DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The "poodle" that the CBI is

The Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) is again in the news and, as usual, for the wrong reason. After soft-pedalling for years, it has decided to revive the case of accumulation of disproportionate assets against Ms. Mayawati, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. No wonder, she has charged the CBI of doing so at the behest of the ruling combine at the Centre as she has withdrawn her party’s support to it. None is impressed by the protestations of its Director that his organisation functions independently – without being influenced by its political bosses. After all, this has been the general paradigm in which CBI has been functioning for the last so many decades.


It may claim to have found the culprit in the NOIDA double-murder case but its track record of booking corrupt in high places has been dismal. Its history is replete with instances where it knowingly let corrupt politicians slip out of the clutches of the law.


From the times of Indira Gandhi it has been (mis)used for political purposes. It was used by her and Sanjay Gandhi during the Emergency as their instrument for harassing all those who wouldn’t fall in line and be party to their gross and vicious acts. The then Director CBI did regular duty at the PM’s House (PMH) and played the role of their hatchet-man only too willingly. Bishen Tandon, the then Joint Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, has given graphic descriptions of the goings-on in the PM’s Office and PMH in his PMO Diaries.


Things haven’t changed over the years. How Ottavio Quattrochi, an Italian ‘soldier of fortune’, a fixer and a friend of the Gandhi family, was repeatedly let off the hook despite his pocketing a hefty commission for fixing the purchase of the Swedish Bofors guns is recent history. Not only was he allowed to walk out free after being arrested in Argentina, his ill-gotten millions, sealed in a UK Bank at CBI’s behest, were curiously allowed to be released.


A former Joint Director, BR Lall, in his recent book “Who owns the CBI”, has exposed the perversity of at least two Directors of his times. K Vijay Rama Rao, an Andhra Cadre IPS officer, would in no case allow Lall to investigate at the PMH even though evidence collected by him in Jain Hawala case led straight to Late Narsimha Rao, the then Prime Minister. In order to scuttle the case, charge sheets against several alleged recipients of hawala money were deliberately filed without any supporting evidence so that the court could throw the case out. The court did just that.


Rao’s immediate successor, tried his best to scupper the investigations in the famous fodder scam of Bihar involving Lalu Prasad Yadav and his cronies. He tried all the tricks, including transfer from Patna of his own investigating Joint Director. His highhandedness and brazen bias provoked the court to isolate him from the investigation of the scam – an unprecedented action by the Supreme Court against the chief of the prime investigating agency of the country. Soon after assuming, charge he broke the security barrier to take a lift form Narasimha Rao, the former PM, as he was leaving a wedding reception. Queried by the media, he brazenly told them he travelled with him only to seek his “blessings and guidance”. He also brought back with fanfare from Switzerland what he claimed were documents which would provide clinching evidence against another former PM in the Bofors case. All those, however, proved to be duds in the court, being only unauthenticated photocopies.


In the current scenario CBI-watchers are sanguine that a case similar to that of Mayawati pending against Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son will get placed in the cold storage. After all, his party’s support may prove invaluable at the time of the confidence-vote. CBI, as is well known, is nothing but a “poodle” of the party in power.


The Transparency International, in its annual assessments, has been rating India as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Politicians, including the current PM, have only paid lip-service to the fight against corruption. Elaborate systems have been put in place at enormous public expense to arm the state for the fight. But, hardly any politician or bureaucrat occupying high office has ever been brought to book.


It is generally believed that politicians are self-serving and corrupt. Indeed, they mostly are. But they cleverly have their nefarious plans implemented by officials who, being no less self-serving and corrupt, willingly collaborate with them. So, politicians and bureaucrats – big and petty – have together made the country what it is today – corrupt to the core. In this process, however, the CBI, headed by members of the Indian Police Service, supposedly the guardians of our law, has made no mean contribution.

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