Do Aur Do Panama
Amitabh Bachchan. Farmer, actor, singer, investor. And if you believe farmer, politician, comeback artist, investor Amar Singh, Bachchan may also be the next president of India.
Despite Singh’s yet-to-be-confirmed information about Prime Minister Narendra Modi being keen to propose the Big B’s name for the Big P, it’s not been a good fortnight for Bharat Pita. At 73, Bachchan is the voice of the nation, literally. People may die, villages may burn, a plague may come down upon us, but he has never ruffled any feathers. He’s seen in public service advertisements, told us Cadbury chocs have no worms, and asked us to save the tigers and breathe in a bit of Gujarat, ideally both at the same time.
He is also one of those rare public figures who has managed to have support across the political, ideological, aesthetic spectrum. Today, he is as much Prime Minister Modi’s BFF as he was once Rajiv Gandhi’s. So, when Amar Singh claimed that the PM is considering proposing Bachchan as the next president, I wasn’t really surprised. (What surprised me was that it was Singh who made the announcement.) But just when conches were about to be blown, Bachchan found himself in the news for having his name in the Panama Papers.
The Papers include more than 11 million secret files from the Bond villainously named Mossack Fonseca, a law firm in the tax haven of Panama. Mossack Fonseca creates offshore companies for its global clientele and the files reveal the names of those who paid the firm to set up the companies.
Now, the clincher: for a fee, Mossack Fonseca assists in masking the actual ownership while still showing compliance. Bachchan and his daughter-inlaw Aishwarya Rai have both been named independently in these papers as two of the over 500 Indians who’ve used the good offices of… [sinister music] Mossack Fonseca.
What’s the problem in having money in offshore companies? As long as incomes from these offshore funds are offered for tax, there is no problem. The problem is the ‘tax’ bit. And there is no way of knowing how much money was placed in these companies.
But then, look at the bright side. Bachchan, denying having any money in offshore companies, finds the spotlight now moved from what could have blown into a bigger controversy: of whether he charged money to sing the national anthem at the India-Pakistan T20 match in Kolkata. On that, Bachchan had basically pleaded the Fifth while Sourav Ganguly acted as defence counsel. Ganguly actually said that instead of Bachchan charging money, he had, in fact, spent “.`30 lakh of his own money”. Post-Panama Papers, Dada may have considered it best to have also kept mum.
Bachchan has said that someone must have misused his name, much like we do when we are trying to wrangle a dinner reservation at a tony restaurant. I’ve used ‘Hi, this is Kangana here’ myself. (Sorry, Aishwarya, I needed a table for two in 2016, so….)
The reason people are — even as the government isn’t — asking whether Bachchan and Rai Bachchan declared their full assets to tax authorities is because we deify Big B. So, when someone as perfect as he is happens to be named in something as hera-feri as the Panama Papers, questions seeking to clear doubts’ll be raised. Without confirming that Holy B is white as salt, we won’t be able to sleep at night.
If only Mossack Fonseca’s statement following the exposé had denied that the files were legit. Or claimed that the clients named were incorrect — at least those with the initials AB or ARB. Instead, the firm said they “conduct due diligence on clients at the outset of a potential engagement and on an ongoing basis… routinely deny services to individuals who are compromised or who fail to provide information”. So will Bachchan and Rai Bachchan sue the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and publications that carried their names from the Panama Papers for defamation? Not if they’ve realised that the Papers can only help their cause.
In almost two years, what the government couldn’t do, the ICIJ has done for it. Soon, we shall all have .₹ 15 lakh ‘of public money’ credited in our accounts. But more importantly, if the Panama Papers are accurate, it proves that Bachchan is a bigger and better allrounder than we thought.
Not only is he patriotic and an artiste extraordinaire, he is now also an international shipping magnate and an innovative investor. Presidential suite stuff.
Tailored in Panama