Wealthy Minister, Modest Income: Rajeev Chandrasekhar's Affidavit Raises Concerns about Tax Loopholes Favouring Billionaires
A decade since the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) formed government with a thumping victory and the vituperative slogan of creating a ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’, Indian politics continues to be mired in symbolic hypocrisy. Innumerable Indian movies of the 1980s depicted this wonderfully in the character of corrupt and immoral politicians in white, wearing starched khadi kurtas with ‘Gandhi’ topis. Can the vanished wealth of Central minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar be explained away as an example of such hypocrisy? Or is there much more to the controversy over his election affidavits?
On the one hand, we had celebratory headlines last week about 25 more Indians making it to the Forbes list of world billionaires taking the number from 169 to 200 in 2024. On the other hand, Mr Chandrasekhar, a well-known industrialist, long before he turned to politics, has declared ‘social service’ as his occupation with relatively modest assets to go with this new role. But Mr Chandrasekhar has always led a well-publicised good life, owned a fleet of expensive luxury cars, super bikes and a private aircraft that he used regularly as a member of Parliament (MP). Strangely enough, his affidavit claims that he owns one bike – a 1942 model Red Indian Scout he bought in 2004 for Rs10,000.
The sale of his 64% holding in BPL Telecom in 2005 alone gave him a legitimate windfall of Rs4,400 crore that is now deployed into a diverse spectrum of businesses such as media, defence, infrastructure, aerospace, capital market, etc. And yet, Mr Chandrasekhar declared a taxable income of just Rs680 in 2021-22  and Rs5,59,200 in 2022-23. According to The Mint, income-tax returns detailed in the election affidavits of 2018 and 2024 show that Mr Chandrasekhar's income dipped from Rs28 crore to Rs5.5 lakh in seven financial years.
When I asked him about his puny declared income, he said in a WhatsApp response, "My only income is my minister's salary". About income on investments such interest on deposits, bonds or mutual funds, dividends and rentals, his answer was ‘no’. Yet his affidavit declares a fairly large portfolio of investments and fixed deposits.
The sudden shrinkage of Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s already modest net worth (Rs65 crore in 2018 and annual income of Rs28 crore) is stunning. According to a complaint filed by advocate Avani Bansal and Renjith Thomas with the election commission of India (ECI), Mr Chandrasekhar had declared assets of just Rs36 crore. This includes total moveable assets of Rs9.25 crore, but omits a hefty Rs45 crore of investments and that his declared immovable assets (Rs14.4 crore) do not include a posh bungalow at Koramangala in Bengaluru (receipt attached with the complaint).
They also allege that he has declared only the book value of his investment in four group holding companies – a paltry Rs6.38 crore, while a filing with the ministry of corporate affairs (MCA) in 2022-23 puts it at Rs1,610.53 crore. (See table from the complaint).
So why would a successful businessman, with an estimated net worth of Rs8,000 crore, hide this wealth? Is he no longer in control of the scores of subsidiaries layered under Jupiter Capital, the holding company? How is he able to avoid disclosure and what is the ECI doing about it?
ECI Response
On 22 September 2022, ECI informed Renjith Thomas that it was forwarding his complaints of 2018 and 2020 along with Mr Chandrasekhar’s election affidavits to the central board of direct taxes (CBDT) for verification. There has been no progress on the matter. This week, ECI has again responded to the Congress Party’s complaint saying it has forwarded the complaint to CBDT.
Interestingly, during this very same period, CBDT had issued demand notices to 10mn (million) ordinary Indians for tax dues dating back to 2005 or earlier and had ruthlessly adjusted tax refunds due to people against decade-old claims that were being made for the first time. (Read: Consequent to FM's Speech, CBDT Orders Write-off of Small Demands of up to Rs1 Lakh)
The curious case of the minister’s enormous vanishing wealth raises a serious question: Why would he want to hide his wealth?
After all, the Indian voters no longer expect public representatives to be selfless social workers with minimal physical possessions. While simplicity is admired, being a crorepati is not a negative, even though the Association of Democratic Rights (ADR) diligently tracks this data.
In fact, being a crorepati is no big deal. Rs1 crore (Rs10mn) in a bank fixed deposit at 7%pa (per annum) fetches you a modest monthly income of Rs58,000 , which is lower than the salary of a government section officer.
According to ADR, the average assets declared by Lok Sabha candidates are Rs4.51 crore and 53 MPs are billionaires. It says, the total assets of 763 sitting MPs of India are Rs 29,251 crore. In March 2024, ADR’s scrutiny of affidavits revealed that 25 MPs had declared assets of over Rs100 crore in their affidavits.
Bandi Partha Saradhi of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) is the richest MP with declared family assets worth Rs5,300 crore. He is chairman of the Hetero, the pharmaceutical group. Alla Ayodhya Rami Reddi is worth Rs2,577 crore; actress Jaya Bachchan of the Samajwadi Party is worth Rs1,001 crore. Congress MP Nakul Nath has declared assets of Rs 660 crore, while top lawyers Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi are worth Rs608 crore and Rs649 crore, respectively.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also has issues with two of its MPs being anything but ‘aama admi’: Sanjeev Arora is worth Rs460 crore and Vikramjit Singh Sahney is worth Rs498 crore. Controversial Praful Patel has declared assets of Rs416 crore, Parimal Nathwani is worth Rs396 crore; Kartik Sharma is worth Rs 390 crore; DK Suresh is worth Rs338 crore and Raghu Rama Krishan Raju is worth Rs325 crore.
Without delving further into asset declarations, questions arise as to why Mr Chandrasekhar, who ought to have topped the list, claims that his only income is his salary as a minister!
Mr Chandrasekhar’s silence on the perplexingly and substantial undervaluation of his wealth raises serious concerns. As a minister and MP, he is in a position to influence policy decisions affecting the commercial interests of his businesses. For instance, The Wire had reported that he was a member of the standing committee on defence where he has significant business interests. In another article, it had questioned his media investments. He had obtained an ex-parte injunction against the publication to have the articles taken down; the order was subsequently vacated.
However, the issue that concerns taxpayers is the CBDT’s silence on the sudden shrinkage in Mr Chandrasekhar’s declared assets for two years. The minister has not renounced, gifted, transferred or ceded control over his assets. It seems, Mr Chandrasekhar has merely organised his assets in a manner that avoids full disclosure in his affidavit. Significantly, despite being a billionaire, he is able state that his vast assets contribute little to his annual taxable income!
What does this reveal about the Indian tax system's loopholes for the ultra-wealthy, whilst steadily eroding benefits and exemptions for salaried individuals? Shouldn't this concern all taxpayers? Lastly, how is it that India's stringent and well-defined ‘beneficial ownership’ regulations do not seem to apply in this instance?
1 month ago
While this is very intriguing and needs an explanation from the MP, it should also be noted that the businesses he has invested his money would be paying taxes on their profits. The holding company Jupiter holds 65% equity stake in Axiscades Technologies Ltd , a listed company, and Axiscades has paid income tax of ?23 Crs last year. They have not paid any dividend and had they paid any dividend the holding company would have had to pay tax on its receipts.
Nevertheless it is bewildering that the MP is maintaining a high lifestyle despite showing up such low income. Clearly in bad faith and also shows our officials in poor light for not calling this out.
Replied to sharmaorajesh comment 1 month ago
May I submit that we as private individuals and Moneylife as an entity also pay taxes twice over. The company pays and we also pay HEFTY taxes -- as private individuals we have not benefit of social security or pension. The minister gets a life long pension the minute the got one term as a Member of Parliament. You still think the declarations are okay??
1 month ago
If what sated here is true and he owns crores of rupees as his asset which he has no declared, people would loose their confidence in BJP. We are under the impressions that the Uion Ministers in BJP government are honest and free from curruption. They are honest and trustworthy. These impressions will vanish if what stated is true. BJP should clarify its stand in this regard
Replied to anusham1940 comment 1 month ago
What? Electoral Bonds scam proves that corrupt practices emanate from the top in BJP. Everything else you write is merely the commonplace excuses for fake Hindutva.
1 month ago
Poor little Rich Man! Strange that the IT department, which harasses ordinary salaried class for much smaller variations, is not even sending an ordinary office of verification. And now ECI would want us to wait till the CBDT responds to such a serious issue! Why do we really think it can be better than this and actually someone would act. Foolish and naive on the citizens part. The nation of guarantees, I guess!
1 month ago
Dear Madam,

