Updated: May 19, 2021 8:58:44 am
It is for good reason, perhaps, that the official motto of the Central Bureau of Investigation — “Industry, Impartiality and Integrity” — is little known. And the unflattering epithet awarded to it by the Supreme Court in 2013 — “caged parrot” — is so commonly cited that it has become a cliché. On May 17, India’s premier investigative agency appeared to live up to its reputation all over again. It arrested four Trinamool Congress leaders — recently sworn-in state ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, along with Madan Mitra and Sovan Chatterjee — in the five-year-old Narada sting operation case. The political timing and partisanship of the CBI action is unmistakable as it steers conspicuously clear of the accused who switched sides from TMC to join BJP.
The Narada matter should be investigated and the guilty brought to book. The Chief Minister’s dharna at the CBI premises does little to serve her cause. The arrested leaders have been purportedly caught on camera accepting or negotiating bribes in a sting operation. However, the sanction granted by Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar for the prosecution of the four leaders, within five days of the poll results, raises questions: Why has the CBI not applied for prosecution sanction against Mukul Roy, Accused No 1 in its FIR in the case, and among the first to switch over to BJP from TMC in 2017? Why is sanction to prosecute Suvendu Adhikari, who joined the BJP in December last year, still pending with the Lok Sabha Speaker’s office? Adhikari was a Lok Sabha MP in 2014 when the Narada sting operation was recorded; those arrested on Monday face the same allegations as Adhikari and Roy. Dhankhar has made a partisan spectacle of himself ever since he took charge, helped, certainly, by the TMC often riding roughshod over protocol and publicly snubbing Raj Bhavan. With 77 seats in the new Assembly, the BJP should be able to play the role of a vigilant Opposition. But given that its hopes were hyped to 200-plus, it’s been walking around wounded and sulking since May 2. The more it uses the Centre’s stick to beat the state government with, the weaker it looks.
The face-off in Kolkata also speaks of a larger and growing confrontation that the Centre needs to step back from. The manner in which investigative agencies are being used — and are being seen to be used — to settle scores by the Centre in the states does not augur well for a federal structure. The BJP needs to come to terms with the fact that while it remains the dominant force in New Delhi, there are strong regional political players that run governments in several states. It will have to find a way of engaging with them, and working with them. This pandemic has only reinforced that the Centre cannot afford to be at odds with the state simply because it is run by a different party, be it Shiv Sena-ruled Maharashtra, Left-ruled Kerala, DMK-ruled Tamil Nadu — or TMC-ruled West Bengal. And bullying doesn’t work when those being bullied start to stand up.
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