Beyond noisy deliberations in TV studios, little else would be achieved by debating the merits and demerits of NIA's move to drop all charges against Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and five others in the 2008 Malegaon blast case and revoke provisions of the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).
The opposition, led by the Congress, has accused the BJP of forcing NIA to fudge probe so that "RSS activists involved in terror activities could be saved". They even had a new name for NIA: Namo Investigative Agency.
The BJP, expectedly, has denied any such interference and has blamed the Congress instead, charging the previous UPA regime with putting pressure on the agencies to nail RSS and prove their theory of 'Hindu terror'.
It is a matter of great concern and seriousness if a party takes advantage of the fact that it is in power and uses the state's investigative arms to suit political ends. In India, however, it has been done with such regularity that it is hard to stifle a yawn when accusations and counter-accusations of this nature fly around.
The nature of the beast that is democracy ensures that political parties suffer little beyond a sullying of image. That, too, ceases to matter in the long run because all bathers in the hamaam are naked. Investigative agencies, however, emerge as the biggest losers in this sordid game of chess. Their credibility sink lower and lower with every instance. Probe agencies in India are never insulated from political interference. The forensic tools change colour in accord with the regime and each of their cases is subject to myriad pulls and pressure.
It is a testament to how often CBI has been used as an instrument of political bullying by nearly party at the Centre since its co-option during Emergency in 1976 that some Chief Ministers have charged it of being “department of the Prime Minister’s Office”.
'CBI, the caged parrot'
Though peacock is the national bird of India, the parrot shot into prominence when in 2013, Supreme Court justice RM Lodha famously denounced CBI as being a "caged parrot" and "master's voice" while hearing the case related to coalfield allocations to private firms. It was the first damning indictment of India's premier investigative agency which the Congress-led UPA had ostensibly been using to cover up wrongdoing, keep fickle coalition allies in line and political opponents at bay.
A three-judge Bench of Justices RM Lodha, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph had expressed strong displeasure at Centre's interference in the Coalgate probe report and said "the heart of the report was changed on the suggestions of the government officials." The Bench said the CBI has ceased to be a professional and non-partisan outfit. "Is it (the CBI) a collaborator or investigator?", the apex court had asked.
The Bench rapped the CBI for sharing the draft status report on the coal scam with the Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and had said suppression of this fact from the court was "disturbing".
Despite the popular hand-wringing, little can be done about the independence of our probe outfits because agencies like the CBI are part of the government, hence at the mercy of the party at the Centre.
As Sanjivi Guhan and Paul Samuel point out in their book Corruption in India (Orient Paperbacks, 1997): "The very appointment of the Director of CBI and other personnel down the line, their career prospects and several other service benefits are all within the domain of the government. It is the circumstances that operates against the professional independence of the CBI".
If the Congress party has dominated the seat of power for six decades since Independence, it stands to reason that many of the subversions took place during its regime. In some, it had actually set the gold standard in subversion and engineered a deep-seated belief that probe agencies are merely tools of coercion.
Syed Modi murder case
In August 2009, nearly 21 years after national badminton champion Syed Modi was gunned down in cold blood, a Lucknow sessions court sentenced lone surviving accused Bhagwati Singh to life without establishing any motive for the murder. It also refused to go into alleged links of the murderer with politician Sanjay Singh and Modi's ex-wife Amita Singh, saying no conspiracy was established by the CBI. The judge noted that even after 21 years, the CBI couldn't find a motive for the murder and pinpoint the conspirators behind the crime.
The circumstances were entirely different in 1988, however, when the murder took place. India's No.1 ranked badminton player Syed Modi was gunned down in July. The CBI, which took over the case, chargesheeted Congress minister Sanjay Singh and Modi's wife Amita, who were thought to be involved in an illicit affair and five others.
With the CBI at the helm of probe, salacious and juicy details of the relationship started appearing in various newspapers, including "excerpts" from what was allegedly the personal diary of Modi's widow. And this curiously coincided with Sanjay Singh's falling out with then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
When VP Singh became the Prime Minister in 1990, the CBI failed to prove what had till then appeared to be a watertight case. The case was subsequently closed.
Anti-Sikh riots in 1984
In some cases like the massacre of more than 3000 Indians of Sikh faith, the state has failed to bring even one perpetrator of the horrific crime to justice.
As The Times of India points out:
"The fact that Rajiv Gandhi did not want the massacre probed or investigated and was happy to let the guilty walk tells us their monstrous crime must have had his approval. The judicial commission he set up under Ranganath Mishra was a farce; subsequent commissions and committees established to probe various aspects of November 1984, such as the complicity of police, were either ineffective or had their recommendations brazenly cast aside. Many of the politicians named by survivors and independent citizens’ inquiries all prospered in Rajiv’s time and later."
Leave alone charging, the CBI had filed a closure report on Congress leader Jagdish Tytler, whose name was indelibly linked to the pogrom. The agency said “was not involved” in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case relating to an attack on Gurdwara in Pulbangash. A Delhi court, however, rejected the closure report in 2015 and ordered the agency to further probe the role of Tytler.
St Kitts forgery case:
In 2004, a special court for CBI cases acquitted self-styled godman Chandraswami in the St Kitts forgery case. He was accused of conspiring to forge documents to frame Ajeya Singh, son of the former Prime Minister, VP Singh. It was said that the conspiracy was hatched by the Congress to divert attention from the Bofors scandal.
In August 1989, Kuwait-based Arab Times carried a report about the alleged bank account in the name of Ajeya Singh. After the change of guard at the Centre following Congress' debacle in 1989, VP Singh became Prime Minister and CBI registered a case in May 1990. The CBI probe found that the allegations of the "non-existent" bank account were floated by some "interested persons" to tarnish the image of VP Singh. However, the case proceeded at snail's pace after Singh's Government fell in November 1990.
The Malegaon blast case, which has pitted one probe agency against the other, is merely a continuation of this time-honoured Indian tradition. It will generate a lot of heat in studios, trigger terabytes of digital data but ultimately, remain as just one more chapter in India's exhaustive encyclopedia of subversive politics.
Published Date: May 14, 2016 03:41 pm | Updated Date: May 14, 2016 03:47 pm