Letter from New Delhi
By Kul Bhushan
“If all over the world the woman is allowed freedom to grow to her potential, there will be many, many women enlightened; many, many women mystics, poets, and painters. And they will enhance not only the woman’s part of the world — because the world is one — they will enhance the whole world.”
Friday the thirteenth proved lucky for Indian women who fought the state elections as they seized the reins of government in two of five states. These two victories by women tip the overall balance in the favour of women rulers in India as another two states already have women as chief ministers. Moreover, the President of India, three Union Ministers, three Ministers of State, and the Speaker in the Union Parliament, the leader of the ruling party and the leader of the opposition are – you guessed it! — all women.
As the fiery Mamta Banerjee and the imperial J. Jayalalitha take over as Chief Ministers of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu respectively, they join another two the dominating Mayawati and the suave Sheila Dikshit in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi to rule over 368 million Indians – about a third of India’s 1.2 billion people.
Let’s start at the very top. Pratibha Patil is the President. The Union Cabinet has three Ministers — Ambika Soni, Kumari Salja and Mamta Banerjee (expected to resign now) – who are joined by three Ministers of State — Preneet Kaur, Agatha Sangma and D. Purandeswari.
The political party scene is dominated by the Italian sphinx Sonia Gandhi leading the Congress and the peppery Sushma Swaraj blasting the government as the leader of the opposition in the parliament. This makes India perhaps the only country in the world with women in so many top political positions.
Women will become front-runners in politics if the proposed and long delayed Women’s Reservation Bill to reserve 33.3 per cent seats in Parliament and state legislatures is passed by the parliament. Introduced in 1996, it seeks to empower women at the federal, state and local levels of decision-making by reserving a third of the seats for them.
A third of the seats at village level elections have been reserved for women already. The experience of women’s reservation at the panchayat (village governing body) level has been very encouraging. A million women are being elected to the panchayats in India every five years. This is the largest mobilisation of women in public life in the world. But various political parties have staunchly opposed it because they fear many of their male leaders would not get a chance to fight elections if 33.3 per cent seats are reserved for women. Men on the back foot!
Says Osho, “It has taken her over a century and a half to get equal rights – at least under the law in most countries. Yet gender equality is a dream beyond the horizon in most poor countries of the world. In some, she is still enslaved.” He adds, “The ultimate result is that the woman has become very bitter. Her whole being has become a cry for revolt. She is not at peace to laugh at things; she is in utter misery and despair, and unless she becomes liberated she will not have a sense of humour. Once she becomes liberated, she will leave man far behind in all creative dimensions and she will be really joyous and playful… It is for the betterment of both man and woman that the woman should be given every freedom and equal opportunity for her individuality.”
These are not empty words but Osho put them in practice by always giving women full authority and responsibility for establishing, expanding and managing his communes. Osho did not talk about women’s equality but their superiority; not as the weaker sex but as the stronger sex. But how will they survive in a man’s macho world of aggression and violence?
Osho answers, “A man is not of necessity masculine, a woman is not of necessity feminine. A woman can be masculine, for example, Joan of Arc or, in India, Laxmibhai. These women were warriors, great soldiers; they were not feminine at all. Biologically, of course, they were feminine, their bodies were those of women, but their very souls were those of men. They have to be counted as masculine.”
Indeed, India has the distinction of having the first woman as the Prime Minister – the steely Indira Gandhi who stood up to domestic and international challenges and threats with courage and aplomb. In fact, she was dubbed as the only man in the cabinet! And also called “Mother India”
Yet doubts remain about how well a woman can rule. Can a woman take tough decisions? What is her attitude towards her subjects? Will she approach them as a tough taskmaster or care and nurture them as a mother?
Osho says, “God is a mother, a motherly phenomenon. This whole existence is motherly. And God is far softer than man can ever be, far more vulnerable, far more open. A woman in her ultimate flowering becomes a mothering energy… she can mother the whole existence. She feels blessed, and she can bless the whole existence.”
