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India. The Plight of the Rural and Urban Poor: In a Land of Facades, Mark the first Signs of an Indian Spring

Posted by Admin on December 31, 2011

http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=28411

by John Pilger

When the early morning fog rises and drifting skeins from wood fires carry the sweet smell of India, the joggers arrive in Lodi Gardens. Past the tomb of Mohammed Shah, the 15th century Munghal ruler, across a landscape manicured in the 1930s by Lady Willingdon, wife of the governor-general, recently acquired trainers stride out from ample figures in smart saris and white cotton dhotis. In Delhi, the middle classes do as they do everywhere, though here there is no middle. By mid-morning, children descend like starlings. They wear pressed blazers, like those of an English prep school. There are games and art and botany classes. When shepherded out through Lady Willingdon’s elegant stone gateway, they pass a reed-thin boy, prostrate beside the traffic and his pile of peanuts, coins clenched in his hand.

When I was first sent to report India, I seldom raised my eyes to the gothic edifices and facades of the British Raj. All life was at dust and pavement level and, once the shock had eased, I learned to admire the sheer imagination and wit of people who survived the cities, let alone the countryside — the dabbawallahs (literally “person with a box”), cleaners, runners, street barbers, poets, assorted Fagans and children with their piles of peanuts. In Calcutta, as it was still known during the 1971 war with Pakistan, civil defence units in soup-plate helmets and lungis toured the streets announcing an air-raid warning practice during which, they said, “everybody must stay indoors and remain in the face-down position until the siren has ceased to operate”. Waves of mocking laughter greeted them, together with the cry: “But we have no doors to stay inside!”

When the imperial capital was transferred to Delhi early last century, New Delhi was built as a modernist showpiece, with avenues and roundabouts and a mall sweeping up to the viceroy’s house, now the president’s residence in the world’s most populous democracy. If the experience of colonialism was humiliating, this proud new metropolis would surely be enabling. On 15 August, 1947, it was the setting for Pandit Nehru’s declaration of independence “at the midnight hour”. It was also a façade behind which the majority hoped and waited, and still wait.

This notion of façade is almost haunting. You sense it in genteel Lodi Gardens and among the anglicised elites and their enduring ambiguity. In the 1990s, it became a wall erected by the beneficiaries of Shining India, which began as a slogan invented by an American advertising firm to promote the rise of the Hindu nationalist BJP-led government. Shorn of Nehru’s idealism and paternalism, it marked the end of the Congress Party’s pretence of class and caste reconciliation: in other words, social justice. Monsanto and Pizza Hut, Microsoft and Murdoch were invited to enter what had been forbidden territory to corporate predators. India would serve a new deity called “economic growth” and be hailed as a “global leader, apparently heading “in what the smart money believes is the right direction” (Newsweek).

India’s ascent to “new world power” is both true and what Edward Bernays, the founder of public relations, called “false reality”. Despite a growth rate of 6.9 per cent and prosperity for some, more Indians than ever are living in poverty than anywhere on earth, including a third of all malnourished children. Save the Children says that every year two million infants under the age of five die.

The facades are literal and surreal. Ram Suhavan and his family live 60 feet above a railway track. Their home is the inside of a hoarding which advertises, on one side, “exotic, exclusive” homes for the new “elite” and on the other, a gleaming car. This is in Pune, in Maharashtra state, which has “booming” Bombay and the nation’s highest suicide rate among indebted farmers.

Most Indians live in rural villages, dependent on the land and its rhythms of subsistence. The rise of monopoly control of seed by multinationals, forcing farmers to plant cash crops such as GM cotton, has led to a quarter of a million suicides, a conservative estimate. The environmentalist Vandana Shiva describes this as “re-colonisation”. Using the 1894 Land Acquisition Act, central and state governments have forcibly dispossessed farmers and tribal peoples in order to hand their land to speculators and mining companies. To make way for a Formula One racetrack and gated “elite” estates, land was appropriated for $6 a square metre and sold to developers for $13,450 a square metre. Across India, the communities have fought back. In Orissa State, the wholesale destruction of betel farms has spawned a resistance now in its fifth year.

