Amitabh Bachchan allegedly dodged tax. Why is he brand ambassador of tax reform?
So it's clear now that Amitabh Bachchan is not going to become the next President of India, unless the Opposition nominates him, which itself is highly unlikely.
It is also quite unlikely that the actor will be upset over that development.
Among the several reasons not to be upset is the fact that he has added another assignment to his portfolio of brand ambassadorships. And a prestigious one at that.
After Swachch Bharat, the Narendra Modi government has decided to project Bachchan as the face and the voice of its next major programme – the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
The Union Finance Ministry released a video featuring him extolling the virtues of GST in 40 seconds. The video has Bachchan equating GST with the national anthem and the three colours of the Indian flag, saying that GST binds the country in one thread just as these colours and the anthem do the same.
GST is not just a tax, Bachchan goes on to say, but an initiative to bind the country into a unified market-regime.
Whatever the benefits of the GST might be, to project it as some kind of a force multiplier for nationalism is hard to digest. However, it is indeed an unprecedented tax-reform and will have wide-ranging impact on the country’s economy. In that sense, it is momentous and probably deserves a brand ambassador.
However, how does it make sense to promote a tax-reform using the face of somebody who has been repeatedly alleged to have evaded tax?
Bachchan's name came up during an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism into individuals and companies who hid black money in offshore accounts.
Black money, simply put, stands for any money on which tax has been evaded.
The probe into 11.5 million documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm, had revealed that Amitabh Bachchan had served as director of four shipping companies registered in offshore tax havens, set up 23 years ago.
The megastar had issued a denial even while maintaining that the revelations did not “suggest any illegality” on his part.
His statement said he did not know any of the companies referred to, that he had never been a director in any of them and that his name had been misused.
However, the records shown in the probe are clear and they point out at his involvement.
The Modi-government has not trashed the probe and the claims made therein and has even ordered investigative agencies to probe the revelations. But, these probes are confidential in nature and any information on whether Bachchan is being probed or not is not available in public domain.
However, with one government endorsement after another, there is little doubt.
The Panama papers are not the solitary allegation of tax evasion against Bachchan, who has covered a full circle in the journey of his political associations too, from Congress in the 1980s to Samajwadi Party later on and eventually to the BJP in the new millennium.
In 2016, a news report in DNA had claimed that Bachchan had concealed his income a couple of years ago through a complex web of linkages and agencies were probing it.
The report also says that he wrote to President Pranab Mukherjee in 2009 to get the agencies off his back.
If any evidence was ever needed to prove that Bachchan can pull some serious strings among the powers that be, this is that evidence.
The endorsement of GST is also one such message that indicates that the government may not be considering a probe into his alleged tax evasion.
Isn't this a faulty endorsement then?