It’s a confession that sounds a bit stupid, but I have to admit it was only two years ago, while covering A Raja’s interrogation, that I experienced the political nexus in CBI. When I say experience, I don’t mean just being a bystander. We had all seen suggestions of political manipulation when the CBI kept changing its tune about whether it wanted to probe Mulayam Singh Yadav and family depending on whether they were needed as coalition partners or not. But in the former telecom minister’s case, I actually saw it with my own eyes. Raja was spending his second or third day in the agency with his aides sitting with a huge tiffin box containing his lunch at the decrepit reception of the agency headquarters, when I started receiving calls from office. “The political reporters are already saying that A Raja has been arrested.”
Initially, I was a bit pissed off. Trust the know-it-all-getting-their-kicks-from-proximity-to-politicos-types to try and pass off their half-baked information as fact. “I am in CBI, Raja is inside and they say they are only talking to him like they did yesterday,” I protested. But the senior political reporter was told so categorically by his neta contacts, that he started reporting it. “The UPA government has cleared Raja’s arrest,” they reported, also adding their sources were confirming that A Raja was arrested. All this while, the CBI men had no idea what was going on. But guess what, instead of proving me right like I hoped they would, within an hour, the CBI seemed to follow their cue. “Yes, we are completing arrest procedures,” they said some time later, and yes, by next day, the former UPA minister had his fingers wrapped around a CBI officer’s as he was presented in court. So the decision and the news of the arrest seemed to come from Raisina Hill and not CGO complex where CBI headquarters was.
I thought of this emasculating story as I was reporting this week on the DMK raid, which is yet to become totally clear. How it was the politicians that gave the clearance for Raja to be arrested. How political reporters briefed by politicians were very comfortable reporting it, whereas, I, as the naive CBI reporter, believed officials when they said that they didn’t have to take clearance from anyone before making an arrest, least of all political bosses. So when minister after minister expressed their outrage at how the agency had dared to land up at their ally’s house, and talked about complaining not to the CBI director, but to its minister who in theory is only supposed to sign how many laptops and computers the detectives get, I looked like a real fool for having believed in all the textbook stuff about CBI. They made the already weary organisation that much more of a joke, reinforcing the cynical stereotype that ‘CBI is compromised.’ I had found Team Anna’s demands for a judicial inquiry for everything paranoid, but now it seems, they were justified.
As politicians told reporters how the CBI director was ticked off for the raids on DMK leader MK Stalin’s residence recently, the CBI had nowhere to hide. There was news that UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi summoned the minister concerned, V Narayansamy, to give him a a earful for letting CBI men go wild. The CBI officers weakly tried to hold on to their self-respect by saying their searches were never stopped by the government, they were legitimate and were done according to 165 CRPC, which means the authority was given by their own officer. The CBI manual of course suggests that when possible they should get a warrant from court, but it gives enough leeway to the investigating team to not even tell their bosses in Delhi. The bosses in Delhi, of course, knew.
Is it possible that the CBI could have raided Stalin without taking permission from the government, I asked a CBI officer I trust. “Very unlikely,” he said. He pointed out that their minister wasn’t really Narayansamy, but actually Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “Anything could have happened and is possible,” he said. He told me of a rumour that Tamil Nadu cadre officers had tipped off MK Stalin which was why the Hummer wasn’t at home, and DMK cadres were prepared and had gathered in large numbers to make a noise.
I don’t know if this is true, but I know that like many others in this country, I am now cynical about this organisation. I know that even those who have retired will privately tell you how the state tries to suppress CBI’s independence, but won’t say anything in public because of a slim chance of getting a post-retirement job. I know these post-retirement jobs should be banned immediately and the Lokpal Bill’s suggestion for a more independent way of hiring a director should be reinforced. Maybe, there is a chance then that the cliche of everyone asking for a CBI investigation into everything will live on. Maybe not.
Sunetra Choudhury is an anchor/reporter for NDTV and the author of the election travelogue Braking News