In coalition era, has CBI become govt's best ally?

By Sanchit on Monday, May 03, 2010

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Congress corruption in CBI
The art of politics in the real sense was probably first codified in the book `Arthashastra'. Kautilya aka Chanakya, regarded as the `first great political realist', gave some scintillating answers to many basic yet vital questions of governance that had troubled ruling classes for centuries.

Some important answers mentioned in `Arthashastra' are: When killing of domestic opponent is wise? How one uses secret agents? When one needs to sacrifice one's secret agents? In what cases must a king spy on his own people?

The questions were framed in 4th century BC, that is, nearly 2,500 years ago. What a coincidence! All of them are equally relevant now when smaller parties offer unsolicited support to the government from outside, demand and get all benefits of a coalition partner, share no blame and even join the Opposition in criticising the government for bad decisions, and not the least, pull the rug when it becomes inconvenient.

At a time when these smaller parties had thought they had successfully created an enigma in politics to be in power without being held accountable, someone in the UPA government did go back to basics and scrupulously read through `Arthashastra' to find a perfect antidote for it.

In the present political conundrum, let us attempt reframing the questions for the `Kautilya' in the government: "When is it wise to file a chargesheet against a domestic opponent? How effectively does one use CBI, police and prosecuting agencies to win support of political opponents? In what cases must the government tap the telephones of its own people?

The CBI, which came into existence on April 1, 1963, did a marvellous job in cases that did not involve political figures. It did earn the faith of the common man. But, in the last decade or so, it has lost quite a bit of its stature as an "independent investigating agency" being quietly amenable to the diktats of political masters.

Governments have used CBI's investigations and law officers' opinions to either launch or drop prosecutions against political opponents and coerce support even from the bitterest of rivals.

The CBI probe and chargesheets in disproportionate assets has been used as a common tool against political leaders -- be it RJD's Lalu Prasad, SP's Mulayam Singh Yadav or BSP's Mayawati -- to create a situation where the chieftains despite their differences with the ruling dispensation fall in line to bail out the government in critical situations.

Nothing is permanent in politics which makes strange bedfellows. But given the flippant coalition partners, the government appears to have found the best possible ally, CBI.

CBI refused to file appeal against clean chit to Lalu in a DA case and even contested the Bihar government's locus standi to question it. If the agency does not appeal, and if the state had actually lost a huge amount of money to alleged corruption, then can the state be not regarded as victim and permitted to seek redressal? The Supreme Court thought otherwise.

The disproportionate assets case against Mulayam and his kin kicked up a lot of dust in the courts and political arena after the SC ordered CBI probe into it. Since then, the investigating agency and the law officers have tangoed perfectly to keep Mulayam at a reachable distance in the political game.

After declaring for years before the Supreme Court that it had unimpeachable evidence to prosecute Mayawati in a DA case, the CBI, at a time when political equations were getting a little bothersome, found the perfect opportunity to take the heat off the case by telling the apex court that it was ready to consider the BSP leader's plea for dropping the case in the face of clean chit from Income Tax department.

Such are the games of politics in the coalition era and the CBI becomes a handy tool for the government to seek safety in numbers, which alone counts in the House of People. Does this gamemanship harm the national motto "Satyameva Jayate", meaning truth alone triumphs?