The probe agency will be suspected if it went ahead with the investigation against M K Stalin and suspected even more if it did not, says B Raman
The Central Bureau of Investigation and the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have come under criticism for the perceived ham-handedness of the CBI in the investigation of a complaint regarding irregularities in the import of some foreign cars involving suspected evasion in the payment of duty.
In connection with the preliminary enquiry into the complaint, which precedes the registration of a First Information Report, the CBI allegedly raided the houses of M K Stalin, senior Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader and son of party chief M Karunanidhi, on the morning of March 21, while looking for the suspected cars.
Since the raids came a day after Karunanidhi announced the withdrawal of the DMK from the ruling United Progressive Alliance coalition in protest against the government’s policy on the violation of human and political rights of Sri Lankan Tamils by the Sri Lankan government, there have been allegations that the raids were politically motivated to teach the DMK a lesson for its action.
Dr Singh and some senior ministers of the Congress have dissociated themselves from any responsibility for the controversial raid and have found fault with the CBI’s action. There has been professional as well as political ham-handedness in the entire affair.
The CBI has the duty and the responsibility to take cognisance of reports of illegalities and investigate them if such investigation falls within its charter, irrespective of the political and other background of the person against whom complaints have been made.
The timing of the investigation is in the hands of the CBI. Action has to be immediate where heinous offences such as murder or terrorism are involved or where there are reasons to apprehend tampering with the evidence by the wrong-doers if the investigation is delayed.
The investigation in connection with irregularities in the import of foreign cars did not come under any of these categories. It was not a heinous offence. Nor were there grounds to apprehend attempts to tamper with evidence.
The CBI could have chosen its timing keeping in view the possibility of misrepresentations and mis-projections to attribute political motives to the raids in order to discredit the CBI as well as the government. If could have delayed the raids by a few days till the heat of the controversy over the withdrawal of the DMK had died down. This is where sound, professional judgment comes in. While one cannot fault the CBI for the raids, one could fault its judgment in rushing with them.
There is so far no evidence to believe that the raids were undertaken at the instance of anyone in the government or the Congress. It would seem that the prime minister and some senior ministers were taken unawares by the raid. There were panicky reactions due to the fear that the raids may further complicate the relations of the Congress with the DMK.
The Congress has not yet given up hope about finding a face-saver that might enable the DMK to at least support the government from outside.
In the resulting panic, the prime ministers and the senior ministers handled the sequel to the raids with lack of political finesse -- not only criticising the CBI but also giving the impression that the agency was asked to discontinue the raids. They forgot they had no powers to do so.
As a result of the mishandling by the government, the CBI has been put in an embarrassing position. It will be suspected if it went ahead with the investigation and suspected even more if it did not do so.
Building up the credibility of the CBI as an independent organisation known for its professionalism depends not only on its officers but also on the political leadership which should refrain from actions or inactions that could impact the prestige of the CBI.
In the final analysis, we will get the CBI we deserve. There is no point in blaming it all the time -- right or wrong.