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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 15, April 8, 2023

Modi’s pats CBI on the back while 14 opposition parties complain of misuse of the agency | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 8 April 2023


by Arun Srivastava

it was nice to listen to Prime Minister, Narendra Modi quoting the scripture on probity in public life and fighting the menace of corruption at the CBI’s diamond jubilee celebration. No other occasion would have suited the auspicious time to send the message across the nation and try to project himself as the most honest politician the country ever had.

His suggestion to the CBI officials sent a distinct and loud message that they would have to be more ruthless and coercive to his political opponents. This has to be enacted under the cover of eradicating corruption. His incitement to the CBI officials not to get deterred by the power of the corrupt and the ecosystem created by them to tarnish the image of investigating agencies and strike against them, is a clear message to them to use all sorts of intimidation. One thing also ought to be taken note of is that this comes just ahead a year of the 2024 Lok Sabha election.

His encouragement to the CBI officials provides a candid insight into the nature of the future operation of the CBI and also makes it explicit that the agency would crack down with more vengeance and ruthlessness on Modi’s detractors. By saying; “They (corrupt) have been part of the government and system for years. Even today they are in power in some states... but you have to focus on your work. No corrupt person should be spared. There should be no laxity in our efforts. This is the wish of the country, of the countrymen”.

Modi branded his political opponents as the most corrupt. But he did not take pains to look inwards. No doubt corruption has been endemic in India. But it has been institutionalised during his rule. It is widely known that most of the corrupt politicians who were earlier with Congress or any other party have joined the BJP and have turned pious souls after joining Modi’s bandwagon. The CBI which received a pat on its back from Modi in its jubilee celebration prefers to close the files of such tainted politicians.

It is bizarre that these turncoats have become the crucial decision-makers and designers of the ideology and policies of the BJP and the Modi Government. The situation is such that some original RSS and BJP workers who sacrificed their entire life for the organisation stand isolated. Probably Modi failed to remember them while asking the CBI officials to be firm against these corrupt leaders.

Once again Modi lied to the country by saying that his government doesn’t lack the “political will to fight corruption”. Modi ought to know committing theft and siphoning government or public money are not the only cases of corruption. The worst form of corruption is moral corruption. The CBI officers must not have forgotten that as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi had formed the habit of hurling jibes against the CBI. But now since he rules the country, the rules of the game have changed. Under him, the CBI has undergone purification. The new rule is; “officers should act against the corrupt, however powerful, without hesitation. ordinary crime, snatches rights of poor’. CBI’s name is on everyone’s lips. It is like a brand for truth”.

How could Modi forget that a petition has been filed by 14 opposition parties in the Supreme Court (SC) against the misuse of the CBI? Unfortunately, the Supreme Court (SC) refused to entertain this joint plea against ’arbitrary’ arrests of Opposition leaders by CBI and ED. Political leaders, journalists, social activists, and academics have been facing the wild use of administrative machinery and legal provisions against them. A significant number of them are still in jail.

Truly speaking the SC is aware of the misuse of the legal provision. It was this realisation that prompted the SC on Wednesday to bar the Government from using “national security” as a pretext to use the procedure and keep the aggrieved person in the dark about the reasons. In yet another case it observed that freedom of speech could not be restricted. Criticism of the government could not be termed as “anti-establishment”.

In a way, their petition represents the voice of the people. The issue needs a clear direction from the SC. The SC mentioned that the political leaders are absolutely on the same footing as common citizens but the bitter truth is the BJP politicians treat themselves above all. It must not have gone unnoticed to the Supreme Court how the lower courts have been too eager to favour the ruling party, politicians. Even some judges of the High Courts have been willing to oblige them. Only on April 5, the Kerala HC accepted the closed envelope from the government, even after public rebuff to such practice by the CJI only a fortnight back.

An insight into Modi’s suggestion to CBI officials would make it absolutely clear that it is an executive direction to act tough with the people who speak the truth.

Reiterating his usual rhetoric that India inherited a legacy of corruption at the time of Independence, he tried to put the blame on the Congress Party. No doubt corruption has become endemic.

