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Thursday, Sep 29, 2022

Former top cop Julio Ribeiro writes: CBI and ED have become political tools for the Centre

With the 'Indian Express' investigation, it seems clear that the NDA government has been busy arresting and prosecuting opposition leaders much more doggedly than the UPA did.

With The Indian Express investigation, it seems clear that the NDA government has been busy arresting and prosecuting opposition leaders much more doggedly than the UPA did.

The Indian Express has done a commendable job in documenting the four-fold jump in cases registered by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) against politicians, 95 per cent of whom belonged to the parties in opposition to the BJP. A couple of years ago, a middle-ranking Shiv Sena legislator in Mumbai appealed to the party’s then boss Uddhav Thackeray to free Shiv Sainiks of the fear of being collared by the CBI or ED. He recommended a shift to the party in power at the Centre so that the Sainiks could sleep soundly at night.

Uddhav seemed to have ignored the man’s exhortations and soon he was out on his ears. It is widely believed in Maharashtra that it was the fear of the CBI and ED cases being lodged against them that led to the mass migration of Shiv Sena MLAs to the BJP. In Goa, some voices ascribe an identical reason for eight Congress legislators crossing to the proponents of a Hindu Rashtra.

AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal thinks it is the money the BJP is splurging that is behind this. He talks of Rs 20 or 30 crore to “buy” one MLA. He quotes a figure of 250 legislators across states, who have crossed over to the BJP since it came to power in 2014. Both — the number of defectors and the amount they were paid to defect — seem highly exaggerated. Or, perhaps, I am out of my depth in such matters.

Kejriwal was addressing an audience of youth aged 15 to 25 in his happy hunting ground of Delhi. The audience lapped up every word that emerged from his mouth. When he was asked how he thinks he will get 130-crore Indians to follow him, the Delhi CM deftly dodged the question and diverted the attention of the audience to the systematic inducements offered to legislators across several states where voters had not favoured the saffron party at the hustings

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Actually, the hounding of opposition legislators, most of them with various skeletons in their cupboard and some — very few, actually — with none, is a common feature of politics today. Those who cross over are freed of their sins. All the sinners will soon adorn the treasury benches in a polity which has almost become “Opposition Mukt”.

Such “crossings” were first recorded some decades ago in Haryana with the “Aaya Ram and Gaya Ram” phenomenon. But the ruling forces now seem to have developed this into a fine art. The reason for deploying the CBI and ED against the AAP seems to be to emasculate the rising party that has won decisively in Delhi and Punjab and now hopes to replace the Congress in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh as the principal opposition party.

With The Indian Express investigation, it seems clear that the NDA government has been busy arresting and prosecuting opposition leaders much more doggedly than the UPA did. Whereas 60 per cent of the cases against politicians in the UPA times was against Opposition leaders, this figure rose to 95 per cent since 2014. The TMC and Congress were the main targets of CBI.’s attention. Similarly, the ED also picked on the Opposition. During the UPA regime, 29 of the 72 politicians charged by the CBI belonged to the party in power, the Congress or its allies. In the Modi-Shah regime, the corresponding figures are six out of 124. In fact, the present regime has been brazen enough to quietly leave the present Assam chief minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, out of the CBI net in which he was entangled when he was in the Congress. Similarly, in Bengal, TMC leader Suvendu Adhikari was exempted from his role in the Narada Sting operation when he joined the BJP, prompting the Calcutta High Court to comment on the miracle. The ED under the UPA arraigned 26 politicians, 14 of whom belonged to the Opposition and as many as 12, almost an equal number, to the Congress and its allies. Now, the ED has investigated 121 politicians of whom only six belong to the BJP or its allies.

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The preponderance of Opposition leaders among the accused in corruption or money laundering cases can possibly be explained by the fact that the party in power always has the advantage of easy access to corporates or others who rely on the government for decisions favourable to their functioning. Those in Opposition have to take greater risks to generate funds required for their very existence to which invariably, many add their private pickings.

The targeting on Manish Sisodia, the No 2 in the AAP, is intriguing. No evidence has been leaked to convince the public about Sisodia’s alleged guilt in what has been called the Delhi Excise Policy scam. When the accused pleaded that he should be arrested and charged the CBI (and recently the ED, acting in concert), organised extensive raids all over India, the details and the results of which are carefully hidden, probably to perpetuate the myth that the man is guilty as charged in the press and not in a court of law.

That brings us to another innovative tactic introduced by the regime. People are charged, arrested and kept in custody under stringent laws that deny bail even to those who may turn out innocent.

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The very process of the law’s procedures becomes a punishment that has not been inflicted by a legitimate court. Many accused languish in jail even without any charge being framed against them and, sometimes, even a chargesheet put up by investigating agencies. Sixteen (fifteen, as one died) accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case under the UAPA have cooled their heels for four years in jail and yet no chargesheet has been prepared by the NIA against the unfortunate men and women.

This happens only in “banana republics”. But we are an ancient civilisation. So, we have made laws to perpetuate wrongs that “banana republics” do not care to do. A vital difference, if ever there was one.

The writer, a retired IPS officer, was Mumbai police commissioner, DGP Gujarat and DGP Punjab, and is a former Indian ambassador to Romania

First published on: 23-09-2022 at 08:57:16 am
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