CBI as political tool

Published : May 08, 2009 00:00 IST

Sikh protesters raise slogans against the CBI for having given a clean chit to Jagdish Tytler, outside the Karkardooma District Court in New Delhi on April 2.-PRAKASH SINGH/AFP

Sikh protesters raise slogans against the CBI for having given a clean chit to Jagdish Tytler, outside the Karkardooma District Court in New Delhi on April 2.-PRAKASH SINGH/AFP

The facts are too well known to bear repetition. Much has been made of Jarnail Singh, a correspondent of Daily Jagran, and his frustration at the replies given by Home Minister P. Chidambaram to his questions.

Much has been made of Chidambarams composure when the shoe was flung at him although Jarnail Singh later claimed that he actually threw it to one side of the Home Minister and not directly at him and then, after a week of passionate demonstrations by the Shiromani Akali Dal and its supporters, of Sonia Gandhis acceptance of the decision of Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar to withdraw their candidature for the Lok Sabha elections.

But many magazines, newspapers and television channels got it wrong. Shoe Misses Chidambaram but hits Tytler, was a headline in one newspaper and there were a number of similar headlines and lead stories. The fact is that Jarnail Singhs shoe was about as relevant to the issue as a slogan shouted by the many agitators in Punjab or in the streets of Delhi.

The real issue was the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) report to the magistrates court that no case could be made out about the involvement of Tytler or Sajjan Kumar in the riots that followed Indira Gandhis assassination in which over 2,000 Sikhs were murdered.

The CBI had actually submitted such a report in November 2007. But when the eyewitness accounts of Jasbir Singh and Surender Singh that Tytler had exhorted his followers to kill Sikhs and burn a gurdwara were presented to the court, it directed the CBI to re-examine the entire case. The CBI did so and, rather surprisingly, reiterated its stand that there was no case against the two Congress leaders.

More surprising is the timing of the report. It was conveniently presented before the filing of nominations to the seats for which both Tytler and Sajjan Kumar were candidates so that they could say with complete confidence that no criminal case was pending against them; nor was there any possibility of their being mentioned in any charge-sheet of any case to be presented.

This conclusion of the CBI re-ignited the simmering anger against the two. They had, after all, stood for election in 2004, and there were no agitations or angry demonstrations then. But the manner in which they were exonerated by the prosecuting agency is what brought up the anger at what happened in October 1984. The sheer injustice of it all: 2,000 people and more, brutally murdered for no reason other than the fact that they belonged to a particular community. And in the 25 years that have followed, nothing except commissions of inquiry.

Not one arrest, not one arraigned as guilty of mass slaughter. How quickly, in contrast, the case against the rioters in Naroda Patiya was taken up and the accused named, including a serving Minister in the State government who had to resign and was then arrested.

It is a matter of shame for all the governments that have been formed at the Centre since then. And it is not as if the killing was done furtively; not only was there no attempt at concealment, there are stories that the police stood and watched when Sikhs were being killed. As they did at Naroda Patiya.

Jarnail Singh has certainly much to answer for. If he was attending the press briefing as a journalist, he had no business giving vent to his personal anger. If he needed to do that, he should have gone to the streets and agitated, joined a political group or done something more in consonance with his behaviour. His action has done journalism a terrible harm. Journalism will survive, as it has always done, but he will never be trusted by any media group, nor indeed will he be permitted to attend any press briefing or other such event unless he goes barefoot, and even then he will certainly be watched very carefully.

But this aberration apart, there is one worrying issue that it has succeeded in highlighting. That is the perceived use by a ruling party of the one investigative agency thought to be professional and objective in its work, the CBI. Would the CBI Director not have discussed the report before submitting it to the court with someone in the political executive?

Manmohan Singh is an honourable man, and he says he was not consulted on this matter. Since it is he who is saying so, the statement will be accepted as true by everyone except those who have a different political agenda. But he also says that the Minister of State in the Prime Ministers Office directly responsible for the working of the CBI did not know of the report. He has said so, clearly, because that is what the Minister of State has told him. And the Minister of State, Prithviraj Chauhan, is not going to be given the kind of trust that Manmohan Singh gets. He was either told and did not tell the Prime Minister the truth, or he was really not told.

The CBI Director says that he told no one because this was a report the court wanted, and so it was submitted in a routine manner. Really? After the court had rejected the report and asked the CBI to consider the fresh evidence now available in formulating it? Fresh evidence that consisted of eyewitness accounts of two people who are staying in the United States because they fear for their lives?

Would a report disregarding these accounts which the report has clearly done, or found some flaws in them not have been even discussed with the Minister of State, and perhaps others, such as the Cabinet Secretary or the Secretary to the Prime Minister, before it was placed before the court? If for no other reason then at least because of the timing and the possible repercussions? It sounds most unlikely, and what is worse, it will be seen by many as an instance of clumsy lying in order to help the ruling party. This is what is so alarming.

We declare to the entire world more loudly than is sometimes necessary that we are a sound, genuine democracy, but then we engage in chipping away at the structures of the democratic system. Perhaps being more loyal than the king helps some people, but do they not see the dreadful damage they are doing over a period of time? If jobbery, intrigue and lobbying become the manner in which this country is administered, how long will our much vaunted democracy last?

The remedy does not lie in the hands of the administrators, the CBI Directors, the Cabinet Secretary and others like them. If one or more of them are indeed upright officers, they will be replaced by more pliant ones. It is really something that has to be looked at by the Prime Minister and by him alone. The remedy, such as it is, can come only from him, and from no one else, no one.

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