Above: Andhra Pradesh CM N Chandrababu Naidu with West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee/Photo: UNI
Though the AP CM has withdrawn the jurisdiction of the CBI over his state for political reasons, it could spell the death knell for anti-corruption efforts and strike at the roots of federalism
By Kingshuk Nag in Hyderabad
After an uneasy truce for four years, N Chandrababu Naidu, president of the Telugu Desam Party and chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that runs the Union government. Whatever the stated reason for doing so, well-informed sources assert that now Naidu is positioning himself as a prime ministerial candidate against Narendra Modi. This withdrawal from the NDA camp was a move to allow Naidu to realise this super ambition though he felt that Modi was not parting with enough resources for the new state that required a lot of hand holding. In the days after he withdrew from the alliance, Naidu had a well-publicised meeting with Rahul Gandhi in Delhi.
Although nothing was said openly, the signals were clear. Those in the know of things say that Gandhi might not be averse to Naidu being the prime minister and he himself being the UPA chairman much like his mother was in the Manmohan days.
Whether anybody else knows of this plan or not, Modi, with whom Naidu has always shared an uneasy relation, must surely have an inclination of this. Within weeks of this Naidu walkout, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) began investigating some cases in Andhra Pradesh and undertook highly publicised raids on persons believed to be in the Naidu camp.
This was even as a battle royale was being fought in the CBI in full public view with CBI director AK Verma arraigned against his special director, Rakesh Asthana. The matter is now in the Supreme Court. Naidu was quick to take advantage of this highly publicised face-off between the two CBI seniors and the dirty linen being washed in public. He decided to withdraw the jurisdiction of the CBI over Andhra Pradesh. If the CBI did not have permission to operate in the state, where was the chance that it would raid and investigate those in the Naidu camp?
The CBI was set up during the days of the Second World War in 1941. It had not been named the CBI then and used to function as a Special Police Establishment (SPE) under the War Department to look into charges of bribery and corruption in transactions undertaken by the War & Supply Department of the Government of India. After the war, the government felt the need to continue with an agency that would investigate charges of bribery against officials. Thus, the SPE continued, but now its administration was transferred to the home department. The Delhi Special Police Establishment Act was also promulgated in 1946 to give teeth to the organisation. In 1963, the organisation was renamed the Central Bureau of Investigation and its jurisdiction extended automatically to Union Territories and to states. The consent is not a consent that is ad infinitum; state governments have to give a periodic mandate to the CBI.
It is this consent that Naidu has withdrawn and, in a quick move, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has also vowed to do so. “The CBI came up as an impartial organisation. However, in recent years, its image has taken a beating with this fight in the top echelons of the organisation. Now it is Naidu and Mamata, but gradually all state governments could well withdraw their consent to the CBI,” said a former additional director of the CBI. That will be the death knell of anti-corruption efforts.
Even though the CBI may have lost some of its sheen in recent years, it is the primary organisation to investigate corruption cases nationally. Thus, whatever Naidu’s reasons, the withdrawal of the CBI would compromise anti-corruption efforts.
Naidu has also announced that he will withdraw the jurisdiction of national investigative agencies like the Income Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate. This would not only impact corruption efforts, but strike at the roots of federalism. “He is only raising his ante for political reasons, but Naidu’s statements will raise the morale of forces which are against ‘central rule’ and give strength to federal forces.
How this will benefit the country, we don’t know,” said the former CBI additional director.
Politics apart, Naidu was able to withdraw his consent due to peculiar reasons. Maintenance of law and order and investigation of crime are state subjects as per the Constitution. These powers were extended to the CBI by a special provision (Delhi Special Police Act) that is not very robust. “The CBI has been in existence for over five decades. The governments of the day should have embarked on an exercise to strengthen the law. I understand that efforts were made in the past to give more teeth to the CBI by a proper law and not make it dependent on a special provision, but this never happened,” said a former senior CBI official.
For the record, even now, the CBI would be able to investigate corruption cases in states, but would have to seek permission from the state government on a case to case basis. Besides being cumbersome and time-consuming, this might remove the surprise element that is technically associated with a CBI raid. There could be leaks also. CBI officers say that this will hamper the investigation efforts of the agency.
In fact, in one publicised case, the chief minister of Sikkim prevented the CBI from effectively investigating into him. Under instructions from the Supreme Court, Congressmen from Sikkim filed a case of corruption in the ranks of the Sikkim government of Pawan Chamling with the CBI in 2010. Before the CBI could act, Chamling imposed a special condition under Clause 6 of the Delhi Special Police Act by which the investigating agency had to obtain special permission from the chief secretary to file cases against those investigated by it locally.
When the CBI presented its report to the chief secretary, the assembly disagreed with it. Instead, the government set up a commission of inquiry under a retired high court judge, RK Patra, to look into the matter. Thus, the CBI was thwarted on acting on the corruption charges.
Analysts aver that if the Modi government insists on investigating charges against Naidu’s associates, the latter could well proceed like Chamling did.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.