If Finance Minister P Chidambaram evoked cynical incredulity with his statement criticising the CBI raid on DMK leader MK Stalin this morning, barely hours after the latter’s father and party president M Karunanidhi had withdrawn support for the UPA government, he has only the Congress party’s record of using India’s premier investigating agency as its handmaiden to blame.
The CBI raids, said Chidambaram, made for bad political optics. People would misinterpret it as political vendetta for the DMK withdrawal of support a day earlier. That conclusion is inevitable, going by the CBI’s undistinguished record of rustling up heat-and-serve allegations against the Congress political detractors virtually overnight, and easing up on investigations when the Congress need to court allies.
Sure enough, within hours of Chidambaram’s statement, the CBI called off its raid, just as peremptorily as it had organized them in the first place. But the whole now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t drama only reinforces the initial suspicion that the raids were a political project in the first place.
Nor is it just about the CBI, which is openly derided as the Congress Bureau of Investigation. Other investigating and law enforcement agencies too have become mere tools in the hands of the Congress politicians.
Indicatively, barely hours after the DMK pulled out from the UPA, Enforcement Directorate officials were holding out the threat that Karunanidh’s daughter Kanimozhi, a suspect in the 2G scam case, will likely faces a second jail term once a chargesheet is filed – as it will be next month – on charges of money laundering (details here).
It is nobody’s case that action should not be initiated against Kanimozhi or MK Stalin if, indeed, there are alleged to have committed crimes. But the dusting off of files and the drawing up of charges barely hours after a political development as momentous as the DMK’s clearly point to the abuse of the investigating agencies for political ends. And, inversely, it begs the fair inference that had the DMK not withdrawn support, the charges against Kanimozhi and Stalin would have been buried under, with help from the CBI. The abruptness with which the raids on Stalin’s residence have been called off reinforces that point.
To be fair, the BJP too faces criticism of having interfered with CBI investigations – and so too do rump parties like the Janata Dal during the brief period when they were in power at the Centre. But in terms of scale, given that the Congress has been in power at the Centre for much longer than any other party, it bears the bulk of the blame for the politicisation of the CBI – and in face every other investigating and law enforcement agency.
The Congress has also compounded this politicization by blatant patronage of pliant officers by granting post-retirement political postings, including Governorships of States, to erstwhile CBI directors and officers. Most recently, former CBI director Ashwani Kumar, who rendered himself abundantly pliable to the Congress during his tenure in office, was appointed Governor of Nagaland, even though he has no field-based experience of dealing with the northeastern border State.
A perusal of the CBI’s own record of recent investigations (here) points to one glaring fact: except for the case against former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala – and the ongoing one against former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister’s YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s son Jaganmohan Reddy – politicians are just not on the CBI radar, except when they have been goaded by the Supreme Court or they suit the political expediency of the Congress.
Even in Jaganmohan Reddy’s case, details of his father’s corrupt ways were tolerated by the Congress so long as he was within the Congress fold. But the cases were filed after Rajasekhara Reddy death in a helicopter crash, only when Jaganmohan Reddy asked to be nominated Chief Minister – and flexed his political muscle at the Congress high command.
Nor are these suspicions a matter of state secret. As this report notes, the CBI has a pathetic record of acting as His Master’s Voice. Former CBI directors and senior officials are on record as having been under enormous pressure to ease up on cases involving political heavyweights – and, in some cases, the ruling party’s interests. For instance, former CBI joint director BR Lall, who handled the investigation following the Bhopal gas leak tragedy, said that he was told not to press for the extradition of Union Carbide chairman.
Last year, when Parliament was debating the FDI-in-retail proposal, Maywati’s about-turn on the issue – and her decision to vote along with the government – was derided by Opposition leaders as having been motivated by fear of CBI investigations. She took the high moral ground and thundered against them, but history was against her.
At about the same time, two former CBI diretors – US Misra and Joginder Singh – appeared on a television channel and narrated their experience of having come under political pressure to ease up on cases involving political bigwigs.
Misra, who served as CBI director between 2003 and 2005 (under the NDA and the UPA governments), and investigated the disproportionate assets case against Mayawati, acknowledged that political pressure was a very real consideration. “Sometimes, when we investigate cases against prominent political leaders, some influence somewhere… comes… to keep it pending for some time or to give a progress report this way or that way,” he said.
Joginder Singh, who served as CBI director during 1996-97, was even more explicit, and spoke candidly about a “confrontation” he had with the then Prime Minister. While he was investigating the fodder scam case against Lalu Prasad Yadav, he said, the then Prime Minister had told him to go easy on the case. “Thoda sa isko ahista kar lo.” To which, Joginder Singh said, he had responded by saying that he needed the government’s order in writing.
The then Prime Minister’s responded by pulling rank – "You know I am the Prime Minister, don’t you?” – and promptly had Joginder Singh transferred (within just 11 months of his taking office).
And although Joginder Singh did not mention the then Prime Minister’s name, it is widely know that it was IK Gujral, who was universally remembered as a “gentleman” in politics when he passed away last year.
There have been countless well-meant suggestions for reversing the politicization of the CBI and restoring its independence. Security analyst B Raman, who served in the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) has for instance suggested (here) a Lok Sabha CBI Oversight Committee, with carefully defined powers to confirm the appointment and removal of CBI directors and to go into the administrative and budgetary aspects of the agency.
And for much of 2011, when the Lokpal agitation was at its peak, the suggestion was made that the investigative wing of the CBI be placed under an independent Lokpal. All these were dismissed by the Congress and its apologists as overreach.
Of good suggestions for establishing the credibility of the CBI, there are aplenty. But when the Congress, which has been in power the longest, has a vested interest in using the agency as its handmaiden, and when professional investigators render themselves available for political rewards in return for favours rendered, the prospects of breaking this virtuous cycle are pretty dim.