Thursday, March 21, 2013

If the government really controlled the CBI, would the raids on Stalin have happened????

Everyone is talking about Sanjay Dutt’s 5-year jail sentence as if that is the most important issue before the country. For me, the issue lost relevance the moment the judicial system took 20 years to settle the matter. Will the SC please set its system in place? So I’ve decided to stick to my favorite subject – dirty, grimy, messy Indian politics! Yesterdays raids on DMK leader, MK Stalin’s premises, bring to the fore yet again, the important issue of who actually controls (abuses actually) the CBI. After the raids yesterday, the BJP was back to its standard charge – that the government controls the CBI and uses it to terrorize its opponents. But the government – including the Finance Minister and the PM – said they were themselves embarrassed by the timing. So who’s right? The government or the BJP?

The background to this, as everyone knows, is that the DMK recently walked out of the UPA alliance. That decision clearly upset the UPA and reduced it to a minority. There is thus reason to believe that Congress wants to hurt the DMK. Hence it ordered the raids. This conspiracy theory was the talk of the town yesterday. Now in a political environment as pregnant as it is these days, what is more likely: that the government orders a very public, high profile CBI raid on a senior DMK leader and risks public scorn, or it actually asks the agency to keep off? That is, assuming the government does indeed control the agency’s operations as alleged by the BJP.

To answer the question, let me take a parallel example from the corporate world. Let’s say there is a woman employee whose performance is not up to the mark. Under normal circumstances, she would be given her due notice and asked to leave when the time came. Now just imagine if it was found that this under-performing woman was pregnant and due to deliver in a few months. That would change everything. What was an easy decision earlier would suddenly become complex. Most organizations would not sack woman under such circumstances. Why? Not because they particularly cared for her, but because they would be afraid of being accused of being unmindful of her condition. Suddenly, her non-performance would become a non-issue; in fact it would become her savior. So timing is everything. The right move at the wrong time is in reality a wrong move….

Coming back to yesterday’s CBI raids, did it help the Congress, or embarrass it? Going by the PM’s and FM’s discomfiture, its clear that the Congress was embarrassed. The media raised a storm. The BJP got the whipping rod to beat the Congress with. More importantly, the relations between the Congress and the DMK soured further. And worst of all for the Congress, the general perception that it uses the CBI for its political end got strengthened. None of this helped the Congress, and surely if the party knew the CBI was going to conduct the raids, it would have tried to stop them. But it had no inkling. So what does it look like? That the government controls the CBI’s day to day functioning or not?

Then take the other point. The PM and FM complained and to the extent they could, “ordered” the CBI to stop the raids. But did it? No (the raids lasted the full day). It went ahead and raided several premises, recovering some 33 imported cars in the process. So what are we saying here? That the CBI ignored the orders of its bosses? Does this look like the body language of an agency that takes orders from the government?

But then politics being politics, the issue gave the opposition something to talk about. But look at how contrasting the accusations were!

The BJP was smart. It changed its usual stance – that the government uses to CBI to conduct raids. It suddenly walked away from this usual position. It now attacked the government for ordering the stoppage of the raids; for interfering in rightful raids! Now there are two layers to the BJP’s politics here. First that by attacking the Congress in this way, the BJP suggested that the Congress does in fact control the CBI. After all, control implies both – being able to order a raid as well as to stop it. Second, the BJP sent a signal to the AIADMK, it’s “almost-ally” that any overtures to the Congress would sting the party, since this is the way the Congress treated its allies. The party was eager to nip any new alignments in the bud. Smart!

The SP however took the opposite line. As per the papers, the SP said that the raids were ordered by the Congress. Ditto the DMK and BSP. How interesting!

But here’s more. The CBI Director himself mentioned that the raids were legal, but perhaps wrongly timed. The raids were conducted not only at Stalin’s premises, but at 18 places in all. Most of the cars recovered were from a motley mix of people, not politicians. Stalin was just one small piece in the entire exercise. He apparently had bought a Hummer from the person who the CBI was really targeting. What’s wrong with that?

But why then did the CBI Director call the timing wrong? What is his concern for the political situation that he said this? Why is he creating this problem for the government?

My belief is that the CBI – like many other governmental bodies – is used to looking at ways to satisfy its bosses. Like happens in several offices where subordinates “suck up” to their bosses, to get their attention. But its not fair to just blame subordinates for such behavior. The boss is equally guilty. For if the boss wanted, he could put a stop to such a practice. The fact that he does not proves that he is happy with such sucking up. In the same way, the government does hold responsibility for a subservient CBI. It may not be asking it to do something or not, but the CBI still attempts to read its master’s mind. The government is guilty of not instructing the CBI to stop doing this.

The solution to this is not to make the CBI independent. I am very wary of any police-like institution becoming independent of civilian authority. The hara-kiri it can cause is unfathomable. We would turn into a police state very soon. Just look at Pakistan, where god only knows who controls the Army and the ISI. The solution is to usher in changes in governance; the kind that the PM wanted to bring in early on in UPA-2. Where ministers and bureaucrats are reviewed every 3 months for performance. Where targets are set and professionally reviewed. Where performance is rewarded and sychophancy discouraged. We need a change in the rules that govern our bureaucracy. A lot more accountability. That’s what will make bodies like the CBI more effective. And shield the government from random attacks.

The real truth is that the CBI may be sucking up to the government, and the government may be guilty of not stopping this, but there is no evidence that it actually abuses the CBI. It doesn’t actually instruct it to do or not do something. In fact, it is quite ineffective in “controlling” the CBI at times. We see that every now and then when the CBI deposes in the court, causing embarrassment to the government…..

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