Just as the news broke that Maharashtra Governor C Vidyasagar Rao has sanctioned the CBI to prosecute former state Chief Minister Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh Housing Society scam, the Congress launched a blistering attack against the BJP and Modi government, saying "this is nothing but vendetta politics".
By coming out with a stock response, the Congress is trying to equate the Adarsh scam with the National Herald case, the probe against Robert Vadra, CBI investigation against Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, ED raids against P Chidambaram's son Karti and other such in a seemingly endless list. In each of these instances, the main opposition party dutifully came out with the same reflexive response.
In doing so, the Congress leaders conveniently forgot that it was not Narendra Modi but the erstwhile Congress-led UPA government that ordered a CBI inquiry into the Adarsh scam.
The Congress leadership's decision to drop Chavan as the Maharashtra Chief Minister was based not on any high moral ground but because preliminary investigations indicated that Chavan had much to explain, including the fact that two of his kin owned flats in Adarsh Housing Society.
The CBI recently sought sanction for Chavan's prosecution under Section 197 of the CrPC on the basis of a Justice Patil Commission of Enquiry report and the observations of the Bombay High Court. The Governor had sought the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers and was advised by the Council of Ministers to grant the sanction.
Congress's other charge is that "Governor's decision has never been reviewed this way in the past".
During UPA regime, in 2013, the then Governor K Sankaranarayan had refused to let Chavan be prosecuted and cited lack of sufficient evidence to deny sanction to the CBI.
The investigative agency then approached a trial court seeking to drop Chavan's name as an accused on the ground that the Governor had refused to sanction his prosecution.
Ashok Chavan, however, did not get any relief as the special court rejected the CBI’s plea to drop his name from the list of accused in the Adarsh scam case. A Special CBI court observed that even though Governor Sankaranarayanan had rejected CBI's plea, the former Maharashtra CM could still be tried under the Prevention of Corruption act as he has been accused of criminal misconduct.
A petition filed in High Court said that both Governor Sankarnarayan and Ashok Chavan's father were contemporaries as Union ministers and that the latter met the Governor on 15 October, 2013, at Raj Bhavan. The application said consequent to this hour-long meeting, the Governor rejected the CBI's plea of sanction.
The Bombay High Court upheld the trial court's verdict and dismissed CBI's application last November, observing that the Governor had refused sanction for prosecution under the Indian Penal Code but he can still be prosecuted under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The court also dismissed Chavan's appeal to recall an earlier order refusing to delete his name from the multi-crore scam, saying there is enough evidence to prosecute him. Chavan moved the Supreme Court against the Bombay High Court's order.
While all this was happening, questions were raised in some quarters about role of the then CBI Director Ranjit Sinha, who, it was alleged, was pursuing the case for dropping of Chavan's name as an accused. Many argued that in this case, the Governor's sanction was not even necessary to prosecute the former Maharashtra CM.
Given clear directions from courts, what happened thereafter was a procedural follow-up. It looks as though for the Congress, the report of a judicial commission appointed by Congress government (Prithviraj Chavan's government rejected the commission's report which indicted four former chief ministers Ashok Chavan, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde and Shivajirao Nilangekar-Patil, two of state's former urban development ministers and 12 IAS officers) and two judicial pronouncements, mean nothing. The stock response of political vendetta is the same as has been in National Herald case.
A probe in pending corruption cases or any fresh investigations against any senior Congress leader, or any of their close relatives, Robert Vadra for instance, becomes immediately a case of political vendetta.
If the government of the day does not act, then Congress or any other party concerned would later argue that if there was a case why didn't they pursue it when they were in power. The Vajpayee government's decision in 2004 not to go to the Supreme Court to challenge High Court's order in Bofors case is one such example.
Consider the following — After Delhi High Court rejected Congress's plea to quash lower court's order for personal appearance of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and other senior Congress leaders in National Herald Case, the Congress paralyzed Parliament for several days.
Reacting to turn of events, this is what Rahul Gandhi said "One hundred per cent political vendetta. This is pure political vendetta coming out of the PM's office. It is their way of doing politics."
Ashok Chavan is now a Congress MP in Lok Sabha. As such, the issue could find some resonance in Parliament when it opens for the budget session later this month. After all, crying 'political vendetta' is the easiest way to gain sympathy from public and support from opposition parties.