Over the past few days, two news items have appeared which may, if one wishes to see them that way, provide a basis for future governance of the country, which promises to bring in rich rewards for all and sundry. In fact, this could be tried out as a development model with patriotism playing a major role in facilitating the model’s working.

One of these reports was datelined Berlin (where else could such sentiments emanate from?) which said that some rich Germans “had launched a petition to call for the resumption of a wealth tax to help the country bounce back from an economic crisis”.

German plan

In its essence, the plan called for a five per cent tax on personal fortunes all of which were not needed by those who were members of the club. The calculation was that if the 2.2 million Germans who enjoyed personal fortunes of more than $750,000 were to pay such an impost for two years, the state would be richer by 100 billion euros.

The report said that the idea was generated by the Berlin collection of billions of euros for banks which had been pushed into a corner in the course of the recent world financial crisis.

The effort immediately led to the larger issue of the availability of funds on such a scale for other requirements, which would help the German economy become healthier on a long-term basis.

Specifically, one of the proponents of the scheme said: “It made me mad to think that we suddenly found all this money for the banks, money that we did not have before for urgent programmes like education and the environment”.

The considered plan is to have the five per cent wealth tax for two years “to fund specific projects” and then to scale down the rate to one per cent, which was there when the tax was terminated in 1997. The very basic sentiment that forms the bedrock of this proposal is quite simple though extraordinarily uncommon, namely, “I have a lot of money which I do not need”.

To a lot of Indians rolling in wealth, this is nothing strange or surprising — even after some of them have made presents of private state-of-the-art aircraft on their wives’ birthdays. But are they prepared to follow their German brethren and suggest an impost voluntarily, which would promote the “greater good” without affecting in any way their own lifestyle?

This brings us to the second news report which provides a picture of the Indian scene, specifically of the potential which such a development model could have for the republic.

Wealthy legislators

As one analysis of the results of the recent bunch of State Assembly elections found, “a staggering 50 per cent” of legislators who were voted to power in the three States of Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh were nothing less than “crorepatis”. In Maharashtra there were 184 MLAs with assets of more than Rs 1 crore (up from the 108 of 2004); in Haryana there were 65 (up from 47); and in Arunachal there were 35 (up from 17 five years ago).

Basing oneself on figures such as these, can it be said that India is well on the way to becoming a plutocracy, but one which is elective in nature?

It is of course an entirely different matter that the vast majority of the population, over which the plutocrats reign, still find it difficult to make both ends meet — and thereby hangs a tale!

But the point here is: how about our desi plutocrats taking a leaf out of the book of the Germans? A preposterous suggestion this? Whoever said we are running short of patriotic, conscientious leaders?

RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 29, 2009)
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