We live in a world where education, wealth and even achievements are being faked by politicians for vote.

Hate has became normal for a particular political party towards a particular religion and when we try fighting against them, their IT cell gets our social media accounts either restricted or deleted.

I don't feel common people have any means to fight big political parties with huge funding from business (mutual quid pro quo).

I tried to fight against hate content on social media but now gave up due to it being biased towards ruling party where their IT cell can abuse any religion 24*7 and are not restricted or should I say getting huge views , comment and followers.

2024 will be by second election as eligible voter and NOTA appears to be good for me so that I don't feel back stabbed like last time.

The only thing I know now is whether I vote or not they will win and we don't matter to them.
1 month ago
looks like the modern way of corruption is denying and defying everything and justification of corruption in the name of people's support. I do not recall this model was tried as it in past. Look at many top global leaders, outrightly corrupt but popular, we are not talking about dictators or autocracies but even this is true in democracies. Only question is, how long this model will last in a country where elections are held every few years, even if not 100% free and fair but it will be hard to survive
1 month ago
ECI must not only share the wealth and income affidavit of each candidate with i.tax and other govt agencies but also obtain a clearance confirmation from them.
Almost all the candidates declare 'agricultural land' as part of their assets and/or agriculture income as source of income. A clear case of exploiting the tax loop hole deliberately left wide open by all the political parties.
Pragna Mankodi
1 month ago
PILs are being filed by people at the drop of a hat. If any one has something tangible in hand to prove that the minister has suppressed his income streams and filed a wrong affidavit, doors of courts are open to them for seeking justice. But these people who are only alleging will not do that! They only want to give headlines to the newspapers and magazines. And they continue to shout from the rooftop that democracy is in danger in India.
1 month ago
Frankly, I don't see any problem with this.
1 month ago
I think, he is now eligible for white ration card, BPL card and can be part of the 90 million poor who receives ration
1 month ago
I can not expect any truth from him when his supreme leader is a known Jumlebaaz ! Expect the scenario of George Orwell's novel 1984 in India after 2024.
Meenal Mamdani
1 month ago
In India only Modi/Shah promulgate rules and regulations. Legal is what they say is legal.
There are no avenues for redress.
It is laughable if it was not so ominous.
What is happening to India? And if Modi/Shah get 370+ seats, what more will happen?
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