Editor's note: This article was originally published on 22 August. It is being updated and republished in light of the Enforcement Directorate's arrest of Karnataka Congress leader DK Shivakumar on Tuesday.
Central agencies have been remarkably on the ball in pursuing all kinds of cases against political leaders, or people connected to them, who are in opposition to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Income Tax department have played stellar roles in pursuing inquiries and detaining people against whom prima facie cases have been made out.
The arrest of senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member P Chidambaram and that of Karnataka Congress leader DK Shivakumar are classic cases in point.
Both the CBI and the ED were extremely assiduous in using a two-day window afforded by the Supreme Court’s listing for Friday of an anticipatory bail plea to arrest Chidambaram, scaling the wall to enter the premises of his house. There is no reason to go into the merits of this action. Many other Opposition leaders have had proceedings against them diligently pursued.
It may be worth inquiring into what kind of due diligence these agencies have displayed in pursuing cases against those members of the BJP or its allies against whom charges of corruption have been levelled. Let us take the Saradha Ponzi scam to begin with. Mukul Roy, now a leading light in the West Bengal BJP, having switched to the party from the Trinamool Congress in 2017, was one of those implicated and questioned in connection with the scam. He was grilled by the CBI in 2015, but subsequent to his joining the BJP, he seems to be flying well below the CBI's radar.
Roy was also implicated in the Narada sting operation, which caught a number of Trinamool leaders accepting money while promising various kinds of facilitation services. He seems to be off the radar screen in that case as well.
Assam’s deputy chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was also implicated in the Saradha scam when he was in the Congress. He joined the BJP in 2015 less than a year before the 2016 Assembly elections in the state, which brought the party to power. The allegations against Sarma seemed to have more substance from 2014. He was accused of receiving Rs 20 lakh a month from Saradha boss Sudipta Sen to help the latter run his Assam operations. The CBI had raided his house and office in 2014. But ever since he joined the BJP he, too, seems mysteriously to have escaped the CBI’s diligent attentions.
These are two cases of leaders switching to the BJP from adversarial parties who have, it appears, gained some immunity from the investigative gaze. There are other BJP leaders, of course, who seem to enjoy similar immunity without having to have changed their spots. Take, for instance, Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa.
In 2017, first information reports (FIRs) were filed against him for corruption. The case involved the denotification of land while he was chief minister in 2010. Prime plots of land identified by the Bangalore Development Authority or BDA (as it was then known) as housing sites had been allegedly been illegally denotified, causing a loss of Rs 3,845.50 to BDA.
This was not the only time that Yediyurappa had been embroiled in controversy. In 2011, the Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde, a former Supreme Court judge, had indicted him for his role in a mining scam. According to the report, a trust owned by the Yeddyurappa received a donation of Rs. 10 crore from a mining company. Yeddyurappa was involved in another questionable land transaction as well. He had to resign in 2011 and was incarcerated for about three weeks.
In 2016, a CBI court cleared him in the mining scandal and it took the central probe agency about eight months to appeal the verdict. Hegde, later, said that he thought he had had a foolproof case against the chief minister in the mining case and that he had not expected the proceedings in court to take the turn it ultimately did.
The Reddy brothers of Bellary district of Karnataka have also escaped the close attention of investigative agencies. G Janardhan Reddy, a mining magnate and former BJP minister in Karnataka, had been named as the main suspect in illegal mining scam from 2006 to 2011 involving Rs. 16,500 crore. The BJP had distanced itself from the Reddy family when this had transpired.
The case first came to light in 2010. It was handed over for investigation to the CBI in 2013. In late 2017, however, some months before the Karnataka Assembly elections of 2018, the CBI told the Karnataka chief minister, at that time, Siddaramaiah, heading a Congress government, that it could not take the case forward for technical reasons. After this ‘vindication’, the BJP seemed to have ‘pardoned’ Janardhan Reddy in the interests of the state, as Yeddyurappa had put it, giving seven tickets for the Assembly elections to family members and associates.
These are just some instances of BJP leaders succeeding in staying away from the attention of investigative agencies. A quick trawl through the archives will yield more instances, for instance, the government’s steadfast refusal to institute a probe into the Rafale deal either by the CBI or a joint parliamentary committee, if only to allay public concerns.
In the end, thus, questions ineluctably arise about the impartiality of the investigative agencies and the government that controls them.
Updated Date: Sep 04, 2019 08:03:45 IST