What is always exciting about India is this refusal to comply with political mythology and gross injustice. In The Idea of India, wrote Sunil Kjilnani, “The future of western political theory will be decided outside the west.” For the majorities of India and the west, liberal democracy was now diminished to “the assertion of an equal right to consume [media] images”.

In Kashmir, a forgotten India barely reported abroad, a peaceful resistance as inspiring as Tahrir Square has arisen in the most militarised region on earth. As the victims of Partition, Muslim Kashmiris have known none of Nehru’s noble legacies. Thousands of dissidents have “disappeared” and torture is not uncommon. “The voice that the government of India has tried so hard to silence,” wrote Arundhati Roy, “has now massed into a deafening roar. Hundreds of thousands of unarmed people have come out to reclaim their cities, their streets and mohallas. They have simply overwhelmed the heavily armed security forces by their sheer numbers, and with a remarkable display of raw courage.” An Indian Spring may be next.

John Pilger is a frequent contributor to Global Research.  Global Research Articles by John Pilger

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Indian activist to launch public fast as government relents

Posted by Admin on August 18, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/india-activist-allowed-fast-15-days-000649292.html

 By Paul de Bendern | Reuters – 18 mins ago

A supporter of Anna Hazare wearing a handcuff holds a portrait of Hazare as he attends a protest against corruption in Hyderabad

A supporter of veteran Indian social activist Anna Hazare wearing a handcuff holds a portrait of Hazare as he attends a protest against corruption in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad August 18, 2011. REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India‘s beleaguered government caved in to popular fury over corruption on Wednesday after thousands protested across the country, granting permission for a self-styled Ghandian crusader to stage a 15-day hunger strike in public.

Anna Hazare was arrested on Tuesday, hours ahead of a planned fast to demand tougher laws against the graft that plagues Indian society from top to bottom.

But the jailing of the 74-year-old campaigner sparked nationwide protests and put Prime Minister Manmohan Singh‘s government on a backfoot, forcing it to relent.

“Anna wishes to congratulate everyone as we have started a great momentum for this fight against corruption,” said Arvind Kejriwal, a social activist and close aid of Hazare.

“He wants all of us to continue in this peaceful and calm way of protest,” Kejriwal told reporters.

The Congress party-led government, facing one of the most serious protest movements since the 1970s, at first agreed to release Hazare, but he refused to leave the high-security Tihar jail until he won the right to lead an anti-corruption protest.

Crowds by the jail erupted in joy at news of the deal, reached early on Thursday, shouting “I am Anna” and “We are with you,” singing, playing guitars and waving the Indian flag.

Hazare is expected to postpone his public fast until Friday because the Ramlila Maidan grounds in central Delhi are not ready to host massive crowds, his advisers told reporters.

A medical team is on standby to monitor Hazare’s health as he has already begun his fast in jail and a sharp deterioration could further worsen the crisis for the government.

“It’s an indefinite fast, not a fast-unto-death. He will be there as long as he can sustain it,” said Kiran Bedi, a former senior police officer and a member of Anna’s protest team. Earlier the hunger strike had been billed as a fast-until-death.

The protests across cities in India, helped spread by social networks, have not only rocked the ruling Congress party, they have sent shockwaves through the political class.

Students, lawyers, teachers, business executives, IT workers and civil servants have taken to the streets in New Delhi and both cities and remote villages stretching down to the southern end of the country.

“The movement has meant politicians realize that they cannot fudge these issues or ignore public opinion any longer,” said Vinod Mehta, editor of the weekly Outlook magazine.

“It has succeeded in concentrating the minds of politicians across the political spectrum on one issue for the first time.”

A weak political opposition means that the government should still survive the crisis, but it could further dim the prospect for economic reforms that have already been held back by policy paralysis and a raft of corruption scandals.

SOCIAL NETWORK REVOLUTION

One Facebook page for Hazare has almost 280,000 followers, while the India Against Corruption page on Facebook has more than 312,000 followers where links and messages of support are posted. Several Twitter accounts have been set up by supporters to send out messages of where and when protest and fast.

