Uddhav Thackeray withdraws consent; CBI can’t just swoop in any more

Is this an assertion of federal powers as enshrined in the Constitution, or political posturing designed to showcase how the Shiv Sena isn’t going to dance to the BJP’s tunes anymore?


On October 21, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray withdrew a blanket consent given to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate cases in the state. Was this just some dull bureaucratic formality or a carefully calibrated power move?

Already states that are not run by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been alleging a step-daughterly treatment by way of a constant erosion of federalism by the central government. Is Uddhay Thackeray, whose Shiv Sena is in power in Maharashtra as a part of an alliance with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), now standing up to the centre?

Look at two of the most high-profile cases in the state that are already with central agencies;

Bhima-Koregaon/Elgaar Parishad case is being investigated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Alliance partners, especially the NCP have been extremely vocal about the turn the case took after the NIA took over. From arrests of cultural activists of the Kabir Kala Manch, to the vilification of activists and lawyers like Surendra Gadling, Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde, even octogenarians like poet Varavara Rao and Fr. Stan Swamy, by allegations of Maoist links, it has become clear that the case is being used to exact political vendetta against dissenters by finding new excuses to keep them in captivity.

Sushant Singh Rajput case saw a tussle over jurisdiction with Bihar police, following which the Supreme Court cleared the path for the CBI to take over. But even after all the drama that unfolded with both, the Narcotics Bureau and the Enforcement Directorate being drawn in, and the public shaming of a young woman amidst a media circus, that case too appears to be falling apart.

But herein lies the difference. While the NIA has jurisdiction across the country and does not require consent from the states to conduct or take over investigations. However, in case of the CBI, which comes under the provisions of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act. Therefore, it needs consent from the state having jurisdiction over the crime scene. A general consent was given to the CBI by the state of Maharashtra in 1989.

But yesterday, Uddhav Thackeray withdrew this consent via a gazette notification that said, “In exercise of the powers conferred by Section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, the Government of Maharashtra hereby withdraws the consent accorded to the members of the Delhi Special Police Establishment…to exercise powers and jurisdiction under the said Act.”

What this means is, that now every time the CBI wants to investigate a case in Maharashtra, it would need permission from the state government. ‘Law and Order’ is a state subject and Uddhav Thackeray appears to be taking that power back, so that his state at least cannot be drawn into a vile vortex of political vendetta and power-play.

It is no secret that despite having allied with the BJP to form a government in the state in the past, the bond driven primarily by ideological reasons, Thackeray’s Shiv Sena now appears to be at odds with the party. Perhaps his decision is driven by the desire to be seen as a leader worthy of running a state increasingly wants to shut the door on its communal past and wants to stride confidently towards an inclusive culture that respects plurality and values secular and democratic principles. A recent taunt by Governor BS Koshyari asking Uddav Thackeray, “Have you become secular”, in wake of the Chief Minister’s decision not to permit places of worship to re-open amidst the Covid-19 pandemic is an example of this.

Though Thackeray’s decision will not affect the cases that are already under investigation, it will impact those that are yet to be taken up by the CBI. The most immediate impact of Thackeray’s decision will be on the TRP scam. On October 8, Mumbai Police Commissioner Parambir Singh had revealed that three channels; Republic TV, Fakt Mumbai and Box Cinema were allegedly involved in a TRP manipulation scam.

Singh said that Mumbai Police had discovered that a set of households where these meters were installed were paid money to tune to a particular channel. The households were allegedly paid about Rs 400-500 every month.

The scam involves manipulation of TRPs by influencing households where ‘peoplemeters’ have been installed by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). At present such meters are installed in over 44,000 homes across India, but their details are never revealed in order to prevent manipulation. But it appears that a few former employees of Hansa, a company hired by BARC to install these ‘peoplemeters’ were the ones who leaked this information and made the scam possible. Police investigations were initiated after Hansa found out about it and filed a police complaint.

After a key member of the ring involved in the scam was arrested from Uttar Pradesh, the CBI took over investigations in that state. However, in Maharashtra the case remains with the Mumbai Police. And while Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami has left no stone unturned in projecting himself as a victim, he has found little reprieve. Even when he approached the Supreme Court, the court refused to entertain his plea and asked him to approach the Bombay High Court. In fact, the Mumbai Police reportedly told the SC that Republic TV was turning the TRP scam into a “media spectacle”.

According to Bar and Bench, the police affidavit states that Republic TV had been conducting debates regarding the TRP scam and has been “contacting witnesses” who are being summoned by the police to investigate the case and that “petitioners are directly interfering and intimidating the witnesses by issuing news releases,” adding, “Such a media trial is antithetic to the process of free and fair investigation as also administration of justice.”

Goswami’s Republic TV and its Hindi sister-channel Republic Bharat have been perceived as always marching to the regime’s tune, quickly labelling dissenters as ‘anti-national’ and often engaging in a willful campaign to vilify such people. Their reportage on the nationwide anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protests, especially the one by women at Shaheen Bagh, the vilification of Umar Khalid and Safoora Zargar, and their reportage on the Tablighi Jamaat case and the killing of two ascetics in Palghar, are but a few examples of this.

Perhaps Uddhav Thackeray fears that if CBI takes over the TRP scam case, Goswami might get some wiggle room on account of his perceived political allegiance and eventually escape justice. Either way, now the CBI needs to politely knock on his door instead of just barging in whenever it wants.


Republic TV, two others accused of TRP fraud

Republic TV making TRP scam a “media spectacle”: Mumbai Police to SC

Delhi High Court tells Arnab Goswami to calm down and stop his media trials

Bombay HC stays FIRs against Arnab Goswami



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