New Delhi: A day after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was convicted by a Surat court in a defamation case, 14 opposition parties have moved the Supreme Court over alleged misuse of central investigation agencies by the Narendra Modi government.
The opposition’s petition claims that central agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have singled out opposition leaders in different cases, even as tainted BJP leaders have got off scot-free. The petition also says that once some of the leaders who were under scanner join the BJP, cases against them were dropped or buried by the central agencies.
The petition assumes added importance as apart from the United Progressive Alliance parties like the Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Nationalist Congress Party, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, others have also joined in.
The Aam Aadmi Party, YSR Congress, Bharat Rashtra Samithi, Telugu Desam Party, Trinamool Congress, Shiv Sena, Janata Dal (United), Samajwadi Party, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Janata Dal (Secular), All India United Democratic Front are also party to the petition, making it the biggest joint opposition action against the Modi government in the run-up to 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The petition alleges that over the last few years the government misusing the investigative agencies for political gains has become normal, and so they are seeking immediate judicial intervention in the matter.
“A clear pattern has emerged of using investigative agencies (particularly the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate) to target, debilitate and in fact crush the entire political opposition and other vocal citizens, and to jail them for extended periods on specious grounds, often making use of draconian special laws (such as the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002) that make bail virtually impossible even though they have extremely low rates of conviction,” the petition says.
To back its claim, the opposition parties said that there was an exponential rise in the number of cases registered by the ED since 2014, most of which appear to be targeted towards critics and opponents of the Modi regime. Despite this, the conviction rate is abysmally low, the petition argued, adding that “only 23 convictions under the PMLA have been secured” and that most cases are “pending at pre-trial or trial stage”.
The petition also said that even the CBI – which between 2004-14 investigated 72 political leaders, 43 of whom were from the opposition) – put 118 opposition leaders under the scanner after 2014 of a total of 124 leaders being investigated by the agency. This means 95% of the cases were against opposition leaders. The petition said that such instances only demonstrated “the use of frivolous raids as a tool of harassment post-2014”.
The petition says that opposition leaders like P. Chidambaram, Manish Sisodia, Satyendra Jain, Sanjay Raut and others were arrested by the agencies. But those “who crossed over to the government side” like Himanta Biswa Sarma, Narayan Rane or Suvendu Adhikari or even chief ministers like Shivraj Singh Chouhan, were either “mysteriously” given “clean chits” or saw cases against them being probed at a snail’s pace by the agencies.
The opposition parties said that such alleged misuse of agencies has a “serious chilling effect on legitimate and constitutionally protected political activity and speech across the country” as it skews the level playing political field, forcing the leaders under the scanner to keep defending themselves instead of undertaking serious political activity.
“Slow but continuous conversion of the state of polity from a thriving democracy to democracy only in form, the real elements of democracy having been sapped from within. The continuous raids and arrest of the political opposition are the classic signboards of democracies with growing authoritarianism,” the petition said.
Senior advocate and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi appeared for the petitioners this morning at the Supreme Court. The court will hear the petition on April 5.