What acquittal of Raja and conviction of Lalu tell us about Narendra Modi, the man with the so-called iron-fist

A Raja and Lalu Prasad's cases tell us that Narendra Modi would much rather let petty political criminals meet their nemesis through due process of law.

Ajay Singh December 25, 2017 11:02:23 IST
What acquittal of Raja and conviction of Lalu tell us about Narendra Modi, the man with the so-called iron-fist

The exoneration of A Raja and the conviction of a metaphorical 'Raja' Lalu Prasad Yadav (he used to call himself the 'Raja of Bihar'), reveal what a complex web governance in India is.

Raja's exoneration in the 2G scam was quickly followed by Lalu's conviction in the fodder scam. In both cases, the respective CBI courts delivered verdicts which are being conveniently and liberally interpreted by the accused.

Look at the manner in which Raja, Kanimozhi and their colleagues in the DMK are expressing jubilation over the court's verdict and describing it as "triumph of the truth". Quoting the verdict, they call the 2G scam nothing but a figment of the imagination of some conspirators out to destroy the "impeccable" image of the UPA government. And who else could be the chief conspirator but Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself!

What acquittal of Raja and conviction of Lalu tell us about Narendra Modi the man with the socalled ironfist

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Now turn to Ranchi where Lalu, after being convicted, discovered that he is in the league of "Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and BR Ambedkar". He claimed himself to be on the side of truth and blamed the BJP and the prime minister for purveying falsehoods leading to his conviction. He also hinted at a conspiracy of upper castes to corner him. And, once again, the lead role in this conspiracy was assigned to none other than Modi.

A careful reading of the verdict of OP Saini, additional sessions judge of the special CBI court, shows that he clearly blames the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate for carrying out "shoddy investigations" and failing to produce a shred of incriminating evidence to prove the existence of a scam.

Obviously, the CBI's investigation and its prosecution annoyed the court to the extent that it found no merit in the claims of wrongdoings in 2G spectrum allocations. Contrast this with Lalu's case. Here, you will find that the CBI has investigated the fodder scam in a meticulous manner, leading to Lalu's conviction.

Two diametrically opposite results, two diametrically opposite causes – CBI's sloppy work in one and fine sleuthing in the other – but the conclusion is the same: that the BJP in general and Modi, in particular, are out to destroy the reputation of their political adversaries.

Along with this runs the theme of the CBI and the ED being used by the government to target the Opposition. If one goes by the statements of Lalu, Raja and certain Congress leaders, it would appear that all institutions, including the Judiciary, are mere puppets in the government's hand.

Is there any iota of truth in these allegations? Let's look at some undeniable facts surrounding both these cases. Right from the word go, both cases were strictly monitored by the Supreme Court. In the 2G case, much before the BJP came to power and could take it up, the Supreme Court clearly indicted the government and found fault with Raja's indiscretion in tweaking policies to favour certain individuals.

The scam was investigated successively by two CBI chiefs – AP Singh and Ranjit Sinha – both considered very close to the Congress. While Singh's proximity to Ahmed Patel was quite evident during the UPA tenure, Sinha was initially too close to the UPA regime but switched sides before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, in anticipation of a change.

So, to say the CBI spoiled the case under influence of their political bosses, UPA or NDA, is to actually cast aspersions on the Supreme Court itself.

This point is not made lightly. The Supreme Court went to extreme lengths to try and insure the CBI against political interference. Notably, it enforced its decision on the CBI and the ED to retain a particular set of investigating officers (some with dubious credentials) and handpicked the prosecutor who would pursue the 2G case.

Neither the CBI nor the ED was given any latitude to choose investigators and determine the course of prosecution as everything came under the SC's mandate, which almost crippled the government's role. The reality is that the government has let the agencies function as per the direction of the SC to proceed with the case. In effect, the CBI court's judgment reads like an indictment of the SC, which assumed for itself a role beyond the constitutional mandate infringing on the executive's domain.

In the fodder scam case, the meticulous investigation carried out by the CBI established Lalu's culpability. It is no secret that in UPA's tenure, Lalu desperately tried to get rid of the fodder scam by employing all means, fair and foul. He approached the SC with a request to club together all cases related to the fodder scam in order to manipulate the situation in his favour.

His adversaries in the court, however, were vigilant enough to foil all his attempts. Given the history of the fodder case, it is quite evident that the investigation and prosecution were hardly ever tinkered with by the Modi government.

Then how does one interpret the allegation of over-centralisation of power in the PMO or with Modi? The acquittal of Raja and conviction of Lalu reveal a lot about Modi's style of functioning. The manner in which Raja was let off the hook was a reflection of professional incompetence of the ED and the CBI. Similarly, Lalu's conviction is indicative of professional hard work and competence of another set of officers from the same CBI.

The PMO's influence is completely absent in both the cases. This runs quite contrary to Modi's image of being a 'control-freak'. Far from it, if these two high profile cases with divergent results prove anything, it is that Modi would much rather let petty political criminals meet their nemesis through due process of law.

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