In the last few years of the corruption-tainted United Progressive Alliance government, it was not uncommon to hear complaints from Bharatiya Janata Party leaders about the ruling Congress’ willingness to use the Central Bureau of Investigation as a political tool. Congress Bureau of Investigation they called it. This impression was given additional ballast during Supreme Court hearings, in which Justice RM Lodha referred to the CBI as a “caged parrot”, forced to speak in its master’s voice.
Ironically, the same allegations are being leveled at the BJP government today. Just as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee raises the anti-demonetisation pitch, the agency has moved in to arrest her ministers in the alleged Rose Valley chit fund scam in which thousands are said to have been cheated. As Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s battle with the Centre got louder, it was the CBI that shut down his office building and raided the Delhi Secretariat.
As former CBI director Joginder Singh told the Hindustan Times after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, “All governments work towards keeping CBI and other investigative agencies under their control.”
In the Rose Valley scam, as in numerous cases against political leaders during the UPA regime, it was not the legitimacy of the investigations themselves that came into question. Many of those seemed like genuine matters that needed looking into. Instead it was the timing of CBI actions, with not much movement on files for months until it became politically expedient for the investigation to move forward.
Under BJP rule, another trend seems to have emerged. The role of the CBI, already under much pressure because of a lack of officers and far too many cases, has expanded to cover any investigation that the Centre deems important – like the matter of cheating PayTM customers. Why else would former Delhi Lt Governor Najeev Jung have to transfer several cases from Delhi Police to the CBI before his departure?
The agency, political tool as it may be, remains one of the more reliable investigating bodies in India and, as a result, it is important that its independence and image be protected. After all its complaints about the “Congress Bureau of Investigation”, the BJP has done little to address this question or that other worrisome matter of whether the agency even has legal sanction to exist.
Responsible governments don’t just govern responsibly, they also create the structures to build integrity into the system. If the BJP truly meant its criticism about the pliability of the CBI and the recognises the need for an independent agency, it needs to do much more to ensure the body does not continue to sing the tune of whoever is in power in Delhi.