The recent book launch of Ajay Mankotia’s Seven For You, Three For Me had a no-nonsense vibe with a jocular edge. Joining Mankotia, Retd IRS, LLB, were veterans Durgesh Shankar, Retd IRS, M.Sc (Econ.), LLB, Mukesh Butani CA and Specialist in Corporate International Tax and Transfer Pricing, and this panel was chaired by his publisher Readomania’s Dipankar Banerjee. The four, in crisp, starchy business suits, spilled hard truths of the Income Tax Department and gripping narratives of their tax raids redolent of slick James Bond plots, all peppered with nostalgic banter. Such that even many from the fraternity in the audience couldn’t resist wisecracking inbetween.
Mankotia’s book is his first-hand account of serving 26 years in the Indian Revenue Service before opting for VRS in 2008 as Commissioner of Income Tax. After being subjected to repeated prejudices, cold-shoulders, nervous airs, one-arm distances, and even the fear of god in the eyes of the moneyed whenever they breathed the same air as him, to heck, even Jesus having to account why he dined with the tax collectors… Mankotia decided to demystify this caricature.
He made his case in the book and recounted those experiences. Like before one surgery when his doctor administered anesthesia and asked if the prick hurt, just to make Mankotia realise “this is how tax payers feel going to the tax department”. How a lady from his local music club cowered in fear on realising he’s a taxman, but “after her heart rate came back to normal, she asked a very strange question, ‘how can a tax man sing?’” Appears even Dr Shashi Tharoor was baffled, evident from his synopsis on the book jacket: ‘…a rare glimpse into the surprisingly colourful experience of the officers in the Tax Department, through an array of anecdotes that are in equal parts entertaining and farcical…’
Mankotia, a vocalist (who later gave a demo), recalled how hidden poets, painters, ghazal writers, etc., were discovered at the 150 years of the Income Tax Department celebrations. Then again the book’s title reflects his love for George Harrison, whose Taxman lyrics, was the inspiration. ‘There’s one for you, 19 for me/Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman’
He also clarified that taxmen get no sadistic pleasure conducting a raid. “Always remember, he’s a service provider and you are the valued customer. And that he’s also a father, colleague, son… enjoys his drinks and going out with kids for ice cream, plays cricket. Don’t be in awe or fear of him,” Mankotia sort of implored.
Put a couple of tax officials together and the discussion is bound to veer towards IT raids. From ingenious ways Indians hide cash to IT officers using cohesive means to collect taxes. “Suddenly we saw Kishore Kumar running across the lawn behind his house and dumping cash in a well. Our officer had to fairly undress himself and jump in...” narrated Shankar. Or knocking on politicians’ doors resulted in life-threatening consequences. Like the May 1981 IT raids on businessmen in Srinagar that Shankar was part of where “boatmen were galvanised by the gentleman who subsequently became the chief minister to attack and beat the idiots [IT officers]”, and how despite goons hot on their tails, the injured lot escaped by boarding a flight to Delhi.
Heartening to hear were revelations that the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) pulled up guilty parties who tried to evade tax raids with bribes. “Happens all the time, especially in the first years of your tenure, but your reputation is not a secret, everyone in the fraternity knows who does it and doesn’t,” Mankotia said. “Then again, few businessmen feel disappointed because they haven’t been raided. An IT raid is a cache of having arrived…”
Few googlies from the audience resulted in many giggles. “If you’re having a cup of tea with someone, can you tell if they’ve not been paying tax for many years?” Or better, “Where do IRS guys stand in arranged marriage setups compared to IFS and IAS men?” Topics such as the looming tax terrorism, were not brushed aside. “Tax terrorism dates back to Chanakya’s time,” Shankar chuckled, while Butani explained, “It comes in many forms. Each officer interprets law in his own way. It existed and still exists, and the government is taking many steps.”
Atima, a published author and Ajay’s spouse and his partial co-author, considering she penned two chapters in the book on life as an IT officer’s wife, concluded the evening on a sombre-sweet note. About Ajay she says, “Most people fear the Income tax officer coming to their houses, I didn’t. At the cost of sounding cheesy, there was never any tax on love, affection and fun in our house.”