An online page petitioning for the freedom of Hazare and India of corruption had signed up almost 170,000 people within 24 hours.

The country’s 24-7 news networks, competing to dig up the latest corruption scandal, have also played a vital role in whipping up the Hazare story.

A NATION FED UP WITH CORRUPTION

Many have criticized Hazare for taking the government hostage over his demand for a specific bill to give more teeth to investigating and punishing graft in high office. But few take issue with his crusade against the scourge of corruption.

The urban middle class, who have prospered since the economy was opened up in the early 1990s, is fed up with the rampant corruption that they encounter, whether it be getting a driving license or buying a flat. The soaring cost of living has also exacerbated the situation.

Hazare’s arrest, followed by the brief arrests of about 2,600 followers in the capital alone on Tuesday, shocked a nation with strong memories of Gandhi’s independence battles against colonial rule with fasts and non-violent protests.

INDIA’S NEW GENERATION

Thousands of mostly young people held peaceful candle-light vigils through Wednesday night, from the capital Delhi to the IT hub of Hyderabad and the financial capital, Mumbai.

Many of the crowd were young, with rucksacks on their backs, some with their faces painted. Others were older, decked out in outfits as worn by the bespectacled Hazare, with his trademark white cap and kurta, a long-time social activist who is often compared to independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.

Demonstrations are part of daily life in the towns and cities of India, a country of 1.2 billion people made up of a myriad of castes, religions and classes. But spontaneous and widespread protests are rare and the scale of this week’s outpouring of public fury has taken the government by surprise.

Singh, 78, who is widely criticized as out of touch, dismissed the fast by Hazare as “totally misconceived” and undermining the parliamentary democracy.

Hazare became the unlikely thorn in the side of the ruling coalition when he went on hunger strike in April. He called off that fast after the government promised to introduce a bill creating an anti-corruption ombudsman.

The so-called Lokpal legislation was presented in early August, but activists slammed the draft version as toothless because the prime minister and judges were exempt from probes.

Over the past year an increasing number of company executives, opposition politicians, judges and ministers have been brought down by corruption. Still, Transparency International rates India in 87 place on the most corruption countries according to a 2010 survey.

(Additional reporting by Annie Banerji, Arup Roychoudhury and Matthias Williams; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and John Chalmers)

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Indian anti-graft activist arrested as protests spread

Posted by Admin on August 16, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/veteran-indian-activist-detained-ahead-mass-fast-054711574.html

By Paul de Bendern and Alistair Scrutton | Reuters – 58 mins ago

Veteran Indian social activist Anna Hazare waves from a car after being detained by police in New Delhi

Veteran Indian social activist Anna Hazare waves from a car after being detained by police in New Delhi August 16, 2011. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Police arrested India‘s leading anti-corruption campaigner on Tuesday, just hours before he was due to begin a fast to the death, as the beleaguered government cracked down on a self-styled Gandhian activist agitating for a new “freedom” struggle.

At least 1,200 followers of the 74-year-old Anna Hazare were also detained, signaling a hardline stance from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh against anti-government protests, a gamble that risks a wider backlash against the ruling Congress party.

Dressed in his trademark white shirt, white cap and spectacles in the style of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, Hazare was driven away in a car by plainclothes police, waving to hundreds of supporters outside his residence in New Delhi.

His followers later said he had begun his fast.

“The second freedom struggle has started … This is a fight for change,” Hazare said in a pre-recorded message broadcast on YouTube. “The protests should not stop. The time has come for no jail in the country to have a free space.”

In a country where the memory of Gandhi’s independence battles against colonial rule with fasts and non-violent protests is embedded in the national consciousness, the crackdown shocked many Indians.

It also comes as Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi is in the United States being treated for an undisclosed condition.

The question for many is whether Hazare and his movement will grow across the fast-urbanizing nation of 1.2 billion people whose middle class is fed up with constant bribes, poor services and unaccountable leaders.

In a worrying sign for a government facing crucial state elections next year, local media reported spontaneous protests against the crackdown across India. Dozens of Hazare supporters were also arrested in Mumbai, according to local media.

