"Can a state government prevent the Income Tax Department from collecting taxes in a state? Can another state government prevent the NIA from proceeding to arrest a terrorist located in the state? Can the Enforcement Directorate be prevented from investigating or arresting a smuggler or money launderer in a state? Obviously the answer is no."
But Arun Jaitley may be wrong here, if we examine the current state of affairs in Indian governance.
The unprecedented situation in West Bengal right now raises the question of how intertwined Indian politics is with bureaucracy. Once an arm of the government that was meant to be synonymous with impartiality, IAS or IPS officers not having a political affiliation in today's day and age is a distant dream.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee staging a dharna in protest against the CBI action against Kolkata Police commissioner Rajeev Kumar entered its third day on Tuesday. Mamata claims that her protest was not against the CBI but the apparent misuse of the Central agency by the Narendra Modi government, and hence, the 'Save the Constitution' dharna.
Mamata and the Kolkata Police claim that the CBI team had turned up at Kumar's doorstep unannounced and without a warrant, but the agency claims its officers had the required papers when they had arrived at his Kolkata house. The CBI said it had repeatedly summoned Kumar for questioning in the past in connection with its inquiry into chit fund scams, but he had failed to cooperate in their investigation.
Regardless, a look at the turn of events suggests that there was no necessity for the Kolkata Police to whisk the CBI officers away and detain them at a police station, especially when they were merely discharging their duties on the orders of the Supreme Court.
Also, Mamata may have the support of scores of Opposition leaders, who believe that her protest in Kolkata is aimed at fighting for democracy and against the Centre misusing government bodies, but others who don't look at the state of affairs through anti-BJP glasses, find it increasingly odd that a chief minister is shielding a senior police officer from a CBI investigation while maintaining that they had nothing to hide.
Why not allow an interrogation if there is really nothing to hide?
The CBI has alleged irregularities in the inquiry into the chit fund scams carried out by the Special Investigation Team of the Kolkata Police, which Kumar had headed before the CBI took over the case. As has become the norm today, the agency has taken the matter to the Supreme Court, seeking a direction to ensure that Kumar cooperates in the investigation. That's another case added to the Supreme Court's list of pending cases, a can of worms we don't want to open now.
When looked at objectively, Mamata's actions do appear to be a case of a state government attempting to obstruct a Central agency from discharging its duties, which amounts to a direct assault on federalism. Kumar joining the chief minister on stage soon after the police blocked the CBI from questioning him opens up a new can of worms, indicating a likely collusion between government servants and politicians. More than a fight to "save democracy", Mamata's protest has only served to fuel suspicions that bigwigs in her government were involved in the Saradha and Rose Valley chit fund scams and her trying to "protect" the Kolkata Police chief cemented this allegation.
Furthermore, no conversation about the use, or misuse, of Central agencies can be complete without the mention of the Modi government allegedly using government bodies such as the CBI and Enforcement Directorate to meet its own political ends. So much so, that the Congress had demanded the removal of Chief Vigilance Commissioner KV Chowdary from the post for being made to "act like a puppet" to the Centre in the case of former CBI chief Alok Verma.
Furthermore, the Modi government is also known to bring in bureaucrats to publicise the work of the NDA government in the garb of schemes like the Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, which was essentially a political campaign to ensure that the people knew what the administration was doing for them. These are some essential resources being unavoidably drawn into politics with no choice in the matter.
Also, the timing of a number of actions by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate, like raids that are a near-everyday affair in India now, have been more than suspicious. A stark example of this would be the raids conducted by the Income Tax Department on a Congress minister at the resort where party MLAs had been accommodated ahead of the Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections.
The Centre has also been accused of misusing Central agencies to clamp down on dissent in any form, an opinion that gained further ground after the multi-city raids carried out against activists accused in the Bhima Koregaon case.
In India, politics today has become synonymous with show of strength, be it through the use of actual physical force or by making use of available resources, also known as bureaucrats. Government servants getting involved with politicians crosses boundaries that became blurred over the years and is near invisible today, when impartiality in governance is something one can only dream of.
Such intrusions seem to work both ways in the current times, with political interference in bureaucracy becoming more and more evident by the day and a political leaning and bias becoming inevitable among bureaucrats, who were once expected to exude neutrality. Mamata's dharna and Opposition leaders coming out in support of her movement only show how integral State interference in the bureaucracy has become in today's politics.
But as Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh pointed out in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the Kolkata Police stopping the CBI from performing its duties is a threat to the federal political system of the country. And Mamata's actions could set an unhealthy precedent of government officials and politicians coming together to thwart any action they deem unfavourable to them.
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Updated Date: Feb 05, 2019 13:20:25 IST