The media including the great crusader for truth and investigative journalism the Indian Express has already decided who the holy cows are in the Panama offshore scam. A day after the Express carried a front-paged story of one time well known sports journalist turned businessman Lokesh Sharma parking huge sums in tax haven British Virgin Island (BVI) in Panama, in the fourth part of its series about the Richie rich of India from Adanis to Oberois to Tyre dealers to Boutique owners to Art Divas like Amrita Jhaveri stacking their wealth in BVI, it has made amends by carrying an edit on April 8 commending Union Finance Minister by stating, “It is heartening too that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has underlined that there are no holy cows in this regard.”
Thereby the paper has already exonerated Jaitley without bothering to ask what kind of bond exists between Jaitley and Lokesh Sharma, nee Loki, as his intimate friends like Jaitely call him. It is left to Congress leader and former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh to recall that as the president of the Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA) it was Jaitely who awarded contracts to Loki’s company, Twenty First Century Media (TCM) Private Limited.
Loki is very well-known in the world of Sports journalists and is in a way popular among sports and other journalists too because his TCM frequently provides them with an opportunity for moonlighting and pays them well. Lokesh Sharma, as the Express story too stated, started his TCM in 1993. Before that he was a sports journalist, like the present day IPL president and Congress MP Rajiv Shukla who both worked together once upon a time in the then popular weekly magazines Sunday/Ravivar under the wings of M J Akbar, now a Rajya Sabha member and BJP spokesman. Loki later married into Akbar family and thus became a member of Akbar’s household. The existence of a symbiotic relationship between Loki and Jaitely for over two decades now is also known to almost anyone who is privy to the world of journalism or cricket in the national capital of India.
The same day the paper also carried the story of a BVI offshore company owned partly by Shiv Sena MP and Videocon owner Rajkumar Dhoot bidding for Indian Premier League (IPL), held in Pune in 2010. Now Rajumar Dhoot is another vocal crusader against corruption but as the report suggests has been at the very least parking funds in the Panama tax haven. Jaitley’s extraordinary and enthusiastic interest in the IPL even when Lalit Modi was heading is no secret and so is his affection for Rajiv Shukla who owes his elevation as IPL president to Jaitley.
Then there is another BJP MP Abhishek Singh the son of Chhatisgarh chief minister Raman Singh whose name appears as a shareholder in company Quest Height Private Limited which also figures in the Mossack Fonseca e-mails that exposed the international racket of parking funds, ostensibly illegal, in tax havens. Singh of course has denied any role in this scam.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, taking immediate cognizance of Express stories has asked of all the people Jaitely, if we go by what Jaitely told the world, to probe and catch the guilty. But then apparently as an afterthought he added, not all the money there need be illegal. There is no question there is need for Indians to invest abroad and that’s a welcome development any day. But to park money in tax havens, how could that be legal? And if the money parked in tax havens is legal where is the question of any action against those whose names figure here. Apparently influenced by this view of the NDA government expressed by the country’s Finance Minister, the Indian Express which was blowing its trumpet for last six days carrying the fifth but not the conclusive part of the list of Panama scamsters, suddenly seems to qualify its claims by stating in the same editorial that, “Indeed, some of the firms outed in the Panama Papers may very well be compliant with statutory norms.
“However that’s not telling the whole story,” Express editor writes realizing he is sawing off the branch he is perched upon and adds hurriedly, “The question is: Did many of those named in the list take recourse to floating firms in tax havens purely to avoid tax on their income?”
That’s the point. It’s not like the Tatas or Mittals investing in some industry abroad. Its parking your money in a tax haven. Why else would someone choose to park in tax haven if not to cheat on taxes? So looking from any angle this is Black Money, stashed abroad. This was the issue Anna Hazare raised and sat on a fast at Ramlila Grounds accusing the UPA of leading the most corrupt government. This frenzy provided opportunity to novices like Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi to hone their political skills. But where is Anna Hazare today, when it is all in the open who are the guys who were looting the country all along?
As if Anna’s movement did not do enough damage to the UPA government, the billionaire Yoga entrepreneur Ramdev jumped in too and perched himself on a high altar at the same Ramlila Grounds announcing yet another dharna under the banner of Bharat Swabhiman Andolan defying Police ban. Though later that night when the Police came, he fled borrowing the salwar Kameez and Dupatta of one his young female disciples. I wonder what that one wore after giving up her clothes in that melee, while the Police was chasing them all.
And what about our Danial right honourable judges of the Supreme Court, who decided to take upon themselves to hunt out with the CBI Indian treasure locked abroad? Where are they now? Where is that Subramanian Swamy who rushes directly to the apex court on any excuse as long as it puts Sonia Gandhi and her family members in a spot? For six days now the Indian Express has been carrying the series of stories which clearly identify those who have stashed away black money abroad but there is deafening silence all around. In fact the very next day the Times of India actually carried a story on its front page debunking the Express probe. Why is the Nation’s conscience keeper Arnab Goswami not moved yet? Why? Is it because most of the prominent names that have emerged so far have a direct or indirect connection with the BJP which rode to power, shouting hoarse about Black money and corruption pointing all along its finger at Sonia Gandhi. And since so far nothing has come implicating her, what’s the fun?
By Faraz Ahmad