K.P.FABIAN | 8 FEBRUARY, 2019
India’s status as a democracy has taken a hit
The theatre of the absurd being played out on the national scene is enjoyable, perhaps, for an extraterrestrial. But, a citizen, realising the enormous damage being wilfully inflicted on the institutions that uphold democracy, cannot enjoy the theatre. The drama is painful all the more because it’s being directed by the elected political leaders who promise a renaissance for India.
On February 2, the CBI put out the story that Kolkata’s Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar was hiding crucial evidence on the Saradha-Rose Valley chit-fund scam under their investigation; as he might destroy evidence, it was necessary to arrest him.
The next day, the CBI sent a team of forty to the Commissioner’s residence, with eight of them trying to get in; asked by the security personnel guarding the residence for any warrant, the CBI men showed some papers. The guards promptly took them to the state police station ‘to verify the papers’ and released them later; state policemen surrounded the CBI office and the residence of its joint-director in the city for over an hour.
There was a distinct probability of shooting between the state police and the CRPF which is controlled by the Union.
The CBI intended to intimidate Rajeev Kumar, search or raid his residence for documents and, if possible, take him away. If the CBI ever believed that it could send a team of forty, search the house and even take away the Police Commissioner who commands a force of 30,000, then whosoever planned the operation in Delhi needs to be examined for sanity. There is no need to specify the name of the architect of this absurdity.
Anyone conversant with public administration would know that the CBI acted in violation of established norms.
If the Commissioner did not respond to the summons, as alleged, the CBI should have written to the West Bengal Chief Secretary. If that did not work, the Union Home Minister could write to the Chief Minister. And, finally approach the High Court in Kolkata, or even the Supreme Court, if the matter is urgent and important. In the present case, there was no urgency.
The SIT under Rajeev Kumar, which was appointed by the state government, had conducted an investigation that the Supreme Court appreciated; nevertheless, since the scam had spread to more than one state, it transferred the investigation to the CBI. In 2014, the CBI took over the case and got hold of the SIT papers. One fails to understand what the urgency now was.
As a matter of fact, the CBI sent summons five times to Rajeev Kumar who replied all the five times. He wanted to see the questions first and answer them before meeting in person, if necessary. This is a perfectly reasonable position, and the Commissioner cannot be legitimately accused of non-cooperation.
The bruised CBI wanted to go to court on the day of the incident though it was a Sunday, but couldn’t do so; it claimed that the paperwork couldn’t be completed because its office in Kolkata was under siege. After completing the paperwork, the CBI told the Court that Kumar had destroyed evidence and hence had to be taken into custody immediately. The Court asked for evidence; intriguingly, the CBI’s counsel, the Solicitor General, had none. The Court then directed that the evidence be produced the next day. The CBI, again, pathetically, failed to produce any.
This lack of diligence, to put it mildly, speaks volumes about the way the CBI, the Law Ministry, and the rest of the government are functioning.
For instance Union Minister Arun Jaitely and Minister of Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad have argued that the attempted raid in Kolkata was part of the action against corruption. That argument is unconvincing, to put it politely, as the CBI has stopped all action against two political leaders heavily involved in the scam after they joined the ruling party: Mukul Roy and Hemanta Biswas Sarma, currently Minister in Assam. Such a selective approach exposes the hollowness of Mr Modi’s claim that he is the first Prime Minister to take action against the corrupt.
This was reminiscent of the incident involving the sealed envelope containing a note handed over to the Supreme Court in the Rafale case with the same lack of diligence; that note used convoluted language such that the Supreme Court concluded that the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee had seen the CAG’s report. However, anyone who was following the matter knew that the report was not even completed.
We shall not comment further on such implicit faith in the Executive, except to say that it squarely contradicts the doctrine of separation of powers, an essential element of a healthy democracy.
The Supreme Court, in its sagacious verdict, directed the Kolkata Police Commissioner to appear before the CBI and ordered the two to meet in Shillong, with the express stipulation that the Commissioner should not be arrested. In this context, the curious reader might like to see the text of CrPC sections 41 and 165 as the CBI has falsely claimed that it had the authority under these sections to search the residence of Kumar and arrest him without a warrant.
Let us look at the fallout as of now of this unfolding, unscripted drama:
1) Mamata Banerjee, the politician sans pareil, has won the first round handsomely. The entire opposition and even some BJP allies (Odisha Chief Minister Patnaik, AIDMK, Shiv Sena and so on) have lent her support. Her dharna was a political masterstroke.
2) There is so much egg on the face of the ruling party, it is enough to make at least 100 omelettes. This has in no way improved BJP’s poll prospects. Is it an instance of what they say in Sanskrit: Vinasa kale vipareetha budhi? – Meaning, when faced with disaster, our minds often become aberrant.
3) The CBI will have to work hard to regain its lost reputation. Did not a Supreme Court judge once characterise it as a ‘caged parrot’? Will the new Director be able to restore the agency’s standing? One member, among the three-member committee, had opposed the CBI Director’s appointment arguing that he lacked experience in dealing with corruption.
4) The standing of India as a functioning democracy has taken a hit.
It is incumbent on the voter to bear all this in mind when he/she votes in less than a hundred days. An electorate, intelligent, alert, and caring for the nation, is the sine qua non for a living democracy. Do we have such an electorate?
(Ambassador K.P.Fabian is retired from the Indian Foreign Service)