Edit & Opinion

His Master’s Voice: Bureau of convenience

By Poonam I Kaushish

What is it about the Central Bureau of Investigation that has it always in the eye of the storm? That too, for all the wrong reasons. Earning it the nickname Central Bureau of Connivance and Convenience. With the devil taking the hindmost!

A talented Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput is found hanging at his residence on 14 June in Mumbai. A shocked nation eulogies him, followed by angry accusations of murder, his fans bray for blood and there is trial by the media, the anger directed at Bollywood incestuous insiders vs simple outsider Sushant implying he was compromised. The Mumbai police begin investigations. Murmurs surface of Shiv Sena Minister and Thackeray scion Aditya attending a party at Rajput’s house on 13 June night.

His father files an FIR in Patna against his son’s girlfriend Rhea Chakrovarty and five others for abetment of suicide. Mumbai quarantines the Patna police. The Enforcement Directorate registers a money laundering case against Rhea and family. Bihar recommends CBI enquiry which Centre accepts. Maharashtra vetoes this as its concurrence is mandatory. The Supreme Court orders CBI.

Alas, what started out as a tragedy of young life snuffed early has turned into a full blown political tamasha between the Centre-Bihar vs Maharashtra and the BJP vs erstwhile ally Shiv Sena. Bihar politicians who are readying for forthcoming Assembly elections want to play on Bihari sentiment and emotionally exploit Rajput’s death. Of what Mumbai did to their “ladla.” It would also help wean the 5% Rajput vote to the BJP-JD(U).

The BJP sees this as an opportunity to embarrass the Shiv Sena Government. Specially against the backdrop of Thackeray being present at Rajput’s house. An uneasy NCP-Congress are waiting to see how it plays out, though senior leaders privately admit that Chief Minister Udhav Thackeray has handled it on a personal and emotional plane to save his son from investigations when the need was for political astuteness. Clearly, what better tool to score political points than the CBI.

Any wonder why our politicians always hoot for a CBI investigation. Certainly, those in Government use it as its handmaiden to dance to its tune. A toothless tiger to help friends and settle political scores with opponents with hit-ins, clean chits, political cover-ups and fool proof surety for law enforcers to become law breakers legitimizing crime and corruption. 

Allegations abound how the agency has and is being used to intimidate and cow down political opponents. Be it during the Congress era or the Modi Sarkar. From political partisanship, raids on susceptible opponents, often with a little help of ‘partners’ Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax Department, filing of FIRs to hours of questioning to a charge-sheet, favouring some, cracking down on others, going slow on key cases, messing up investigations, left half-way or not done at all.

Its inconsequential that in the end the CBI might not find any malfeasance but the calibration of response is what the game is all about. If you fall in line, the pressure is eased. If you don’t, the pressure is gassed up.

There are examples galore. Two classic cases, Samajwadi’s Mulayam Singh and BSP’s Mayawati. Whenever the Government wanted to put pressure on them, the CBI was used to pursue the cases of disproportionate assets against them. When they came around, the cases were but in a thanda baksa. Notwithstanding, scathing criticism from the Supreme Court.

Indeed, the timing and the manner in which raids are conducted depends on the political will of its masters. Take the cases of ex Union Finance Minister Chidambaram and RJD Chief Lalu Yadav. Both accuse the BJP of political vendetta motivated by political considerations, thereby simultaneously proclaiming themselves innocent victims. The former, to silence and stop him from being critical of the Government, the latter to intimidate and prevent him from organizing Opposition Parties against the BJP. Drowned in the deafening cacophony is that both stand accused of corruption.

Take Karnataka Chief Minister Yeddyurappa  charge-sheeted by CBI for donations made to his trust by miners who obtained contracts. The court let him off, but for reasons best known to it the CBI under Modi Raj didn’t appeal against the order? Its silence says it all: dictated by political expediency.

More. There are as many as 1,300 cases pending against MPs and MLAs in various courts. These include cases being on-off investigated by CBI. Thereby, not only sullying the agency’s reputation, replete with its “failure” to back up charges with required evidence but also raising serious doubts about its honesty and integrity of purpose to weed out the corrupt.

Consequently, the system has become self-perpetuating whereby a threatened political elite give more and more powers to the CBI to get their way and have their say.  Your merit and investigative skills don’t really matter. What matters is whether the Central Government, especially your political masters (PMO), think you are loyal and trustworthy enough to be appointed in the CBI.

Questionably, is the CBI more sinned against than sinning?  Is the pot calling the kettle black?  The truth is mid-way.  Both work in tandem in furthering their own interest wherein the agency has adopted a brazenly opportunistic policy of playing safe with Governments of the day.

The recent open war between ex-CBI Director Alok Verma  and his Special Director Rakesh Asthana with shadowy political mai-baaps in the background underscores an open secret: the protectors and upholders of law have become so compromised and the system so rotten that nobody believes  it anymore. Worse, nobody cares a damn.

Unsurprisingly, investigation suffers as a recent report of 2016 shows. Shockingly, the conviction rate is as low as 12% in 264 corruption cases it analysed over five years . Of the 698 accused, 486 were Central and State officials while 212 were private persons. While it took more than 13 months to conclude investigations, only 8 out of 698 persons who were initially called for questioning in corruption cases were convicted! A reflection of the larger dishonesty plaguing the institution wherein over 26 officers are facing corruption charges.

Over the years various Governments talk tall on giving the CBI autonomy and improving its functioning from LP Singh Committee in 1978, Parliament Estimates Committee of 1991-92 even the Supreme Court has made attempts to provide the CBI the insulation it requires, but unfortunately all failed. When push came to shove the recommendations remain on paper.

Bringing things to such a pass that instead of becoming more accountable , the CBI has been purposely protected from scrutiny. See how it was expressly taken out of the RTI Act’s ambit on grounds of national security.

Prime Minister Modi has oft spoken about ushering in transparency in governance. Time he walked his talk and made the CBI independent whereby it stops being His Masters Voice and prevents abuse of power. For starters adopt a 2011 Parliamentary Standing Committee report on the “Working of the CBI” which recommended it be made an “enforcement agency” and be given “independent and autonomous’’ status to prevent political interference in its functioning.

The CBI has to be placed under an independent body, brought under strong, bipartisan Parliamentary oversight, and given an institutional character. Grant it the power to investigate and prosecute through a separate statute called the Central Bureau of Intelligence and Investigation Act. Till then, it will continue to be no more than a manipulative arm of our immoral leaders. At the end of the day, the powers-that-be must desist from playing havoc with the CBI. They need to answer two pointed questions: Will the CBI be guided by the law of the land only or by the Government of the day? Questionably, who will cast the first stone? Kiski laathi aur kiski bhains?

 

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