Originally Published 2015-10-16 10:23:15 Published on Oct 16, 2015
From 'being the Congress's most trusted alliance partner' during the UPA years, the CBI has now morphed into the BJP's instrumentality of 'fixing' political opponents. Prima facie it appears to be the case and analysts think one will see more empirical evidence of an aggressive CBI in the coming weeks as the BJP feels the pressure on rising intolerance in the country.
Unleashing the CBI, the BJP style

Very quietly, it has crept up on us, almost unobtrusively and silently. On Thursday, the premier investigating agency CBI got slapped around by the 2G trial court. Normally time gives legitimacy to the existence of something, but in the additional spectrum case being heard by the 2G special court in the Patiala House complex in Delhi, the CBI got it in the neck for what was nothing more than a 'fabricated' case. These are harsh words for the court has discharged all the accused of charges of criminal conspiracy and under sections of Prevention of corruption Act. Special Judge OP Saini discharged former telecom Secretary Shyamlal Ghosh and three telecom companies — Hutchison Max (P) Ltd, Sterling Cellular Ltd and Bharti Cellular Ltd. "I find that there is no incriminating evidence against the accused and the accused deserve to be discharged. Since the charge sheet has been found to be full of distorted and fabricated facts and an attempt has also been made to mislead the court, Director, CBI, is directed to conduct an inquiry against erring officials and take action against them as per law were Saini's comments. The CBI, in its charge sheet had alleged that Ghosh "deliberately" and with "malafide intention" did not obtain comments of then Member (Finance) of DoT on the issue despite the matter involving huge "financial implications."

So who was fixing whom in the great telecom whirligig? Once a sunshine sector in the Indian growth story, this sector is now the most litigated. And how is that the judge trashed what appeared to CBI to be a watertight case? It does't say much about the quality of CBI's investigation that deliberate and malafide intent on the part of then telecom secretary Shyamal Ghosh was over turned as a distorted and fabricated case? If the chargesheet was full of holes and the same thing happens in the ongoing 2G trial where the same judge is sitting in judgement and where more importantly the Supreme Court has already cancelled the 121 licenses, then there will be hell to pay and once again beg the question who will bell the cat?

But let us move on and see how over the last month or so has seen hyper activity on the part of the CBI. On Thursday even as it was getting a strong rebuke from Judge O P Saini in the 2G trial court, the agency asked the Supreme Court to remove the protective layer provided by the Himachal High Court to chief minister Virbhadra Singh in the disproportionate assets case, seeking to interrogate him. Now, mind you this is a sitting chief minister. Singh has been charged with accumulating disproportionate assets when he was union minister for steel and mines in the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre. The CBI has also asked the top court to transfer the case from the Himachal Pradesh High Court to Delhi. A bench headed by Chief Justice HL Dattu agreed to hear the CBI's petition on the first working day after the Dussehra holidays. This comes on the heels of the CBI showing its new found muscle by questioning BSP leader Mayawati in connection with the over-Rs 5,000-crore National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scam.

New 'evidence' seemed to have surfaced in the old NRHM case in which it has already registered 74 FIRs and filed 48 chargesheets in the past. When the much vilified Congress was in power the opposition described the agency as a hand maiden of the government, giving it a new nomenclature Congress Bureau of Investigation. Now, the same agency which has always done the government's bidding and has never been truly autonomous and free is doing exactly the same thing. The new evidence against Mayawati pertains to bifurcation of the Health and Family Welfare Department and creation of 100 posts of District Project Officers (DPOs), who were allegedly instrumental in alleged corruption in the implementation of NRHM schemes.

SP boss Mulayam Singh Yadav pulling out of the 'mahagatbandan' anti BJP alliance in Bihar suddenly was also a function of the ruling party at the centre holding the whip hand over the UP leader. The long standing disproportionate assets case against the Yadavs -- father and son -- remains open. In September 2013, the CBI made it official that it was closing the case against the Yadavs since there was insufficient evidence of disproportionate assets. But the case can be closed only when the CBI files a closure report in the Supreme Court. So the sword of Damocles continues to hang over the Yadavs.

