By making it appear a big deal with front page coverage and more, The Indian Express, in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, has repeated the brand of journalism it had earlier tried its hand at when its then chief editor, along with two of his colleagues, created an impression that Gen VK Singh had plotted a coup. On the previous occasion, when The Hindu had questioned the story, theExpress had said it did not quite mean it was a coup. The Chennai-based newspaper rightly retorted through its editorial that the report, in that case, did not deserve the front page. Yesterday, Raj Kamal Jha repeated Shekhar Gupta’s folly. The disclaimer at the end of the sensational disclosures reads: “There are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts. We do not intend to suggest or imply that any people, companies or other entities included in the ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly. Many people and entities have the same or similar names. We suggest you confirm the identities of any individuals or entities located in the database based on addresses or other identifiable information…” And this makes the nature of coverage by the Express akin to slander and subject to the legality of libel. It takes years and decades for a person to build his reputation. While सिर्फ़ News condones no shady deal, we take serious exception to the notoriety in the act of highlighting names to suggest they are criminals and then posting the valid clarifications of some of the accused in less prominent — if not obscure — corners of the newspaper. As though the half-baked Panama Papers were not bad enough, now they have Paradise Papers. Do not miss the copywriters’ acute sense of marketing here; they do coin names that ring a bell. Never mind the lives, livelihoods and relationships shattered by their overzeal!
Perhaps a guilt of a greater degree must be shared by the people who have imbibed a sab chor hain (everybody steals) mindset since the time a bunch of self-styled activists launched their anti-corruption movement. The reality show of sorts was turned larger than life by the complicity of the then UPA government, international connivance involving award and reward agencies from Ramon Magsaysay to Ford Foundation (a front of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States) and the unfounded excitement of a naïve nationalist organisation called Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The blogosphere is having a helluva time, witnessing absolute ignoramuses slinging mud at the persons named by ICIJ with the authority of venerable accountants and peer-reviewed economists. That a section of those named has always accounted for their wealth by disclosing the investments to the government — as well as monetary and tax authorities of the state — is lost in the euphoria of scandalmongers crying, “Gotcha!”
With no love lost for tax evaders, it must still be said that the socialist credo of “tax is good” has again turned the flavour of the season. One hopes it does not motivate an already socialist Prime Minister Narendra Modi to turn an Indira Gandhi who had raised the percentage of taxable income so high that capital was bound to flee the country. Keep raising taxes, force money out of the country, hunt down the overseas investors, revel in locating the tip of the iceberg and let this vicious cycle stay self-sustaining. To hell with development! Unfortunately, no policy advocate or decision maker worth his salt has pointed out in the ‘anti-corruption’ brouhaha that most tax havens are basically poor countries; they have decided to keep business on their soil tax-free to attract world capital. Ergo, if India actually does not delude itself into believing that it is now a rich country where every citizen can secure two square meals a day, what stops us from making our own taxes low-to-nil? It will not only ensure that all our money returns but also attract money from across the world. As for sensationalism, while the media would rightly object to state censorship, self-regulation is clearly not working. Will the courts of law, of late known for judicial overreach and activism, take a suo motu cognisance of the matter? Will Parliament, whose members the much-ado-about-nothing report mali initiate privilege proceedings against the media house?