Puppet on a string

Published: 26th March 2013 07:34 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st January 2014 04:03 PM   |  A+A-

Finance minister P. Chidambaram’s reprimand of the CBI for conducting raids on DMK treasurer and Karunanidhi son Stalin’s residence and prime minister Manmohan Singh’s description of the raid as “unfortunate” because of its timing since it was conducted within hours of the DMK leaving the UPA, and the almost immediate calling off of the raids following these two statements have confirmed claims that the Congress is using CBI as its handmaiden.

It is typical of the establishment to use the CBI to hound its opponents, to arm-twist and send out veiled messages to them and to ensure soft-pedalling of action against its allies but there could have been no better sign of it than the calling off of the raids abruptly due to the ‘displeasure’ of Congress leaders.

Evidently, the CBI bosses had been holding their hand until the DMK fell out with the Centre over the Sri Lankan human rights issue. Confident that they could now go ahead, they raided the residences of Stalin and 17 other influential people on the charge that they possessed imported vehicles on which import duty had been evaded by faking papers.

Stalin’s movie producer-actor son Udayanidhi was allegedly using one such “improperly” imported SUV, the Hummer. As many as 17 imported cars were seized, of the suspected 33 foreign luxury cars that were brought into Tamil Nadu by faking papers which caused a loss of up to `48 crore to the state exchequer.

A senior CBI official said that an informant some time back had alerted the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence about Kerala-based operator Alex C. Joseph’s racket. The operator used to import luxury vehicles by faking documents and altering the chassis numbers to show them as qualified for import duty exemption allowed to Indians returning home with their personal belongings permitted for such exemption under “transfer of residence” scheme.

The DRI had assigned the probe to one of its senior officers called Muruganandam. However, this officer fined only one vehicle while letting free the other 32. Now the CBI has registered cases against Muruganandam, Joseph and some more DRI officers and private individuals.

Myopic opposition leaders thought this as an opportunity to put the government on the mat for ordering the CBI raids out of political vendetta, little realising that the way the raids were stopped midway through at the behest of the prime minister and finance minister reeked of a bigger and more brazen impropriety.

Do the Congress leaders feel that just because relations between the Centre and the DMK are in choppy waters the CBI must hold action against the Dravidian party because such action could be misconstrued? Has not the reprimand of the CBI by top government leaders and the stopping of raids not let the cat out of the bag that it is expected of the CBI to keep the political interests of the current establishment in mind.

Significantly, neither the prime minister nor the finance minister thought it fit to go into the merits of the case that had led to the raids. Their obsession was with the timing, because it had embarrassed the Congress-led government before an ally who had turned sour but could be cajoled or arm-twisted into returning to their fold in time of need. If the exchequer was losing a whopping `48 crore through tax evasion, it was no concern of the government as long as its self-preservation was not in jeopardy. This is what it amounted to.

While the spotlight has shifted to Tamil Nadu because of the luxury cars import case, not far away in Andhra Pradesh, a political leader of considerable mass following is languishing in jail for nearly an year because the CBI has booked him in a disproportionate assets case. Jaganmohan Reddy is adamantly fighting the Congress but it is anybody’s guess how the cases against him would be pursued if he decides to make peace with the ruling party at the Centre and the state closer to the general elections. It is the growing public revulsion against Central high-handedness and the non-performance of its state government that have jeopardised support for the Congress in a state which has been its citadel for long.

It is no secret that both Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and BSP’s Mayawati have disproportionate assets cases against them which are hanging like Damocles’ swords over their heads with the veiled threat they would be activated if they start growling at the Congress at the Centre.

The clean chit given by the CBI to Jagdish Tytler in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots falls in the category of Congress largesse for services rendered.The cases against Lalu Prasad Yadav being in a state of dormancy also have a lot to do with the privileges enjoyed by supporters of the Congress party.  Naïve as he is, even Rahul Gandhi had blurted out that political parties tended to misuse CBI. “Every party in power can pressure institutions. Every government tries to push its people into such agencies. It is a fact, it is a reality of Indian politics,” he said in May 2009. The acknowledgement came at a time when the party was being criticised over CBI’s clean chit to the Italian middleman Ottavio Quattrocchi in the Bofors case.

Former CBI director Joginder Singh spelt out the agency’s built-in limitations in a recent interaction with Rediff readers. He said: “The structure of CBI is that of a government department and it has to follow the direction and roadmap given by the government. For instance it cannot start even an inquiry without the permission of the government for the officer of the rank of joint secretary and above leave alone registering a case. After registering the case and before going to the court of law it again needs the sanction of the government. Hundreds of cases are pending with the government against the criminal and corrupt public servants. It is not the question of alignment with the government of the day. CBI cannot decide its own road map and decide what to do the way it has been structured.”

In another interview Joginder Singh said while he favoured the demand to give constitutional status to the CBI he knew that nobody would give it this because it doesn’t suit the politicians to do so. And so the juggernaut goes on with each successive government using the CBI to browbeat those who are against the establishment and help those who are on the right side of it.

Kamlendra Kanwar is a veteran journalist and author.

E-mail: k.kamlendra@gmail.com

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