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Caged parrot

During the second term of the United Progressive Alliance government, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party often accused the then ruling Congress of using the Central Bureau of Investigation to further their political objectives. Often mocked as the ‘Congress Bureau of Investigation’, the previous government was accused of using the investigative agency to protect senior party leaders, their kin and ministers from a slew of cases. Its image as a body faithfully serving its political masters instead of initiating fair inquiries into various allegations received further fillip when the Supreme Court referred to the CBI as a “caged parrot”, forced to speak in its master’s voice. Fast forward to 2017 and the same allegations are being levelled against the ruling BJP government. In the wake of determined opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetization drive led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the investigative agency has decided to swoop in and arrest Sudip Bandyopadhyay, a Member of Parliament from the Trinamool Congress, for his alleged involvement in the Rose Valley chit fund scam. Bandyopadhyay was the party’s face in the Lok Sabha during the pitched protests against demonetisation last month. On Wednesday, central Kolkata became the epicentre of a pitched battle between workers of the TMC and BJP. Beyond the two parties, it is also a tussle between the Centre and State government. Leaders from the TMC have accused the BJP-led Centre of “vendetta politics” for their opposition to demonetization and objection to Central forces being sent in without the state government being consulted. A similar plotline came into effect in the national capital last year. As the battle between the Central government, represented by the Lieutenant Governor, and the Delhi government reached fever pitch last year, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s office was raided and shut down by the CBI. Back in 2014, former CBI director Joginder Singh told an Indian news publication that every government works toward “keeping CBI and other investigative agencies under their control”. It is imperative to note that one is not casting aspersions on the legitimacy of investigations into the Rose Valley scam. It is a scam that requires a fair and impartial investigation. What has irked many observers is the timing of these recent arrests conducted by the CBI. It’s been nearly 20 months since the Enforcement Directorate arrested the Rose Valley Group chairman Gautam Kundu. In the interim period, it seems there has been little movement on files. One can only conclude that the moment the BJP was growing uncomfortable against the anti-demonetisation narrative, its government found it politically expedient to advance the investigation. As the apex court has reiterated time and again, the CBI’s independence and image must be protected. Despite its vociferous complaints against the previous government, the BJP-led Centre has done little to address these concerns. If the government is serious about its criticism of the CBI under the UPA, it must now take measures to reform the agency, establish its independence and make it accountable to Parliament. The BJP government needs to do a lot more to ensure the body does not continue to sing the tune of whoever is in power in Delhi.
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