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Commentary/ T V R Shenoy

Who dare investigate the investigators?

Only the CBI knows why he has been left out.” The speaker was Justice Jaspal Singh of the Delhi high court, commenting on the Jharkand Mukti Morcha case. The ‘he’ of the remark is Sitaram Kesri. And the place from which Chacha has been 'left out' is the CBI’s chargesheet.

Justice Jaspal Singh’s September 12, 1997 judgent deserves to be read in full. For one thing, it is good prose. More important, it reveals the depths to which our so-called ‘democracy’ has sunk.

A prime minister, aided by members of the Union Cabinet and at least one chief minister, bribed MPs to create a majority. Later, his lawyer argued that Article 75 (2) of the Constitution 'obliges' the PM to take any means to save his regime!

Justice Singh methodically cites the various proofs showing certain MPs received cold cash, while others were remunerated in the currency of petrol pumps. Referring to Satish Sharma, the judge states, “This is the story of how a Captain, with the help of his crew, saved the sinking ship of P V Narasimha Rao.”

At another place, the judgment cites a conversation that allegedly took place between Bhajan Lal and Ajit Singh (then an Opposition MP being wooed by the Congress). “Bhajan Lalji, Harshad Mehta ke suitcase ke muqable main yeh packets chhote hain.Andar ka maal to sahi hai? (Compared to Harshad Mehta's suitcase, these are pretty small packets. The material inside is all right?).

To which the Haryana chief minister allegedly replied, “Chaudhary sahib, main pucca businessman hoon, jiski sabhi deals pucci hoti hain. Yeh Harshad Mehta ki nahin, Bhajan Lal ke packets hain, jo 500 ke noton noton ki wajah se chhote hain! (I am a proper businessman. My deals are all proper. These packets are not Harshad Mehta's, but Bhajan Lal's. They look small because it's all Rs 500 notes inside!")

“It throws light,” Justice Jaswant Singh dryly remarks of the episode, “on how their minds were working. “ Come to that, how were the CBI investigators’s minds working? Were they working at all?

From the very beginning, the CBI has played a questionable role. A complaint was sent by a private party to the CBI in 1996, which refused to take note of it. It took the high court's intervention before the CBI registered a case.

Even so, the CBI adamantly refused to include Narasimha Rao’s name in the FIR. The complainant approached the high court, who directed it to do so.

By this time, the United Front had taken over. Significantly, the regime’s first action was to permit the Bureau to appeal against the high court ruling!

Please note that it wasn’t Narasimha Rao spending his money on such an appeal. It was the CBI using public funds to engage the services of the eminent attorney Parasaran. The Supreme Court rejected the appeal.

Then, and only then, did the CBI include Rao’s name in the FIR. But that wasn’t the last hiccup in the investigation. The CBI came in for further strictures from the high court, which ultimately decided to monitor the case.

Under judicial prodding, the CBI sprang to life. It unearthed evidence that the money used for the bribes had come from Bangalore (courtesy Veerappa Moily), from Haryana (courtesy Bhajan Lal), from Satish Sharma, Buta Singh, liquor contractors...

Strangely, the one person whom the CBI did not name was Sitaram Kesri, Congress treasurer at the time of the crime. This is even more curious given the statement made by one of the JMM MPs (now turned an approver).

I quote Justice Singh: “...on the day of voting, that is July 28, Sitaram Kesri called the four JMM MPs and said, ‘Look here Shibu, I have known you and Suraj for the past 15-20 years... You give your votes so that the government is saved and all the talks with the prime minister shall be honoured.’ And, we are told, the day after the voting the first installment of bags brimming with money had been delivered.”

In another case, a junior judge ruled that persons not named by the CBI should be called -- which led to Kalpanath Rai going behind bars. Now that a high court judge has made a similar remark, the CBI must act. Unless it wishes to hire another high-priced lawyer to get the objectionable parts struck out?

And speaking of the CBI’s choice of attorneys when it comes to prosecuting Rao, let me quote the final part of the judgment: “Couldn’t the CBI engage a lawyer to meet the challenges thrown by some of the best legal brains and to be of some assistance to the court? But then, who dare investigate the investigator?"

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T V R Shenoy

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