Bofors case. Why were they dragging Manmohan Singh into the Colgate case? What evidence did you have back then? On what basis were you saying this? Didn’t the country benefit? The country did benefit from the Bofors case and the Colgate case. The prime minister was implicated; tough questions were asked. Whether he was punished or not is another matter, corruption scandals were exposed in the country. Why should those same rules not apply to this prime minister? Has the prime minister’s prestige acquired a new definition? Should there be new rules for the prime minister? What are they saying?
A.K.: Now I would like to talk to you about another issue related to this. It’s about the funding of political parties. We all know that political parties do not allow RTI (Right to Information). Mr Modi is saying that some parties have black money and wrong intentions. Things are being said about the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act); questions are being raised. Both our ruling party and the opposition say that they want transparency. Then there was a lot of to-and-fro with the Supreme Court. This has been happening for a while. So what do you think about this doublespeak, they say that they want transparency but they don’t accept the RTI and don’t talk about the whole issue in detail? Why is this happening? And if there should be transparency in political funding, then to what extent should it exist? Should the names and addresses of all donors be available in the public domain? If they should be made available, then what should the donation limit be of those whose names are disclosed? If someone gives Rs 10 to a political party, should their name be disclosed too? What do you think about this?
Y.Y.: What you’re saying is a 100% correct. In this country, corruption and politics are inevitably linked. Not because black money is a major part of political funding but because black money passes through this political door. So, if you don’t control that you cannot control black money in this country. The government gives half the truth on this subject. Our finance minister Arun Jaitley is a master of telling incomplete truths. He says we’ve not made any law which favours political parties. The reality is that in this country there’s already a law that favours political parties. They made new laws for everyone, for you; how much money will go into your account; what all explanations you need to give. They immediately made new laws. For political parties, though, the law was left untouched. For the common man, every single loophole was closed. For political parties, there are loopholes after loopholes. They haven’t tried to close those. The rules say that political parties will declare their donations. But if there is a donation of below Rs 20,000, it need not be declared.
Now if political parties want they can divide as much money as they want into these accounts. BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) puts all its donations into these accounts. BJP puts 60-70%. Till the time you do not close this loophole, there will be no transparency in the affairs of political parties. For this it is important that this Rs 20,000 loophole is closed completely. This means, the laws that apply to all other groups and organisations should apply to political parties as well. What is the law? Whatever donation you receive; you should submit a receipt as evidence. At least it should not be unaccounted for. Second, you should keep a cash register to note how much money you got on which day. Due to a lack of this, all this is happening. Now tomorrow say we find out that BSP got a donation of over a hundred crores. The income tax authorities will ask how and when they got this money. They’ll say we got it as several donations below 20,000. They’ll ask when did they receive these donations? They’ll say we got them before October 8. They’ll say show us the cash register. They’ll make a new cash register and show it to the authorities. They’ll write in it that some came in September, some in August, some in January, some in July. Till the time you don’t ask political parties to have a proper accounting procedure, till then they’ll declare as much money as they want, whenever they want, on March 31.
This is why we have four demands. First, the chartered accountancy procedure imposed by the election commission on political parties should be considered compulsory to follow. Second, the Rs 20,000 limit exemption should be removed. You should account for all the money received. Even if it’s Rs 10, at least account for it. Whether you declare it or not is another simple matter. Third, for this year there should be a special audit on all MLAs, MPs and political parties, to see how much cash they’ve declared after November 8. Fourth, all the parties that have violated the ban on foreign funding for political parties should be punished. And who are these parties? Congress and BJP. Both of them have been indicted in the high court. Something should be done about all of them. So, we rallied for all these demands. We think that till the time these things do not happen, till then it is impossible to bring transparency to political parties. Till the time there is no transparency in political funding, all the talks about controlling black money are useless and vulgar.
A.K.: I want to ask one last question to you. Now it’ll be 50 days since demonetisation. For the work of your Swaraj Party, you’ve visited many drought-affected areas. So you have a good understanding of rural economy. You’ve worked with farmers. So, we want to know how you think these 50 days have affected them? Have they gained any benefit from this? What can we hope for in the upcoming months, with respect to their situation? Will they gain any benefits or not? Or if they’ve incurred losses, will they be able to fix that?
Y.Y.: I would like to clarify one thing. On the day that demonetisation was declared, we didn’t oppose it. We said we should observe how it plays out. Whatever steps the government takes against black money should be supported because there is a need to do something about black money. We had also said that in our opinion this won’t have a major effect on the flow of black money. But even if it’s small, it should be encouraged. We should wait for the bigger steps. We said you can demonetise but when will you stop looting? In the last 45 days, what we have experienced shows that they have not been successful at controlling black money. They’ve caught what can only be called the tail of the black money elephant, but that’s all. The cost of this for the whole nation, especially the poorest sections, has been massive. The people who created this policy, the Reserve Bank, the important officers have never seen villages. They have no idea.
Demonetisation was brought in a season when after two years of drought, farmers had a good crop. They thought they’d get a good price. It was the wedding season. They thought they’d save some money and get their daughters married. In the middle of this, demonetisation happened. The price of mostly perishable crops that perish easily like tomatoes, potatoes, vegetable and others, fell overnight. I was in a potato-growing area. First, potatoes were being sold for Rs 600 per packet. After demonetisation, they were being sold for Rs 175, Rs 150 per packet. Overnight, the prices fell steeply. Tomato farmers were throwing away their tomatoes. In several places, the income of farmers reduced. Daily wage workers lost job opportunities. This wasn’t the problem. Since their employers didn’t have cash, they didn’t have employment. The small sellers, street vendors, daily-wage workers, all their lives were negatively affected. The question is, who will compensate for this? Whose responsibility is this? When there is a natural disaster, hailstorm, draught, the government gives a compensation. But this disaster that the government has brought, who will compensate for this? Is there any responsibility for this or not? This question has to be asked.
The total benefits reaped from demonetisation will be known. But if we’re even a little bit serious about the problem of black money, then I say that this black money is only one of the heads of the ten-headed villain Ravana. The other nine heads are gold, real estate property, participatory notes, foreign deposits and the route of foreign money through Mauritius. Till the time all this is not stopped, demonetisation will not be able to stop looting and black money. The country will be punished but I cannot see any benefits of this.
A.K.: Thank you, Mr Yadav. That’s all for today’s interview. If you would like to receive notifications about our upcoming videos, please subscribe to our YouTube channel. Thank you.