It was literally the farthest I could be from the Central Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Delhi, when a pretty obvious realisation finally dawned on me.
There, sitting at a restaurant in the Italian quarters of Buenos Aires, I realised that two of my co-diners were there on a holiday, unlike me. Yes, the two were CBI officers who were supposed to be strategising on how to bundle up Bofors accused Ottavio Quattrocchi and drag him to Tihar from his holiday near the Iguazu Falls. But over the dinner organised by the Indian high commission, we heard how the two gents had actually spent the day at Boca enjoying the local delights of Tango.
Even while I made concessions at the time, that it was only fair that the two get some sightseeing done while in Argentina, I kept thinking back to that dinner when months later we heard that the CBI had lost the extradition case because they didn’t have the right paperwork. Yes, when the Argentine court order finally became public, it became apparent that it wasn’t lack of evidence that killed the case but what seemed like willful omission of necessary paperwork. Either the two CBI men were so excited about watching Tango dancing they forgot to pack the necessary arrest warrant with them or it was by careful design. That’s when I first realised and saw an obvious sign of how government seemed to be controlling the CBI. The actual evidence of government control was the Law Minister HR Bhardwaj’s signed decision that the Quattrocchi case should be closed and the Red Corner Notice should be withdrawn.
But that’s history now and since then, my gullibility about these matters has also decreased. You can’t always report it because it’s never black and white, but if you’ve hung around long enough, you can always spot the government’s so-called invisible hand. The hand that’s been so strongly denied this week by the government, charged with political vendetta for Jagan Reddy’s arrest.
The ‘special’ treatment to the Jagan Reddy case actually started with the registration of the FIR. In that, followed by the charge sheet, the CBI names Jagan’s dead father as an accused who conspired to allot land to two pharmaceutical companies in exchange for investing in Jagan’s business empire. Nothing wrong with that, as the CBI is trying to just establish one of the essential clauses of the Corruption Act, which says you have to establish quid pro quo.
But there was something amiss. How was it that Jagan Reddy’s father was called an accused in the CBI case even though he’d died, but in another FIR lodged around the same time, the main perpetrator was spared because he’d passed on? In November 19 last year, the CBI in its press release went so far as to detail how Pramod Mahajan played a role in allocating extra spectrum to Airtel and Vodafone but stopped short of naming him as an accused. When we asked them why, they simply said because he’s dead.
Now, I don’t know why they would be extra sensitive to the legacy of an NDA minister but want to spoil the name of their former prodigy. All I know is that the CBI really doesn’t have a credible explanation for this differential treatment.
And it doesn’t stop there. My friend and colleague, Neeta Sharma, who has covered investigation for years says she has never heard of a probe agency asking for two weeks’ custody in a disproportionate assets case. Obviously, the court thought the same because they slammed the CBI and didn’t give them custody even for a day. Neeta also pointed out how the CBI wasted no time at all in freezing the bank accounts of Jagan’s TV channel and his other business interests but is yet to make any move to freeze Kalaingar TV’s accounts, although all the 2G bribe money supposedly went to them.
Actually, time is also a great illustrator of the point I’m trying to make. It seems just the other day that things soured between the YSR family and the Congress. In fact, it was only in late 2010 that Jagan left the mother ship. And yet from a court petition asking for a probe into his assets, to CBI registering a case, chargesheeting, and arresting him, it took less than a year.
Look at the other DA cases that are pending. I think the first CBI press conference that I ever attended was about their case against Mayawati, way back in 2002-03. The CBI director in charge at the time retired, became the head of another prominent government body, and then retired from there too. Other directors took over and retired, officers came and went, but the agency always dithered over booking the former chief minister, till finally in 2008, the BSP chief herself went to the Supreme Court demanding the quashing of the case. The order may be pending in that but the government may already have a new case to harass the BSP chief, till at least the presidential elections — the National Rural Health Mission scam that took place during her regime.
That’s one thing that Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav can bond on. After all, even Mulayam has a nine-year DA case that the CBI seems to keep changing its mind about.