“The political executive will change with time. But you (CBI), as an institution, are permanent. Be impermeable and be independent. Pledge solidarity to your service,” Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana said on April 1 while delivering the 19th D.P. Kohli Memorial Lecture of CBI.
The lecture was on the subject “Democracy: Role and Responsibilities of Investigative Agencies”.
Justice Ramana said with the passage of time, like every other institution of repute, the CBI has also come under deep public scrutiny and its actions and inactions have raised questions regarding its credibility, in some cases.
“The need of the hour is to reclaim social legitimacy and public trust. The first step to gain the same is to break the nexus with the political executive,” he averred.
So has CBI too been caught up in the political nexus? Well, the Opposition definitely says so.
Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan had in 2017 written that “CBI acts largely at the behest of the government of the day and this becomes quite obvious from the things done and not done”.
Referring to the raids that were going on at that time on former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad, Bhushan said, “I am not saying there is no case against Mr. Prasad, it is a 10-year-old case. What I am arguing is, whether the CBI acts or not depends on the political will of its master.”
So the question is not about the sanctity of India’s premier probe agency, rather the timing at which it acts.
Notably, Yadav was in February 2022 convicted in a fifth fodder scam case that pertains to the illegal withdrawal of Rs 139.5 crore from the Doranda treasury. Earlier, the former Bihar CM was found guilty in four cases related to the Rs 950 crore fodder scam, and is serving a sentence of 27.5 years of imprisonment.
The probe agency is always at the receiving end of the Opposition parties.
The latest case is of Sivaganga lawmaker Karti Chidambaram, who was accused by the CBI of facilitating visas of 263 Chinese nationals for a power company after receiving Rs 50 lakh as bribe 11 years ago when his father P. Chidambaram was the Union Home Minister.
“It does not intimidate me that the central government is once again using its agencies to accuse me of a malicious and completely fabricated charge. Previously, the agencies have gone after me based on the statement of an undertrial murder suspect. Now, they are basing their bogus charges on the alleged actions of a deceased person, whom I have never met,” Karti had said in a statement on May 24.
Interestingly, the CBI, just a day ago, on Saturday, conducted searches at the residence of Karti Chidambaram in Chennai and recovered some “incriminating documents” from there in the same Chinese visa case.
Responding to the IANS news story, Karti said that the CBI has found nothing. “There was one cupboard in the residence that was locked and the owner was abroad…The CBI found nothing and seized nothing,” Karti’s lawyer G. Sarath Babu said. He further said that however CBI has illegally seized a laptop and Ipad belonging to Karti’s daughter that contains her academic work.
Attorney general (AG) K.K. Venugopal had last year submitted in the Court that the CBI is an “autonomous” body, not controlled or regulated by the Union government.
Probably the Opposition parties do not believe in the AG’s submission in the Court and regularly accuse the government of silencing its critics by using the state machinery.
The Congress also alleges that those opposition leaders who have not been investigated have joined the BJP, including Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and Mukul Roy who switched to the BJP and then rejoined Trinamool Congress.
However this doesn’t mean that the Congress tenure was very clean. It often faced allegations of misusing the CBI which was termed as the ‘Congress Bureau of Investigation’ by the critics. The Apex court had once said it was a caged parrot.
When some Samajwadi Party-linked people were raided ahead of elections, its president Akhilesh Yadav categorically said, “Earlier, the Congress also used to intimidate people by misusing central agencies like the I-T, CBI and the ED.” He charged that now the BJP is doing the same thing.
However, despite all the accusations, the Central Bureau of Investigation has emerged, over the years, as a premier investigating agency of the country which enjoys the trust of the people, Parliament, Judiciary and the Government.
In the last 75 years, the organisation has evolved from an anti-corruption agency to a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary central police law enforcement agency with capability, credibility and legal mandate to investigate and prosecute offences anywhere in India.
(Ujwal Jalali can be reached at email@example.com)