From the “Congress Bureau of Investigation” and a “caged parrot” to a part of the BJP’s “jamai” (son-in-law) trinity (the other two being Income Tax and Enforcement Directorate) — the Central Bureau of Investigation, the country’s premier anti-corruption agency, has acquired many an epithet for its reputation of acting at the behest of who pulls its political strings at the Centre.
No wonder then that in the past 18 years, spanning the governments of rivals Congress and BJP, of the close to 200 key politicians the CBI has booked, arrested, raided or questioned, over 80 per cent have been from the ranks of the Opposition. A trend that’s got sharply more pronounced since the NDA took charge in 2014 — reveals an investigation by The Indian Express of court records, official documents, agency statements and reports.
Under the Congress-led UPA’s 10 years at the helm (2004-2014), at least 72 political leaders came under the CBI scanner and 43 of them (60 per cent) were from the Opposition. Under the BJP-led NDA-II’s eight years in power so far, even as the Opposition’s political footprint has shrunk, at least 124 prominent leaders have faced CBI probes and as many as 118 of them are from the Opposition — that’s 95 per cent.
And just as in the UPA, when a leader switches sides, the CBI case against him is relegated to the backburner.
The entire list of 72 from the UPA and 124 leaders from the NDA in the CBI net has been compiled and published on indianexpress.com. Leaders have been listed under the political parties to which they belonged, along with the posts they held, when the CBI initiated action against them.
The CBI didn’t respond to a question from The Indian Express on this trend but an agency official called it “merely a coincidence” and denied that Opposition leaders were targeted.
However, the key patterns in the list are telling:
* With a number of scams clouding the UPA rule, from the 2-G spectrum case to the Commonwealth Games and coal block allotment cases, of the 72 key leaders the CBI probed from 2004 to 2014, 29 were either from the Congress or its allies such as DMK.
* Under the NDA-II, the tilt is overwhelmingly against non-NDA parties with just six leaders of note from the BJP facing a CBI probe.
* Of the 43 Opposition leaders under probe by the CBI during the UPA, the BJP had the largest share with 12 of its leaders being questioned, raided or arrested. They included Union Home Minister Amit Shah, then a Gujarat minister, who was arrested by the agency in connection with the alleged encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh. Other key NDA leaders under probe included former Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa; Bellary mining baron Gali Janardhan Reddy and former Defence Minister George Fernandes. The CBI continued its probe against Pramod Mahajan even after his death, when it named him in a chargesheet related to the 2G spectrum allocation probe in 2012.
* Under the NDA-II beginning 2014, CBI probes against political leaders gained momentum. Of the 118 key Opposition politicians under probe, top of the list is TMC (30) and Congress (26). Besides, the CBI probed close relatives of key Congress politicians such as party president Sonia Gandhi, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath and former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
* For the TMC, the Saradha chit fund case and the Narada sting operation case have made it the largest party in terms of key political leaders under the CBI scanner. Over the past two months, TMC Minister Partha Chatterjee was arrested for his alleged involvement in the “school jobs for cash” case. And party leader Anubrata Mondal was held for his alleged role in a cross-border cattle-smuggling racket.
* After these two parties, the highest number of non-NDA politicians under probe were from the RJD and BJD, 10 each. Incidentally, these two Opposition parties are in power in Bihar and Odisha, respectively.
* The Opposition’s partywise break-up of prominent leaders is: TMC (30), Congress (26), RJD (10), BJD (10), YSRCP (6), BSP (5), TDP (5), AAP (4), SP (4), AIADMK (4), CPM (4), NCP (3), NC (2), DMK (2), PDP (1), TRS (1), Independent (1).
Beyond these numbers, the timing of the CBI’s raids under the UPA and the NDA-II have been repeatedly raised by Opposition leaders, both inside Parliament and in protests outside.
In 2013, two days after DMK walked out of the UPA, the CBI raided party leader and current Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin’s house in Chennai in a case related to the import of luxury cars. According to officials at the time, the Department of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) had provided information about the case involving 33 cars to CBI a month before the raid — but the agency registered a case only after the DMK broke its alliance with the Congress.
Similarly, last month, the CBI raided multiple premises associated with RJD leaders, including one allegedly linked to Bihar’s current Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav, on the day the new JD(U)-RJD government was facing a trust vote in the Assembly. Days earlier, the JD(U) had snapped ties with the NDA.
Then again, during the UPA regime, the ruling coalition was accused of “misusing” the CBI to bully potential allies. In 2007, a Preliminary Enquiry (PE) was raised against SP leader and former UP Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and his family in a case of alleged disproportionate assets. A year later, the SP helped the coalition survive after the Left pulled out over the US nuclear deal. The disproportionate assets case was closed in 2013.
Similarly, the CBI began an investigation into alleged corruption cases against Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s government in Andhra Pradesh after his son Y S Jagan Reddy rebelled against the Congress following his father’s death in 2009.
Under NDA-II, the CBI’s action against the AAP, which came to power in Delhi in 2015, has drawn criticism. In 2015, the agency raided the offices of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s principal secretary Rajendar Kumar in a case of corruption.
Ahead of the Punjab polls in 2017, the agency initiated multiple probes against AAP leaders, including Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and Health Minister Satyendar Jain. Last month, with the Gujarat elections around the corner, the CBI booked Sisodia and raided his residence in connection with a case of alleged corruption related to Delhi’s liquor policy.
Under NDA-II, the agency has also been accused of going soft on past cases against senior leaders of the ruling dispensation. The CBI did not file an appeal against the discharge of Amit Shah by a special court in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case. While the agency raided premises associated with then Congress leader from Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, in the Saradha chit fund scam and questioned him, there was no action against Sarma after he joined the BJP. Sarma is now Assam Chief Minister and a key leader for BJP in the North East.
In May 2021, the CBI filed a chargesheet in the Narada sting operation case but did not name West Bengal leaders Suvendu Adhikari and Mukul Roy as accused along with TMC leaders. Moreover, Roy’s name did not figure on the list sent by the agency to the Lok Sabha Speaker seeking sanction for prosecution in the case. By then, Roy and Adhikari had joined the BJP and were key players in managing the state polls for the party that year. Roy later returned to TMC.
Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inbox
The CBI official, who spoke to The Indian Express, denied that the agency is “targeting Opposition leaders specifically”.
“A large number of our cases have been ordered by the courts. Be it the case against NCP’s Anil Deshmukh, the Saradha and Narada cases, or TMC leaders such as Partha Chatterjee or the West Bengal poll violence case, all have court orders behind them. A large number of cases have been recommended by state governments where politicians of the previous dispensation are under probe. As an agency, it is our duty to follow court orders and legitimate recommendations made by the state government or the Centre. The disproportionate share of Opposition leaders under any regime is merely a coincidence,” the official said.