No matter what the amendments, the NIA must first free itself as an extension counter of political vendetta
The problem with investigative agencies in our country is that the perception of their toothlessness or subservience to the powers that be clouds their efficacy and compromises trust. This explains why, despite the appreciable urge of the Modi 2.0 government to evolve a zero tolerance module against terror, the passage of the National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2019, saw massive protests from the Opposition. And in the end will do nothing to restore lost credibility. True, the ambit of investigation now includes cyber crimes, human trafficking, fake currency and probes against Indian interests on foreign soil and the amendments are intended to establish a coordinated inquiry process but the Opposition fears probes could be misused to turn India into a police State. Besides, the creation of special courts for adjudicating such crimes and ensuring their speedy disposal has also raised some eyebrows as has the fear that centrist powers may overrun States. No matter what the assurances by Home Minister Amit Shah or the concerns expressed by Congress MP Manish Tewari, the fact remains that both are or have been part of ruling parties which have used investigations as a coercive tool for vote bank management and in cases of terror, given them a frighteningly communal or religious tilt than developing a clinical approach. Political vendetta unleashed by the State has often been used to buy support, please respective vote banks and constituencies and build suitable narratives. This theory has gained further credence simply because there has been no closure of some of our most blighted terror cases. And leaving us wondering still if somebody had committed a conspiracy indeed or nobody knows what happened. Particularly, in the current context of simplified binaries between nationalists and anti-nationalists and a deep distrust of minorities, that is being reinforced by a hegemonic endorsement of Modi 2.0, there are bound to be questions about intent. Simply because past records show nothing to elevate the status of NIA as an independent entity but an extension counter of the ruling regime’s priorities. It will surely take more than a reassuring speech in the House to change this presumptive perspective and one the new Modi government has to mean in actionable terms. For each failure of investigating agencies only ends up ridiculing our justice system.
The NIA itself doesn’t have an enviable track record, set up as it was in 2009 by the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government after the Mumbai terror attacks, which claimed 166 lives. Then when it came to the Mecca Masjid, Malegaon and Samjhauta blasts, suspects have been either acquitted or booked depending on which side of the political divide they were on. For example, in the Mecca Masjid blast case, questions remain as to who killed nine people and injured scores of others, considering that all the suspects were acquitted. Despite NIA’s investigations, several key witnesses turned hostile weakening the case, either because of the agency’s loopholes, its incompetence or counter-pressures from the political party or vested interests concerned. Three agencies — Hyderabad police, CBI and NIA — had probed the case and yet each seemed to work at cross purposes with each other, compounding complexities instead of ensuring a logical conclusion. The Hyderabad police arrested 20 Muslim youths but the CBI didn’t consider that report worthy enough and focussed on a common strand between the Malegaon, Samjhauta, Ajmer Dargah and Mecca Masjid blasts. While a Jaipur NIA court convicted RSS worker Devendra Gupta for the Ajmer blast, he was cleared in the Mecca Masjid blast. Both Jaipur and Hyderabad NIA courts rejected Swami Aseemanand’s confession, the critical mass on which the cases rested. Aseemanand himself changed his statement, claiming it was made under CBI pressure. So no matter what the amendments entail or not, there needs to be a foolproof process of inquiry, beginning with confessions and cross verifications with both the offenders and investigating officers and recordings. Also, the political to and fro — the Opposition assigning motives to the inquiry process and wanting to know why legislation needed to be hurried in the Budget session itself, and the BJP insisting that it was time to remove inconsistencies in anti-terror operations — only exposes how politics overshadows the need to curb terror forcefully. National security must be shielded from each other’s agenda-driven campaigns. One wonders why there can never be a political consensus on tackling terror, assuming all parties are nationalists? Don’t the Government and the Opposition equally owe an answer to the victims of terrorist violence?
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer