Benjamin Franklin once said that there could be no certainties in the world except death and taxes. Death is fearsome, taxes dearsome. What would happen if these two certainties could evoke uncertainties? Nothing but more fear. King Darius and ‘The Beatles’ will serve as examples to substantiate my proposition.
British historical novelist Mary Renault wrote that Alexander, the Great, offered sacrifices to Phobos, the god of fear, while invading Persia in 334 BC. Renault believed that it was part of Alexander’s psychological warfare and the Persian King Darius fled from his kingdom out of fear of death despite commanding a larger force than that of Alexander.
In 1966, George Harrison of ‘The Beatles’ penned a bitter song ‘Taxman’ about how much money the rock band was paying in taxes in Harold Wilson’s England. Consequently, ‘The Beatles’ too left their country due to fear of taxes. Dearsome, thy name is fearsome!
Fleeing is the natural recourse that every being mostly resorts to in times of life threatening circumstances when fight-mode is not worthwhile. Did the same sort of predicament trigger the migration of over 5,000 millionaires from India recently? Understandably, the current economic scenario warrants suitable intervention, as much of the monetary affairs are apparently tinged with anxiety and fear. If some people are nursing the fear of investment, others have simply gone hypochondriacal about fearonomics.
The increasingly tense socioeconomic atmosphere seems to be sowing the seeds of fear — fear of transactions, fear of extending loans, fear of taking initiatives and ultimately to the extent that quite a few of the rich are stung with fear of even enjoying their own lives. These repercussions are highly concerning as the same are corroborated by the firefighting stance adopted, of late, by the tax authorities to allay the fears, which have most likely driven a considerable number of investors and entrepreneurs apprehensive about their enterprising plans.
The income tax and indirect tax authorities have already embarked on damage control mechanisms by modifying the hitherto established insensitive procedures so as to replace, at the outset, certain confusingly intimidating verbal communiques like notices, letters, notifications and other bureaucratic officialese with amicable communication substitutes.
Do these measures alone suffice to handle the fear psyche of taxpayers? Not so, since the authorities have so far only touched upon the tip of the iceberg, the bulk of which lies hidden and untouched below the surface.
It is in this context that I would like to refer to the seminal ideas of two pioneering giants of fearology, whom I call as ‘sufi’ philosophers. Though they founded the discipline of fear independent of each other, their complementary approach holds the key to heal the fear maladies. Let me clarify that I have used the term ‘sufi’ not as mysticism but as a portmanteau of their names, Desh Subba and Michael Fisher respectively.
Subba, a Nepali thinker propounded fearism, basing on his postulate that life is conducted, directed and controlled by fear. He looks at fear as a vast universe, spread into imaginations, dreams, consciousness, physical bodies and even invisibility. For him, fear is like a black hole pulling everything towards it through its gravity.
On the other hand, Fisher, a Canadian philosopher, originated fearology and fearlessness movement with an emphasis on how an individual and collective would be able to overcome toxic fear for a better life and a harmonious society. He critically analyses fear just like any disease and works on fear problem therapeutically to cure it. He is also renowned for his advocacy that fearlessness arises when there is fear and the real issue is not fear as such but our ways of managing it.
Solving the Problems
Thus, a deeper approach to diagnose the genesis of fear, wider methodology to prognose the possible extent of subsequent damage and a multi-pronged cura and therapia to solve the fear problems in the economic setting are required to be systematically attended to. As socioeconomic-political ramifications are involved, the psychosocial environment of the triad, namely the taxpayers, tax enforcement officials and the general public, needs to be taken into consideration. An encouraging and motivating style of bureaucratic functioning adds to congenial climate.
An American developmental biologist, Bruce Lipton, found in his research that it is the perception that makes the individual decide either to grow or to be safe or either to fight or to flee depending upon the environment in which one is. As a lion is too strong an animal to fight with, a fearful prey takes to flight. Similarly, as the government is too powerful, the disheartened or frightened investors instinctively avoid a fight and stay withdrawn. Resultantly, no economic activities, no openings.
Dealing with Triad
Therefore, for a smooth and efficient tax administration, the authorities need to deal wisely with the triad. Impractical laws, unrealistic rules, coercion, falsification, unwarranted raids, searches and seizures, selective enforcement, wrong procedures etc, on the part of tax authorities spoil the environment around taxpayers. Taxation also becomes a target of public wrath if the collected revenues remain unrequited without entailing direct benefits to the common people.
Both the tax officials and the taxpayers need to be sensitised towards each other for better cooperation but the former must take initiative because the criterion for their success depends upon their confidence-building in the latter. Hence, tax officials ought to excel in soft skills. ‘Be polite and just’ is a time-tested noble tip that fits most importantly the cutting-edge level responders of the tax department for promoting fearlessness in the economic environment so as to enable taxpayers to be the growth engines of the Indian economy.
As American senator Marco Rubio aptly said, “ultimately, your economy has to be measured in the real eyes of real people…” And that sums up to help tax enforcement look awesome rather than fearsome.
(The author is former DG Cyber Crimes, Bhopal)