“If the government stops protests or not, what it can’t stop is the anger, which ultimately means bad news for Congress when people go to the polls,” said M.J. Akbar, an editor at news magazine India Today.

The country’s interior minister said Hazare and six other protest leaders had been placed under “preventative arrest” to ensure they did not carry out a threat to protest.

“Protest is welcome, but it must be carried out under reasonable conditions,” Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram told a news conference.

“A MURDER OF DEMOCRACY”

Hazare has become a serious challenge to the authority of the government in its second term as it reels from a string of corruption scandals and a perception that it is out of touch with millions of Indians hit by near-double-digit inflation.

Both houses of parliament were adjourned for the day after the opposition protested at the arrests of Hazare and his key aides, further undermining the chances that reform bills — seen as crucial for Asia’s third-largest economy — will be passed.

Acting Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi called a top-level emergency meeting with senior cabinet ministers to discuss the escalating crisis.

“This is murder of democracy by the government within the House and outside the House,” said Arun Jaitley, a senior leader of the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The scandals, including a telecoms bribery scam that may have cost the government $39 billion, has smothered Singh’s reform agenda, dented investor confidence and distracted parliament just as the $1.6 trillion economy is being hit by inflation and higher interest rates.

Those arrested included Kiran Bedi, one of India’s first female police officers and a widely respected figure for her anti-graft drive. She tweeted from detention that she had refused an offer of bail.

Police denied Hazare permission on Monday to fast near a cricket stadium because he had refused to end his fast in three days and ensure no more than 5,000 people took part.

Opposition figures likened the crackdown to the 1975 “Emergency” when then-prime minister Indira Gandhi arrested thousands of opposition members to stay in power.

A HARDENING STANCE

Singh and his Congress party have hardened their stance against Hazare in recent days, fearing that these protests could spiral.

“When you have a crowd of 10,000 people, can anyone guarantee there will be no disruption? … The police is doing its duty. We should allow them to do it,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni told CNN-IBN television.

The prime minister used his Independence Day speech on Monday to criticize Hazare, and Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said Hazare was surrounded by “armchair fascists, overground Maoists, closet anarchists.”

Hazare rose to fame for lifting his village in western state of Maharashtra out of grinding poverty. His social activism has forced out senior government officials and helped create the right to information act for citizens.

It is unclear whether the tactics will backfire and spark further protests. They could also help the image of a prime minister criticized as weak and indecisive. A previous crackdown this year on a fasting yoga guru successfully broke up his anti-corruption protests.

Hazare became the unlikely thorn in the side of the Congress-led coalition when he first went on a hunger strike in April to successfully win concessions from the government.

Tapping into a groundswell of discontent over corruption scandals in Singh’s government, Hazare lobbied for a parliamentary bill creating a special ombudsman to bring crooked politicians, bureaucrats and judges to book.

Hazare called off that fast after the government promised to introduce the bill into parliament. The legislation was presented in early August, but activists slammed the draft version as toothless, prompting Hazare to renew his campaign.

Under the current bill, the prime minister and judges would be exempt from probes.

(Additional reporting by Arup Roychoudhury, Matthias Williams and Annie Banerji; Editing by John Chalmers)

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India yoga guru launches anti-graft fast

Posted by Admin on June 5, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110604/wl_asia_afp/indiapoliticscorruptionprotestyogareligion;_ylt=AkKotfp75zUIdrHWCgIMcz5vaA8F;_ylu=X3oDMTNoOTcyNnNyBGFzc2V0A2FmcC8yMDExMDYwNC9pbmRpYXBvbGl0aWNzY29ycnVwdGlvbnByb3Rlc3R5b2dhcmVsaWdpb24EcG9zAzIxBHNlYwN5bl9hcnRpY2xlX3N1bW1hcnlfbGlzdARzbGsDaW5kaWF5b2dhZ3Vy

India yoga guru launches anti-graft fast
Baba Ramdev launched his indefinite fast against corruption and black money in Delhi on Saturday after the government failed to persuade him to call off his protest
by Penny MacRae 14 mins ago

NEW DELHI (AFP) – India‘s most celebrated yoga guru embarked on a “fast unto death” on Saturday to force the country’s scandal-tainted government to accept his maverick anti-corruption proposals.

