The Mamata Banerjee government versus Centre confrontation has once again put the spotlight on the CBI, an agency that has been dubbed a ‘caged parrot’. Opposition has often accused the Modi government of using central agencies, particularly the CBI and the ED, to further its own political motives. The government, however, maintains that the agencies are only carrying out their duties.
ThePrint asks: Is Modi govt using CBI, ED for political battles or is it opposition propaganda?
From Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s govt to UPA, everyone has used CBI to intimidate opposition
Agencies such as the CBI have been misused in the past as well, and the Bahujan Samaj Party has been a victim of it. From Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA till the recent UPA governments, everyone in power has left no stone unturned to intimidate the opposition using the CBI as a tool.
Mayawati ji has also spoken against this brazen misuse a number of times.
These issues were flagged during the anti-corruption movement as well. There was a popular demand to bring the CBI’s anti-corruption wing under the Lokpal. It has been five years since the Narendra Modi government came to power, but they are completely silent on this, and the idea has been gathering dust.
It is not surprising that the Modi government too is using the CBI to intimidate the opposition – from Mayawati ji to Akhilesh Yadav and most recently Mamata Banerjee – right on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections.
It is high time we discuss the future of the CBI at a national level. The CBI has been called the ‘Congress Bureau of Investigation’ in the past; it has also been called a ‘Central Bureau of Intimidation’.
Every political party has questioned the credibility of the CBI at some point. A party can’t have one stand when it is a part of the government, and then take a different stand when it is in opposition.
No one is contesting the fact that we need a premier investigating agency, but it is also true that it needs greater autonomy.
Saradha case was handed over to CBI even before Modi govt was sworn in
If you look at the present crisis in West Bengal, in no way can the Centre be blamed for it. The CBI is investigating the Saradha chit fund scam on the directions and order of the Supreme Court.
In the same order, the West Bengal police has been asked to extend its fullest cooperation in terms of evidence and any other requirement.
Over the last three years, concerted efforts have been made by the West Bengal police and police commissioner Rajeev Kumar in particular to either slow down the investigation or not hand over crucial documents.
What the learned attorney general K.K. Venugopal pointed out to the Supreme Court was that even the records received appear to be tampered and doctored.
These are serious allegations in a mega scam, which the Supreme Court wants investigated by the CBI. This investigation was handed over to the CBI even before the Narendra Modi government was sworn-in. So, how is the government to be blamed?
Interestingly, the first party that came out to show its support to Mamata Banerjee was the RJD, whose founder went to jail because of a CBI investigation that led to his conviction. Others showing solidarity are also out on bail and fear that they too will end up in jail.
Politically, this is an unprecedented situation where Mamata Banerjee has decided to discard constitutional propriety and is sitting on a dharna in support of an officer who prevented the CBI from doing its duty.
Modi govt is hell-bent on changing the very nature of these law enforcement agencies
Figuring out that this is the first government in the history of Indian politics to brazenly use agencies like the CBI to settle their own political scores is no rocket science. The Narendra Modi government will exploit any and every institution for their gains.
When someone with corruption charges ends up joining the BJP, they forget about all existing allegations against that individual. But if you decide to stand upright and challenge their politics, then these agencies come after you specifically.
It is true that these agencies have been exploited in the past. But it’s almost as if the Modi government is hell-bent on changing the very nature of these agencies.
I am also worried about those who are handing out these scripts to the CBI, because once they are out of power, they will be victims of this very modus operandi.
It is time for us to revisit the fundamental make-up of the CBI. It should be completely free of any political influence.
As far as Lalu Prasad Yadav is concerned, after Alok Verma’s recent revelations, no one should be under any doubt that the integrity of agencies like the CBI is a thing of the past.
The CBI was known as a ‘caged parrot’, and even if it pretends to be an autonomous organisation, it is programmed by the ruling party.
Those heading these agencies are equally to blame for obliging political parties
Former Director General, Bureau of police research and development
The accusation that the Narendra Modi government has been using law enforcement agencies for political battles is at best a half-truth. None of the political parties, who are making such accusations, can claim that they have not used them as a handy tool for harassing or showing down their opponents. They blame the other when they are out of power.
These agencies have come under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court in the past for either being in league with the powers that be or not discharging their functions as required of them under the law. The mechanism put in place to grant them autonomy on the prodding of the court has not succeeded. The officers, who staff or lead these agencies, must equally share the blame for this malaise, being ever willing to oblige to those in power even though they have the security of service and even tenure sometimes.
The situation will improve only if a system is put in place, which will ensure a more transparent process for the selection of officers and ensure accountability to law, coupled with adequate checks and balances.
CBI’s inquiry in Saradha case was in line with Supreme Court’s directions
Retired High Court judge
Although these agencies are independent, the ruling party has always used them as instruments to further their cause. Even the income tax department has been used by the governments in the past.
But as far as the Saradha chit fund investigation in West Bengal is concerned, it was as per the direction of the Supreme Court. Summons were issued and it was merely an inquiry, certainly not an arrest, for which a warrant is required.
However, in general, the misuse of the CBI isn’t new. Long back, the Army was called by the CBI in the Lalu Prasad Yadav case. But this time because Mamata Banerjee is in charge, a political drama has ensued.
The CBI was merely interested in making an inquiry, which had been halted. Now, the Supreme court has directed all stakeholders to cooperate. The CBI didn’t go to arrest the police commissioner as they weren’t even carrying an arrest warrant. Mamata Banerjee gave extraordinary colour to it.
The media has exploited and sensationalised this particular case too, although the situation has almost always been the same.
Cases and probe agencies spring out of cold storage before elections, and turn cold soon after
Editor, Investigations and special initiatives, ThePrint
There is no doubt that the Narendra Modi government has been misusing various probe agencies like the CBI and the ED, especially through the fears of raids and arrests, for advancement of its political agenda.
Having said that, what also needs to be underlined is that previous governments, especially the Manmohan Singh government, also used the agencies to browbeat their political opponents and, in some cases, their allies.
Remember the number of times the CBI suddenly became active in pending cases against the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party just before a trust vote in the Lok Sabha?
What makes the Modi government stand apart, though, is that it seems to have taken this to a completely new level.
Before every assembly election in the last few years, there have been clear cases where the CBI and/or the ED have gone after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s political opponents. Once the elections are over, the probe goes cold. In most cases, the news disappears, too.
Many have held the agencies’ moves as motivated, aimed at tilting the scales in favour of the BJP, done also through selective leaks by the agencies.
The same opposition parties that are today speaking up against the Modi government’s misuse of the agencies have, in the past, happily done the same.
By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.