There is little doubt that the manner and timing of the CBI action against the Kolkata police commissioner was guided by a kind of politics which would have done Machiavelli proud. The 16th century Italian diplomat and political thinker was credited with normalising deceit and dishonesty as effective tools of realpolitik.
The Indian ruling regime has been practicing this effectively ever since it came to power in 2014. Of course, the PMO has also faltered badly at times because of the over-use of these methods which yield diminishing returns after a point.
The high index of opposition unity today is in no small measure a response to these blunt instruments of blackmail used by the ruling regime. Still, the trio of Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Ajit Doval continually resort to maximal deployment of the CBI, Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax (IT) department as instruments of political coercion. And most interestingly, they have chosen not to pursue to a logical conclusion any of the alleged charges against opposition leaders within a set time frame as Modi promised in 2014.
Modi publicly committed to setting up fast track courts to try cases of political corruption. He had promised an effective Lokpal as well as a clean electoral funding system. Obviously, the PM had no intentions of doing any of these. He had no intention of conducting a speedy trial because once a case is decided – either by conviction or acquittal – the regime loses the instrument of coercion.
A parallel is the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. If the construction is brought to fruition, the political issue would be lost. So the Modi-Shah duo have chosen to keep cases on the boil to press the buttons against opposition leaders as and when needed.
An apparent strategy
As a strategy, this is apparent even to a layperson. In fact, the regime is so transparent in its abuse of investigative agencies that it has caused a virtual implosion within some of these institutions, causing more conscientious officers to revolt. This was seen recently in the CBI and to some extent in the ED.
Currently a revolt is brewing within the IT department, where senior officers are leaking information of benami properties worth crores of rupees allegedly held by the chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxation. The chairman has received unprecedented extensions, post-retirement, from the PMO for reasons that are quite apparent.
There must be a solid reason why an honest CBI officer who headed the organisation’s anti-corruption bureau chose to submit an affidavit to the Supreme Court accusing the PMO of interfering with the CBI’s investigations. In the same affidavit, M.K. Sinha, a DIG at the CBI, implies that the entire government machinery was trying to protect former special director of the CBI, Rakesh Asthana, in a case of bribery.
Sinha goes on to describe the CBI as ‘Centre for Bogus Investigation’ and ED as ‘Extortion Directorate’ in the affidavit. Such allegations are unprecedented in the last 60 years. One can only assume they are happening now as a reaction to what the political masters are doing with our investigative agencies.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Monday asked why Mamata Banerjee was protecting the Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar. “What are the secrets he is holding,” Prasad asked. This question can equally apply to the PMO, which has gone out on a limb to protect Asthana from being questioned. “What are the secrets Asthana is holding”, the opposition may well ask as a counter.
The Asthana link
Asthana is an important link in the current crisis caused by the face off between Modi and Mamata Banerjee.
It is now clear that Rakesh Asthana, after being promoted as special director of the CBI, was aggressively sending summons to the Kolkata police commissioner since late 2017. The police commissioner wrote to the CBI director Alok Verma suggesting that the CBI seemed to be targeting the police officers who were witnesses and not proceeding against the real accused, who were now part of the BJP. He was referring to Mukul Roy and deputy Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who allegedly took Rs 20 lakhs a month to enable the Sharada Chit Fund operations in Assam. Mukul Roy was accused of providing safe passage out of Bengal for Sudipta Sen, the owner of Sharada Chit Fund.
Alok Verma also received an offer from the DGP of West Bengal suggesting the CBI and Kolkata police could discuss issues relating to the Sharada investigation. But Asthana apparently insisted on interrogating the Kolkata police officers. So this seemed a partisan affair all along.
We saw the partisan behaviour of agencies just before the Karnataka elections, when the CBI let the Reddy brothers off the hook in what was described as an open and shut case of illegal iron ore exports by the state Lokpal. Later, one also witnessed the multiple raids at the premises of Karnataka Congress leader Shivakumar.
More recently, after Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav sealed their 2019 electoral alliance, a fresh case was filed against Akhilesh in a 12-year-old sand mining case. Similarly Chandrababu Naidu was at the receiving end when some old case of disturbing peace and order was reopened after he severed ties with the BJP. Even Mayawati recently came under the scrutiny of the ED.
All these leaders have expressed solidarity with Mamata Banerjee. Mamata’s dharna provoked even Naveen Patnaik’s BJD, which said the CBI was also used against their party. No wonder the opposition claims it is uniting against the alliance of the BJP, CBI, ED and IT department!
The problem for Modi is that these partisan actions and the blunt use of investigative agencies, without any intention to fast track cases, have caused a serious credibility crisis for the NDA. At this late stage, every midnight raid or FIR filed will be seen as vendetta and the opposition will exploit it to the hilt. Modi cannot use corruption as an issue in this elections as he did in 2014. On the contrary, now he has to answer many questions linked to rampant crony capitalism during his regime.