During Nehru’s time, a cabinet minister had to resign for allegedly patronising a corrupt person. But no corrupt politician was shown the place during the nine years of Modi rule. It would not be an exaggeration to say that an attempt is being made to destroy the system to fight corruption. It is a known secret that at least five rich people who were too close to Modi fled the country after having swindled off millions of public and bank money. Will Modi let the people of the country know the remedial measures he took to retrieve the money and put them in jail? It was the issue of Modi patronising a corrupt business tycoon that had rocked the parliament for a week only a few days back.

Modi did not speak the truth when he said that the key responsibility of the CBI is to free India of corruption and that the country today does not lack the political will to act against the menace. What was quite interesting to note is that in the same breath, he said that corruption was the biggest roadblock to democracy and justice and asked the agency not to get distracted by those trying to tarnish its image. If what he says is true then the question arises why is he been hell-bent on shielding the Adanis? The Hindenburg report has exposed their operations. If Hindenburg’s report was false what prevented Adani and even Modi from suing the agency for maligning the image of the country? Shockingly he maintained an astute silence.

Certainly, corruption is not an ordinary crime, it snatches the rights of the poor and begets many other crimes. It is the biggest obstacle in the path of justice and democracy. Even after realising this Modi has been allowing his capitalist friends to indulge in reckless loot of the resources of the poor. Modi has been empowering his capitalist friends by depriving the poor of the country.

The recent session of the Parliament stalled as the ruling party was reluctant to answer any questions about the relations between Modi and Adani. This is yet an instance of corruption. But anti-corruption efforts under the Modi Govt are used in a selective manner. The government statistics reveal the intensity and magnitude of what the agencies are up to. From 2014 to 2022 there has been a 600 percent increase in CBI and ED cases. Only 4 percent of the arrested or implicated persons have been proven guilty. Between 2014 and 2022, 121 political leaders have been probed by the Enforcement Directorate out of whom 95 percent are from opposition parties. The CBI has probed 124 political leaders and out of these, 108 are from opposition parties.

Senior Supreme Court lawyer A M Singhvi while arguing the petition by political leaders had argued that some kind of guidelines ought to be laid down. Else the freedom of expression and speech would meet its unnatural death. It is worth recalling that the amicus curie of the SC in the ED case is on the records to have said that the extension of services of the Director of ED was illegal. Against this backdrop why has SC not issued directives to rectify it? Allowing a wrong practice cannot be termed as judicious action.

On March 29 the Supreme Court issued notices to the Central Government and the Enforcement Directorate on a petition challenging the unfettered powers the ED wields under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act for search, seizure, summons, and arrest. Ironically on July 27 last year, a three-judge bench of the top court upheld the constitutionality of the PMLA clauses relating to the ED’s overarching powers for “search, seizure, summoning and arrest” and to the stringent bail conditions. The court said it was necessary to curb heinous offences like terrorism and drug trafficking that were affecting the “social and economic fabric” of the country.

It is most unfortunate that the bench overlooked the misuse of the PMLA. How it was used to penalise and punish innocent persons. A Congress MLA from Madhya Pradesh was directed by ED to rush to its office, “leave his public duties" and for this, he was granted less than 72 hours. ED did not provide him with details of the alleged offence and investigation in "a blatant and gross abuse of the process of law".

CJI could have observed that the CBI and ED cannot act in an arbitrary manner and they must furnish all the detailed facts to the concerned individual beforehand. It should have directed the agencies to seek legal permission from the court to arrest the individual, irrespective of the fact whether he is a leader or an ordinary person, a social and cultural activist. It should have been of a general nature.

It is a known fact persons like Father Stan or Varvara Rao or any of the persons like Kappan cannot approach the Supreme Court whenever they need its help. It is due to the denial of this opportunity that they languished in jails for years. A general directive could have saved the lives of these persons and saved their families from repressions by government machinery.

SC sought to know whether the state is impotent. The fact is it pretends to be impotent else it cannot accomplish its mission to terrorise the people opposing the actions and policies of the Modi government. Action against the hate speech mongers would prove to be detrimental to the Modi government itself. It will lose its political ability to survive and flourish. Modi speech at the jubilee celebration of the CBI is a grim reminder to the people of India that they should get ready to face a more ruthless and oppressive government that has already adopted the mechanism of autocratic governance.

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