Updated: December 16, 2015 12:41:01 am
It’s an extraordinary bout this time, between the AAP and the BJP-led Centre. Extraordinarily uncivil, for one. When the CBI raided the office of the principal secretary to the Delhi chief minister, Rajender Kumar, accusing him of favouring a firm in getting state tenders, Arvind Kejriwal reacted instantly and intemperately. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a “coward” and a “psychopath”, said the Delhi CM. Kejriwal’s rhetoric of excess — not exactly surprising given the AAP’s patented politics of victimhood, but remarkable still — seemed to set the tone for what followed.
Ministers of the Modi government and the CBI insisted the raid was not on the CM’s office, while the AAP and Kejriwal himself insisted he was the target — Kejriwal also suggested the CBI could have been looking for a DDCA file that names Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Both sides accused each other of lying. This AAP vs BJP bout is also extraordinarily diversionary. As both ruling parties lunge at each other again, it is easy to lose sight of the longer-term issues — the breakdown, not just of trust, but even of bare dialogue, between the prime minister and a chief minister of the country, and the starkly dwindled CBI credibility.
Ever since the AAP trounced the BJP in the battle for Delhi 10 months ago, relations between the two parties have only slid. There have been skirmishes over control of Delhi Police and appointments to the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
Delhi Police has shown visible over-enthusiasm in acting against AAP’s ministers and MLAs and, more than once, the lieutenant-governor has overstepped his mandate and powers in ways that made him seem like the Centre’s not-so-secret weapon against Delhi’s elected government. Of course, Kejriwal’s AAP has not been blameless. It has contributed to the steady worsening of relations with the Centre by rushing to condemn and accuse and dramatise even when things could be worked out through tact and some patience. The CBI raid now only makes the differences between the two parties look irreconcilable and, in a federal polity, that is a sobering sight. Tuesday’s raid and the rhetoric that has followed it point to yet another disquieting image. That a raid by the country’s premier investigation agency can spark such heat also speaks of the all-round lack of trust in its claims to act independently. The CBI has a long record of showing one-sided zeal — it pursues cases against those who are in the opposition while going soft and slow on those that involve the Centre’s ruling party. While in Opposition, the BJP accused it of being the “Congress Bureau of Investigation” and the Supreme Court called it a “caged parrot” during the UPA regime — there is no evidence to suggest the agency has grown a spine since.
Long after the clamour over the Rajender Kumar case has died down, both the AAP and the BJP, as stakeholders in the system, must confront these two questions: Can Delhi and the Centre afford not to be on talking terms? And what can be done to ensure that the CBI acts independently, and is also seen to do so? Much will depend on the answers.
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