Industrialist Vijay Mallya who for a long time managed immunity against the CBI has also found himself at the receiving end lately in the Rs 950 crore IDBI Bank loan fraud. That action also took place years after Kingfisher managed to get a consortium of banks led by SBI to not just take equity at a premium in the airline, but disburse loans as well to the same beleaguered airline which never ever made a profit in its years of existence. His premises and other offices were raided. The curious thing about a CBI case is that it remains open indefinitely till say like the additional spectrum case is challenged and then discharged by a higher court or there is a conviction. What it allows is the agency to arm twist the alleged perps in an open ended manner. You want to put the squeeze on someone and he has an ongoing CBI case, raid him and instil the fear of God in him. Keep him or her on tenterhooks. But some sort of a pattern seems to be emerging with Mayawati, a political opponent of the BJP in UP, Virbhadra Singh, a sitting Congress CM, revival of action against TMC cronies in West Bengal and Vijay Mallya who had remained unscathed for so long, suddenly being targeted.

One more quick example is how Manoranjana Sinh, former Congress minister Matang Sinh's estranged wife, was also suddenly arrested by the CBI recently. If one reads the voluminous SFIO report on the Saradha scam, there is clear evidence of her alleged infringement where she has taken close to Rs 24 crore from Sudipto Sen. She could have been arrested much earlier, but some altered equations there as well, I suspect. In fact, there was a huge lull in the erstwhile aggressive CBI action against Saradha chit fund accused till the recent Mamata-Modi bonhomie. Now here again suddenly, Manoranjana was arrested and Tapas Paul was interrogated. TMC MP Paul was a director on another major scamster Rose Valley's board. Saradha CMD Sudipta Sen in his 'tell-all' letter to CBI mentioned Manoranjana's name and claimed that she had siphoned a huge amount of money while settling a deal between Saradha and her company 'Positive Group'. It is believed that with state elections in West Bengal slated for next year, fresh sniping will begin by the BJP and one of the instrumentalities used will be the CBI which had gone 'cold' for about six months in both the Saradha and Rose Valley scams. In March, CBI conducted raids at the residences and offices of Tapas Paul. Paul's residences were among 43 locations, the CBI raided in connection with the Rose Valley Scam and then it went quiet. Now old wounds have been reopened as the agency becomes the vanguard of the BJP in state politics.

Unfortunately India doesn't have the wherewithal or domain expertise to deal with white collar crime, not SEBI, not Financial Intelligence Unit, not Serious Fraud Investigation Office and certainly not the Enforcement Directorate. We also have Director Revenue Intelligence and the Economic Offences Wing, but sadly unless there is a bright officer or two, these guys are bumbling their way around or indulging in plain extortion. Take the recent case of ED joint director Jitender Pratap Singh who finds himself in a maelstrom. CBI questioned IRS officer J P Singh in Ahmedabad on allegations that he "extorted" money from those accused of money laundering.

CBI raided Singh's place residence and the ED office in Ahmedabad recently after allegations of corruption against him and two other assistant directors in the money laundering agency were found to be true. The present ED director, Karnal Singh, had approached CBI to probe the official amid charges of bribery against the Ahmedabad unit arising from money laundering probes in IPL cricket betting and Afroz Fatta hawala scandal. The anti-corruption agency registered a case after the PMO asked the IB to conduct an inquiry into the allegations. The internal inquiry of ED as well found that there were irregularities after which CBI was brought into the loop.

From 'being the Congress's most trusted alliance partner' during the UPA years, the CBI has now morphed into the BJP's instrumentality of 'fixing' political opponents. Prima facie it appears to be the case and my own sense is one will see more empirical evidence of an aggressive CBI in the coming weeks as the BJP feels the pressure on rising intolerance in the country. With state elections scheduled for West bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Kerala next year and UP and Punjab in 2017, expect the tota or caged parrot to be leading the charge.

(The writer is a Visiting Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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