Swami Baba Ramdev, who has wide support from right-wing Hindu groups, began his hunger strike after a pre-dawn yoga session with his followers in an anti-graft campaign that has piled fresh pressure on the embattled government.

“What will India get from this protest? India will be saved,” the saffron-clad swami declared to thousands of cheering supporters as he launched his fast in a tent the size of four football fields in the Indian capital.

The guru, who energetically performed his yoga poses on a giant stage to the delight of his audience, has called for repatriation of so-called “black money” — cash stashed in foreign accounts suspected of being used for bribes and illegal transactions — and the execution of corrupt government ministers.

“Nothing is impossible, everything is possible and we are not going to be defeated,” declared the middle-aged, pony-tailed guru as fans whirled to cool his supporters in the sweltering summer heat.

Followers fasted along with Ramdev — some lying down, others sitting cross-legged in the tent erected at a site where a Hindu festival marking the triumph of good over evil is celebrated every year.

“This anti-corruption fight is very important for the nation,” said one hunger striker who identified herself as Veena as followers chanted “Ramdev” and sang Hindu devotional hymns.

Ramdev’s supporters across the country joined in the fast while a 22-year-old follower in northern Muzzafapur town attempted to set himself on fire to support the guru but was stopped by police.

The Congress administration is worried the protest could mushroom into a populist campaign against the government amid outrage over a slew of corruption scandals, notably a $39 billion telecom scam that has seen a minister arrested.

The bearded guru, who claims he can “cure” homosexuality, cancer and AIDS through yoga and other alternative therapies, accused politicians of gaining vast sums “from the people’s hard-earned money”.

“All corrupt ministers should be given the death sentence,” said Ramdev, who has a huge TV following for his daily yoga show, .

The government issued a statement saying the maximum penalty for corrupt bureaucrats would be “substantially increased” and pledged speedy trials for people accused of corruption but stayed silent on the guru’s demand that they should hang.

“As far as issues we are concerned, the talks (with Ramdev’s representatives) are on (to end the protest). We want to solve the problem of corruption,” said Congress party spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

But he accused Ramdev of allowing himself “to be remote controlled by political interests,” referring to hardline Hindu nationalists who were on stage with the swami. Ramdev has insisted his anti-graft movement is secular and also invited Muslim clerics to share his podium.

Commentators have questioned the government’s willingness to placate Ramdev, saying it highlighted the administration’s weakness.

“Why is the government so afraid of Ramdev?” asked the tabloid Mail Today in a front page headline, complaining “top ministers do headstands to talk Baba out of his fast plan”.

Others said Ramdev and another social activist, 73-year-old Anna Hazare, who fasted for 98 hours in April demanding a tough anti-corruption law, were holding India’s democracy to ransom with no mandate from the people.

“For the first time in India’s constitutional history, an elected government has been hijacked by intellectual charlatans… even some assorted nutcases and loonies,” wrote Shekhar Gupta, editor of the Indian Express.

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Black money trail: ‘India drained of Rs 20 lakh crore during 1948-2008’

Posted by Admin on November 19, 2010

Indian Money

INDIAN MONEY

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Black-money-trail-India-drained-of-Rs-20-lakh-crore-during-1948-2008/articleshow/6946266.cms

Binoy Prabhakar, ET Bureau, Nov 18, 2010, 12.06pm IST

Read more: Black money trail: ‘India drained of Rs 20 lakh crore during 1948-2008’ – The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Black-money-trail-India-drained-of-Rs-20-lakh-crore-during-1948-2008/articleshow/6946266.cms#ixzz15fANBudT

NEW DELHI: In a season of swindles, kickbacks and scams, here is some more on the mother of them all. Black money — the popular moniker given to the billions seeded by dirty deals and whisked away abroad from the taxman’s prying eyes — has received much attention in recent years.

The opposition never tires of screaming foul at the government. The government, for its part, is at pains to say it is doing all it can to track down the illegal stash.

