Black Friday deal: Get extra months

Journalism of Courage
Advertisement

CBI Raids on Manish Sisodia: Central agencies aren’t fighting corruption. They are intimidating opposition, stifling dissent

Agencies conduct raids first and then try to make out a case. For their own credibility, they must stop being caged parrots

A CBI official during a raid at the residence of Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia in connection with alleged irregularities in Delhi Excise Policy, in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)

Written by M B Rajesh

A vibrant political opposition is the heart and soul of any functional democracy. In fact, a vigilant opposition serves democracy by keeping the government accountable to the electorate. Attempts to silence opposition through coercion or intimidation will render democracy utterly meaningless. Indian democracy, despite its weaknesses and limitations, always had a space for political opposition as well as dissenting views since Independence, except for the two years during the Emergency. The space for and strength of the opposition helped the country to get rid of the Emergency.

Since 2014, though, a narrative of “New India” has been unfolding. What is the hallmark of New India? How is it fundamentally different from the pre-2014 era?

The critics of this narrative believe that ‘New India’ is nothing but a transitory phase on the road to a fascistic, theocratic state. This phase is seen as authoritarian, the immediate aim of which is to make the country “opposition-free”. The party in power has been repeatedly raising the slogan of an “Opposition-mukt Bharat”. Along with the slogan, many moves directed against the opposition have raised genuine concerns. The apprehension is that all the instruments of the state are being mobilised and deployed to pursue the goal of “Opposition-mukt Bharat”. A series of events gives strength to the argument that central investigating agencies are used as the most powerful weapon in the armoury of the government to rid the country of not merely political opposition but any form of dissent.

Subscriber Only Stories
Premium
Premium
Premium
Premium

Every other day, central agencies are at the door of some opposition leader or other. The most recent one to be visited is the Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia. Why are these searches and raids by agencies seen as politically motivated? First, there has been a surge in the number of raids conducted and cases registered by these agencies in the past eight years. According to a reply to a question in Parliament, the Enforcement Directorate has carried out 3,010 search operations between 2014 and 2022. Between 2004 and 2014, it carried out only 113 raids: Thus, in the last eight years, ED raids have seen a 27-fold increase compared to the 10 years under the previous government. Again, over the last eight years, the ED has registered 22,320 cases for the violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA); 72 per cent of FEMA and 65 per cent of PMLA cases have been registered since 2014.

Second, the conviction rate of the ED is abysmally low at 0.5 per cent. In the last eight years, out of 888 cases (which caused 3,010 raids), only 23 ended in conviction. In the last 10 years, 1,569 cases were registered against political leaders, in which only nine were convicted. This extremely low rate of conviction is put forth as a valid point by the opposition in support of their argument that FEMA and PMLA are political weapons to harass and torture opponents, rather than instruments to combat corruption.

Third, almost all senior opposition leaders, including CMs, ex-CMs, chiefs of political parties and ministers have either been interrogated or had their residence/offices raided. These raids and interrogations are done with much media hype. Sometimes, it seems that the entire exercise is meant to facilitate the scoring of political points by the ruling party.

Advertisement

Fourth, allegations by opposition parties that these agencies are being utilised as key instruments in engineering defections, taming dissenters, destabilising and toppling governments cannot be dismissed as unfounded. Almost half a dozen state governments were toppled in the recent past. Electoral mandates were sabotaged and new governments were installed against the will of the people of those states.

Controversies around the raids and intimidation by various central agencies erupt each time there is political instability in the states. Critics point out that some of the prominent leaders who were earlier under the ED radar when they were in an opposition party, are untouched after they switch loyalties. This is cited as a glaring example of the discriminatory treatment and political vendetta at the behest of those in power. It is for the government and its agencies to factually prove these allegations are false in order to uphold the credibility of the whole system. However, they are yet to offer any valid defence.

In India, investigating agencies are not required to get judicial approval to carry out raids or initiate proceedings against any individual. This gives immense power and freedom to those agencies to move against anyone and provides ample scope for political manipulation.

Advertisement

In countries like the US, federal law enforcement agencies are required to obtain search warrants from the court. Neither the justice departments nor the FBI has the authority to act unilaterally. A federal judge or magistrate must approve of the request by such agencies to conduct a search and they must also establish that the search is likely to find evidence of illegality. If the warrant is found lacking, the search is considered unlawful. The courts have also ruled that search warrants should describe the location and nature of the search with specificity to prevent any possible misuse. In contrast, we in India don’t have any such safeguards. The absence of such safeguards is a serious lacuna that paves the way for politically-motivated raids and searches.

Agencies conduct raids first and then try to make out a case – and they often fail to do so. A few days ago, former Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Issac was summoned by the agency and he had to move the High Court, which ordered that he need not appear.

Another grave allegation is that rather than finding evidence, raids have become occasions to plant evidence. In a controversial case, the accused alleged that spyware was used to plant evidence in their computers. In support of their claim, forensic examination reports by some laboratories in the US were also produced. When mobile phones and computers that contain private information are seized, a raid may cause the violation of an individual’s right to privacy. In Thomas Isaac’s case, the HC raised this question of privacy.

The recent verdict by the Supreme Court affirming the powers of ED has further emboldened the agency to carry out its activities. However, dissenting views have also been expressed by prominent jurists like Justice Nageswara Rao against granting wide powers to the ED.

The often quoted criticism that described the CBI as a caged parrot was made by Justice R M Lodha in 2013. Since then, things have only worsened. “Caging” investigating agencies has badly affected their credibility, reputation and professional competence. This will have far-reaching consequences for the real fight against corruption and democracy as a whole. All our investigating agencies need to be set free and not illegitimately unleashed against the opposition and dissenters.

Advertisement

The writer is Speaker of the Kerala Assembly and a former CPM MP

First published on: 20-08-2022 at 07:41:49 pm
Next Story

Your Daily Wrap: BJP calls Delhi CM ‘kingpin’ of ‘liquor scam’; J&K admin issues clarification amid voter number row; and more

Home
ePaper
Next Story
close
X