Thursday, June 27, 2013

CBI reforms – Congress acts with confidence….

By changing the process of appointment of the Director of the CBI, the Congress has put its money where its mouth is. It has displayed confidence in its position that the CBI has never been under any unethical or undue influence of the government. The Director, hitherto appointed by the Government by itself, will now be appointed by a collegium comprising the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India, a process identical to the one adopted for the appointment of the CVC. This is a bold and confident step; perhaps exceeding the expectations of most….

I am not in agreement with this new appointment process. It’s my worry that if governmental responsibilities are shared in this way with the opposition, then what’s the point of having two different political set-ups or ideologies? Tomorrow, there may be a demand that the financial budget must be first agreed with the Leader of the Opposition and the CJI. This sounds bizarre? But many such bizarre things are already starting to happen. For eg., various ministries of the Government are now seeking to get a “pre-approval” from the CAG and the CVC before formulating a new policy. They don’t want any problems later….goes the logic. But if the Executive starts engaging the auditor and taking his “permission” in advance (in a way), both the institutions (of Executive and Auditor) will get compromised. The Executive will get hamstrung in decision making; and the Auditor will be neutered. In a similar way, if the ruling party starts agreeing (colluding?) with the main opposition party on everything, we will never get to see what this party really stands for. The consequences of this can be disastrous, as both would be incentivized to plot to share power without bothering about the interests of the citizens. Want evidence of this? There is a widespread rumor that in Mumbai, all political parties are in on the real estate racket, and so, no one squeals on anyone. The racket continues….

Now some amount of consultation between parties is necessary and is in fact, pre-ordained in any democracy. Getting the support of the majority of the House requires that opposition parties be consulted. But hopefully, the main opposition party – in this case the BJP – would have highly divergent views. There should be no attempt made by the ruling party to get alignment with the main opposition party. Alignment must be sought with coalition partners, and other parties who are not aligned with the two major formations. What should matter to the Congress are views of the JD(U), SP, BSP, BJD etc, but not of the NDA block.

Not that in this case the BJP wanted more independence in the appointment of the CBI Director. That as everything else, was just plain rhetoric, meant for TV cameras. After all, when it ruled for six years, the BJP did nothing to free up the CBI. And it was right. No investigation authority, no police set-up, no armed force can ever be made fully independent or autonomous in a democracy. The right of the civil authority – represented by the elected government – over all such bodies is supreme. We can see the results of a fully “autonomous” military in Pakistan; it has staged several coups in that country. Making the CBI fully autonomous would make India into a “police state”, with the cops under no one‘s control. This was the demand only of the activists, many of whom have long forgotten what activism means and have become full fledged politicians.

So like I said, I disagree with the changed CBI Director appointment process. However, I do agree with the concept of an “oversight panel” comprising ex-judges keeping on eye on political investigations. A judicial panel would give confidence to the nation for the judiciary still retains a certain degree of trust with the people.

One point that the government doesn’t appear to have relented on is this “prior permission from superior authority” rule for every bureaucrat above a Joint Secretary and for every MP. I think this is required to be retained. The bureaucracy comprises mostly good officers, most of whom want to do good work. Unfortunately, it is the fear of unnecessary victimization at a later date that makes most of them drag their heels. If we have to encourage them to take bold and quick decisions, a prior-permission mechanism that protects them to some extent is required. One is not saying that bureaucrats and politicians should get immunity from investigations; only that someone should first find out if the charges are politically motivated or genuine. A tight time limit for this should be specified though.

So those who had an honest complaint with the Congress over the CBI’s abuse will be a little happier now (though I doubt anyone can ever be completely happy with any government!). Those who complained purely for political reasons will continue to complain. They need to, since many of their leaders are soon likely to land into the clutches of the CBI. As per a report in NDTV, the CBI has found evidence that both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah “might have been informed” (source: by the Gujarat cops and the IB joint Director (who till then was “under the thumb” of the BJP government at the center) before Ishrat Jahaan was murdered in a fake encounter. Narendra Modi has unsurprisingly shouted “abuse”! Abusing the CBI is the only option left for him to avoid jail….

The real truth is that the CBI reforms are indicative of the Congress’s confidence in itself. It’s a mixed bag really, not all of which I agree with, but it’s reflective of its confidence. Like the hangings of Kasab and Guru did, this move will also silence the perpetual wails of the opposition and political activists….

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