Declassified files on black money in the 1970s show the government was clueless about tackling the menace. However, missing documents prove the debate is not all in black and white.
At a time when the Narendra Modi government is under fire from the Opposition for not keeping its promise to bring back black money stashed abroad, recently declassified documents pertaining to Indira Gandhi’s Prime Minister’s Secretariat (PMS, now known as PMO) on action against black money reveals that the issue has been politically sensitive for decades. The PMS documents cover the years between March 1971 and August 1974.
In a document dated 24 August 1974, the Prime Minister wanted “selective action against bigger people” taken as a signal to prove her corruption-fighting credentials without isolating all of big business, while silencing her critics inside and outside parliament. Indira was under siege; the ‘total revolution’ led by the legendary Gandhian Socialist Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly known as JP, to overthrow her was at its peak. The regime was accused by its detractors of protecting black money hoarders during a severe food crisis and an economy on the verge of collapse. The case on election malpractice against Indira filed by Raj Narain, who lost to her in the 1971 elections, was also gathering momentum.
EXCERPTS FROM INDIRA GANDHI’s LETTER; AUGUST 24, 1974
“In public mind and in Parliament there is a feeling that action tends to be against only petty traders and small shopkeepers. The purpose of this letter is to suggest more ‘Selective Action’ against bigger people, as this would have an immediate and salutary effect upon the market.”
“Every now and then the question of punishment to hoarders and blackmarketeers comes up in Parliament and we are accused of not arresting the bigger people even when they are caught.”
“Some Members of Parliament who met me a few days ago alleged that such people even when arrested are released after paying a fine of a few lakhs, which is no hardship to them.”