Black Money & NRIs
Despite condemning Black Money, NRIs have helped to increase it. According to Aman Agarwal, Professor of Finance at Indian Institute of Finance, New Delhi, the total amount of Black Money globally is estimated between $2.1 to 2.5 trillion. This is roughly about seven per cent of the world’s GDP.
Indians have stashed away – hold your breath – no less than $1.4 trillion in Black Money in Swiss banks, according to a Swiss Banking Report quoted by Naman Sood. Indians are trailed by Russians at $470 billion, Britishers at $390 billion, Ukranians at $100 billion and Chinese at $96 billion. This means that Indians have more Black Money than the four largest depositors that follow them.
Black Money in India has been variously estimated by economists between five and 48 per cent of the economy. Economist Shanker Acharya estimated it at 20 per cent of the GDP while Arun Kumar put this figure at 40 per cent. Who keeps their illegal cash abroad? Politicians, businessmen, babus and criminals. With the liberalization of the foreign exchange rules, businessmen have fewer reasons to keep their ill-gotten gains abroad.
“Let us bring back our money,” says M R Venkatesh, an NRI in USA. “It is one of the biggest loots witnessed by mankind – the loot of the ‘aam aadmi’ (common man) since 1947 by his brethren occupying public offices. What is even more depressing in that this ill-gotten wealth of ours has been stashed away abroad into secret bank accounts located in some of the world’s best known tax havens. And to that extent, the Indian economy has been stripped of its wealth.”
But how have the NRIs contributed to increasing the quantum of Black Money? In an exclusive interview, Prof Agarwal said Indian workers in Arab countries cannot transfer money back home due to local laws. So ‘havala’ is the only route by handing cash to local ‘agents’ for delivery to their families in India. The other method is buying gold and bringing it to India. NRIs are allowed to bring gold duty free worth Rs 10,000 for males and Rs 20,000 for females and up to ten kilos if they pay duty in hard currency. No wonder huge gold markets or ‘souks’ have come up in these countries. Due to the bulk for gold for higher amounts, NRIs bring in diamonds.
NRIs in Eastern Africa faced tight exchange control regulations until mid-nineties, so they sent their cash to Britain and USA as ‘a lifeboat’. They deposited it in banks or purchased properties with these moneys. NRIs from Britain used the ‘havala’ route to send money to their families for a better exchange rate and less hassles with banks for their relatives.
Prof Agarwal adds that some NRIs in the US transferred money by ‘havala’ ten years ago after India’s nuclear tests at Pokharan because they feared that they may be pressurized to leave US.
After 9/11, a new element of financing terrorist operations has crept in Black Money transfers, in addition to financing drugs. Terror groups are using ‘wire money transfer’ channels and credit cards to send money for terror strikes in India. So the Indian government set up Financial Intelligence Unit – India (FIU-IND) in 2004 for receiving, processing, analyzing and disseminating information relating to suspect financial transactions.
All banks and finance companies are bound every month to inform FIU-IND about all cash transactions over Rupees one million and its equivalent in foreign currencies; all cash transactions below Rs one million and its equivalent in foreign currencies; all cash transactions in forged or counterfeit currency notes and all suspicious transaction. This unit has unearthed an impressive number of underhand dealings as detailed in its annual report and has been granted more powers to track down more. Now Indian outlets of foreign wire transfer services and casinos have also been ordered to report their transactions every month.
The banks and finance companies now implement strict rules to identify everyone who operates or opens an account with them. This concept, ‘Know Your Customer’, has been advocated by Prof Agarwal for some time. He also devised a CD-ROM Principle for India’s Black Money where C stands for pay Cash Carry Certificates; D for Delays, Deficiencies and Denial of certificate and ROM for Rest on Mat as cases are never taken up and gather dust!
Comments Prof Agarwal, “Unfortunately, the least respect for law and the maximum violation of law is the order of the day by some people in authority – as they are charged with the responsibility of enforcing laws or mafia groups, gangs, and/or nexus of the two. The former enjoys the constitutional security and the later is outside the framework of the law. A common man does not question either of them.”
* Published in print edition on 20 May 2011