Has 'Caged Parrot' CBI Turned Into The Government's Bulldog As Well?

15/12/2015 1:18 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
A supporter of Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man's Party, waves an Indian flag next to a cut-out of party leader Arvind Kejriwal during his swearing-in ceremony as chief minister of Delhi in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015. The AAP, headed by the former tax official who had remade himself into a champion for clean government, won 67 of the 70 seats in recent elections. Kejriwal and the party he created routed the country's best-funded and best-organized political machine and dealt an embarrassing blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

It’s not clear what Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wanted the Prime Minister to do. Did he expect Narendra Modi to come down and do a spot of hand-to-hand combat with him? Kejriwal lashed out at Modi on social media calling him a “coward” and a “psychopath”. The BJP has reacted by calling his language “highly abominable”.

As usual the story has become about Modi and the language appropriate for the office of the Prime Minister. But lost in this war of words is the real story.

Kejriwal claimed the CBI raided his office to threaten and intimidate him. The CBI claimed the raids were conducted not on Kejriwal but his senior bureaucrat Rajender Kumar for allegedly favouring a firm in getting state tenders. Kejriwal rubbished that and tweeted that his department files were being looked into, using Kumar as an excuse.

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This is a sorry spectacle on all counts no matter which way you look at it.

It is true that the Congress-led government presided over the caging of the CBI, that the public assumed the CBI was a way to teach recalcitrant opposition parties, especially those ruling other states, a lesson. A CBI probe in a disproportionate assets case has long been seen as the way to keep Mulayam Singh Yadav in line. His fear of the CBI is what is supposed to have prompted his 2008 betrayal of the Left during the India-US nuclear deal. The BJP claims that the bad old days are over, the CBI is now empowered and independent.

But just saying something does not make it true. Popular perception of the CBI as the strong arm of the government in power has not changed at all. In Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s government just hastily dumped the Trinamool general secretary Shankudeb Panda after the CBI called him in for a deposition about the Saradha scam. When Amit Shah was going hammer and tongs at the Trinamool government in early 2015, many of those attending his rally in Kolkata were confident that now that the BJP was in the saddle in Delhi, it was only a matter of time before the CBI came knocking on Mamata’s door. First Mukul, then Madan, then Mamata was the slogan du jour referring to her now fallen lieutenants Mukul Roy and Madan Mitra.

And not that long ago Himachal Pradesh’s Congress chief minister Virbhadra Singh found his homes in Shimla and Delhi raided by a 30-member team on the day of his daughter’s wedding. The timing might have been an unfortunate coincidence but it certainly allowed the Congress to go to town claiming “political vendetta”. At that time Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress said “Is this democracy or dictatorship? Has Emergency been declared?”

Leaving aside the irony of a Congress leader demanding to know whether Emergency has been declared, that’s almost exactly the same language AAP leaders are spouting after the CBI raid now. “It’s clear that, after failing to politically deal with us, now Mr. Modi has declared Emergency,” said AAP leader Deepak Bajpai.

This is not to say Trinamool leaders might not have much to answer for in regard to the Saradha scam or that Virbhadra Singh does not have disproportionate assets. But it is hard from the outside to believe that the CBI has indeed become independent and grown its own spine as long as it does not pursue corruption within the NDA with equal vigour. Vyapam is an exception but the Vyapam scam took a long time to wind up in the CBI’s lap and it only happened after enormous outcry made it a political hot potato and the Supreme Court asked the CBI to take it on. Then the former technical education minister Laxmikant Sharma’s premises were searched.

This somewhat one-sided zeal of the CBI, which has typically favoured whatever government is in power means that the government’s pious assertion about its independence has to be taken with a liberal pinch of salt. It also provided a good excuse for the Opposition to rally together and offer moral support to each other because they know they can all be at the receiving end of the CBI’s basilisk gaze sooner or later. Thus it should not escape anyone that it was Trinamool’s Derek O’Brien who demanded that the government make its stand clear on the floor of the house about the AAP raid.

Kejriwal unfortunately is trying to govern via Twitter and has turned the debate into one about parliamentary language and etiquette instead of one about the CBI and use and misuse of its powers.

Calling Narendra Modi a “coward” and “psychopath” merely causes a firestorm where the smoke obscures the real issue. It’s a rather peevish tantrum that does nothing to advance the debate. If indeed a PM uses the CBI to settle political scores, there’s nothing particularly cowardly or psychopathic about it. He’s merely following in the footsteps of plenty of his predecessors. And Kejriwal flailing on Twitter comes across as a chief minister who cares little about the dignity of his own office and still thinks he is a street-fighting rabble rouser as opposed to the elected chief minister of Delhi.

And all his fulminations distract from the real question which is more important than hurling insults at the prime minister.

The Supreme Court once memorably called the CBI the government’s “caged parrot”? But has it turned into the government’s bulldog as well?

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