Despite the cacophony, an estimate of the scads of black money in secret bank vaults overseas has long been one big unknown, resulting in a great deal of speculation and glib talk around the subject.

Finally, some help is at hand. A new study by an international watchdog on the illicit flight of money from the country, perhaps the first ever attempt at shedding light on a subject steeped in secrecy, concludes that India has been drained of $462 billion (Rs 20,556,848,000,000 or over Rs 20 lakh crore) between 1948 and 2008.

The amount is nearly 40% of India’s gross domestic product, and nearly 12 times the size of the estimated loss to the government because of the 2G spectrum scam. The study has been authored by Dev Kar, a lead economist with the US-based Global Financial Integrity, a non-profit research body that has long crusaded against illegal capital flight.

Mr Kar, a former senior economist with the International Monetary Fund, says illicit financial flows out of India have grown at 11.5% a year, debunking a popular notion that economic reforms that began nearly two decades ago had tempered the creation and stashing away of black money overseas.

Outflows accelerated after reforms

If capital outflows were a child of the independence era, the problem came of age in the years after the reforms kicked in. Nearly 50% of the total illegal outflows occurred since 1991. Around a third of the money exited the country between 2000 and 2008.

“It shows that reforms seem to have accelerated the transfer of black money abroad,” says Mr Kar, whose study titled ‘The Drivers and Dynamics of Illicit Financial Flows from India: 1948-2008’ sifts through piles of data on the issue over a period of 61 years. The study, which Mr Kar says is the most comprehensive one yet on illicit financial flows from India, will be made public on Thursday.

His report comes amid a renewed government push in recent months to pursue black money stashed abroad. In late August, the government signed an agreement with Switzerland — its banks top a list of usual suspects — that will enable exchange of information on tax evaders. New Delhi is also in talks with at least 20 tax havens, particularly Mauritius, to extract similar information.

The government is also attempting to gain a measure of the total unaccounted money circulating in the economy. The finance ministry last week approached the National Institute of Public Financeand Policy to get a fix on such money.

But M Govinda Rao, director of the institute, says his think-tank is yet to decide on going ahead with the exercise because it is not an easy task. “A study on this subject is a huge challenge because one is dealing with a very big problem that covers hordes of money from many sectors,” he says.

Black money turned into an election issue during the 2009 general elections, with the BJP harping on the issue throughout its campaign. Its leader LK Advani has been the most vocal critic of the government on this issue, time and again questioning the government’s resolve to chase illegal funds. Mr Advani recently urged the government to publish a white paper on the issue.

While Mr Advani was unavailable for comment, the government’s detractors on this issue say there is more talk than action to address this issue.

“Everybody knows about the gravity of the problem, but the government has not shown the political will to bring the money back to India,” says Prakash Karat, general secretary of theCommunist Party of India (Marxist).

The government has, however, received praise from Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has been at the forefront of the fight against tax evasion. OECD, whose relentless offensive is largely credited with lifting the veil of secrecy over umpteen tax havens, hailed India’s efforts to crack down on tax evasion and sign information exchange agreements earlier this year.

These are but short-lived answers, say experts, adding that an overhaul in the global financial system is central to a lasting solution. New tax havens will spring forth when pressure mounts on existing ones.

That is not to say there are only a few tax havens out there. Indeed, at least 91 such hotspots flourish across the globe. Asian countries, particularly ThailandSingaporeHong Kong and Macau, too are emerging as new destinations for parking illicit funds.

Besides Switzerland and Mauritius, Indian money is also said to end up in Seychelles and Macau. Due to the illicit nature of these deposits, pinpointing the journey’s end of the bulk of India’s black money is tenuous at best.

The GFI study gives a measure of the amount of money that the government is chasing, but it is only a fraction of the $1.4 trillion that the BJP claims is the illegal stash.

GFI acknowledges as much, saying its figure is conservative and hasn’t taken into account smuggling and certain types of trade mischief. It also admits to gaps in available statistics, lamenting the lack of data on the consolidated fiscal balance with the government, which has hampered research. If these indicators were counted, India’s total illicit outflows would well be half a trillion dollars.

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