The CBI may be a caged parrot but the step taken by Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal is certainly dramatic
The question is why did Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu suddenly revoke the ‘General Consent’ that all Indian States offer the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)? And this, a few weeks after the Telugu Desam supremo ordered the Andhra Pradesh Police not to give protection to either Enforcement Directorate or Income Tax Department officials during raids. While Naidu’s move also resulted in West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee following suit and that State, too, withdrawing its General Consent to the CBI under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, one wonders what purpose this will serve. Even at the height of the vilification campaign by the Centre against certain State leaders in the past, such a move has never been initiated. There is certainly a risk for the political capital accumulated by both leaders in taking this step because while the public at large might be simpatico to the view that the CBI is an extension of the Central Government, the fact that no State Government has taken such a step in the past will be used by the BJP to imply that regional leaders have something to hide. On the other hand, reports of the ruling dispensation in Delhi allegedly using the CBI to try and ‘fix’ regional leaders also must be factored in.
Additionally, in the case of Andhra Pradesh, was this decision taken after several raids recently exposed the financial underbelly of the political world in that State? Considering the ruling TDP is under pressure from both the YSR Congress and the BJP, Naidu tried to gain first-mover advantage by switching sides from Narendra Modi to Rahul Gandhi virtually overnight. Essentially, this was because the Central Government did not extend the financial support it had reportedly promised for Naidu’s new dream capital, Amravati. While there is no doubt that the Modi Government has spent money foolishly on some vanity projects, Naidu’s posh plans for Amravati were never going to be funded in the main by the Union of India even if he was part of the NDA. Naidu twigged and left. Mamata Banerjee, meanwhile, while looking as strong as ever on the ground and confident of increasing its Lok Sabha seats tally even further in 2019, is facing an aggressive BJP looking to win a few more seats in the forthcoming General Election. With the Congress and Communists virtually disappearing from the political landscape of West Bengal, this two-way battle was always going to be one of raids and arrests which the Trinamool leader seems to have moved to prevent. Who said politics in India was fair?
With the CBI itself in disarray on the BJP’s watch and the two top officers of the agency fighting each other publicly, Naidu and Banerjee have gambled that by the time the CBI can regain its wits and mount a legal challenge to the decision it will become a fait accompli. However, it must be kept in mind that individuals always have legal remedies available to them if they feel they are being wrongfully prosecuted by the CBI. Yet, if the decision by two of the strongest State leaders in India today is such as they have taken, it implies a complete breakdown of trust in the Centre. The Supreme Court, which is dipping its hands into all manner of issues, is likely to come into play sooner rather than later. In the interim, it would help immensely if the CBI itself managed to get its act together and the Centre dispelled the suspicions of the States by reaching out and assuring them that the probe agency’s neutrality would be maintained. As it is, all other police forces in India are highly politicised; if the CBI too heads that way as is it certainly seems to be, other Opposition-ruled States may soon follow Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. At the end of the day, though, if India has any pretence of being a robust, rule of law state, it needs police reforms desperately, starting with the CBI.
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer