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Maharashtra’s is the latest non-BJP government to withdraw general consent to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for taking up investigation of a crime in the State on its own. Rajasthan, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Punjab have already done that. This shows the growing distrust of the people in the CBI. Under the relevant law, the CBI has, unless directed by a competent court, to get approval of the State government concerned to investigate a crime within the State. Having faith in the integrity of the CBI officers, the States had given blanket consent to the agency which some of the States have withdrawn now.

CBI is very competent when it is investigating an ‘ordinary’ crime. But when investigating a politically sensitive crime, it behaves like a pet dog of the party in power, biting or barking or whining on the command of its master, little caring for law and propriety or even for its own reputation. Little wonder that an officer, who was accused of messing up with the evidence in a politically sensitive murder case, was picked up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to head it. Here are a few politically sensitive cases botched up by the CBI.

Malik Makbooja case: Some politicians, with the help of senior bureaucrats, plundered the forest wealth of Bastar for decades. On a direction of the Supreme Court, the Lokayukta constituted a committee to look into the matter. The committee prepared a comprehensive two-volume report giving precise details of over 800 cases. The Congress government of Madhya Pradesh (Bastar then being part of Madhya Pradesh) headed by Digvijaya Singh flatly — and shamelessly – refused to ask its police to further investigate and prosecute the culprits. The Supreme Court then entrusted the case to the CBI. No one was prosecuted.

Arms Smuggling: A team of Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) of Gujarat police quietly swooped on Ujjain district (MP) in the night and recovered 24 AK-56 rifles, 27 hand grenades, 81 magazines and 5250 cartridges of AK-56 rifles from a disused well near Jhirniya village. An MP police team, led by then DIG (CID) Rajiv Mathur, was later sent to Ahmadabad where it was told by Latif and Sohrab (then in police custody) that Dawood Ibrahim had sent 47 AK-56 rifles to India around January 1993. Of these 32 were transported to Madhya Pradesh in July 1994. Following pressure from the BJP and bad publicity in the national press (Digvijaya Singh is a very publicity-conscious leader), the matter was entrusted to the CBI for investigation. And the officers of this fine investigating agency probably succumbed to Digvijaya Singh’s charm and nothing came out of it.

Som Distilleries:  Jagdish Arora, a small-time liquor vendor, first came to limelight during the BJP regime when he befriended then Chief Minister Sunderlal Patwa and set up his Som Group of Industries, with the ambition of putting the House of Kedias out of business. The Kedias had for long had a near-monopoly of the liquor business in Madhya Pradesh. Arora started with a beer factory and received ample cooperation from Patwa and the bureaucracy to give a concrete shape to his dreams.

When the Congress formed its government, Arora drew closer to Digvijaya Singh, considered as cash hungry as Patwa. Arora was virtually dictating the terms to the government on the excise policy.  Arora’s business escalated from beer to whiskeys and rums; he became the benami owner of all liquor shops in Bhopal and these shops sold nothing but the Som products. When there was a public outcry, the shops did start selling some other brands also, but only grudgingly and sparingly. Arora and his group of industries submitted a fake draft for Rs 3 crore as deposit for the auction of liquor shops in Raipur (then part of Madhya Pradesh). The case was handed over to the CBI for investigation. Only some of his minions were arrested and eventually the matter was closed.

Shehla Masood Murder: Activist Shehla Masood, who had filed over a hundred applications under RTI seeking information on dubious activities of BJP Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his relatives, was shot dead in front of her house as she was about to start her car to go to join an anti-corruption dharna. Then Director General of Police S K Raut and Additional Director General of Police (Intelligence) R K Shukla reached the spot promptly. The case was later handed over to the CBI which, after feeding to the media many cock and bull stories, submitted the charge-sheet in the special court of B K Paloda. Later the CBI changed its fiction and requested the judge to make the ‘real killer’ (as recorded in the charge-sheet) a State approver and the judge, shockingly, did that, even though it is not permitted by the Cr.P.C. The CBI got whatever judgement it wanted from the obliging judge.

Before the case was handed over to the CBI, a sting operation was conducted by Headlines Today. When D S Tomar, Inspector-in charge of the police station of the area, was asked about the ‘shoddy investigation’ by his team, his reply was, inter alia: ‘Within half an hour, the DGP, IG, SSP, SP, Additional SP, almost everyone was there. We started following their instructions and took only those things which they asked us to and left the rest’. Would DGP and Additional DGP (Intelligence) have dared remove the murder evidence unless assured by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan himself that nothing would happen to them? DGP Raut has retired gracefully and Additional DGP R K Shukla is now Director of CBI.

BJP strategy for by-elections in Madhya Pradesh is to cut Jyotiraditya Scindia to size. CM Chouhan and State BJP chief V D Sharma are the main campaigners, not Scindia, even in Gwalior-Chambal region which accounts for 16 constituencies and which is considered the region with Scindia’s influence.

The 28 Assembly by-elections in Madhya Pradesh are becoming more problematic for the ruling BJP than for Congress. Of the BJP candidates, 22 are those who had quit Congress along with Jyotiraditya Scindia, to bring down the Congress government of Kamal Nath, resigned from the Assembly and joined BJP. They are at the root of the problem. A few more Congress MLAs had resigned from the Assembly later on and joined BJP.  Three vacancies were caused by the death of MLAs.

Scindia supporters were taken aback when their leader quietly joined the BJP because they were not sounded about it before they were asked to rebel against the Congress leadership in March this year. They were given the impression that it would possibly be a pressure group within the Congress or, if it became so imperative, Scindia would form a new party with them and ally with BJP to form the government.  It took Scindia some days to persuade them to join BJP along with him. A word was quietly spread at the time that Scindia might become the Chief Minister.  Besides, an assurance was explicitly held out that the defecting MLAs would be given the ticket in the by-elections.

The BJP workers and those who had contested against these then Congress candidates have been feeling uneasy ever since. There is a discernible disquiet among the State leaders also. They have been trying to convince the party workers that the decision to engineer defections was taken by the party’s central leadership. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was reported to have told a meeting of party workers at Sanwer constituency in June that the decision to lure the Congress MLAs out of Congress to bring down the Kamal Nath government was taken by the central leadership. More recently a similar observation was made by BJP’s national General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya. He said that he could have brought down the Congress government within two months but was asked by Union Home Minister Amit Shah to wait, insinuating that Shah was deeply involved in the toppling game.

With polling scheduled for November 3, the electioneering for the by-elections is at its peak. However, the reports from these constituencies suggest only a half-hearted attempt by BJP workers to work for the victory of these former congress MLAs whom they had jeered and abused only two years ago. There is also an apprehension at the higher ranks of the State BJP that victory of all Scindia supporters would adversely affect their own standing in the party. The way Forest Minister Vijay Shah made a mockery of the Scindia supporters recently indicates the true feelings of the State leadership. Shah said that he had not seen in his life such a vast Mandi where so many MLAs could be purchased like horses and donkeys. Shah is very close to Chief Minister Chouhan.

The Congress, led by Kamal Nath, selected candidates for the by-elections after consulting, sometimes more than once, the local leaders — a practice which has not been witnessed in Congress for quite some time. Nath has been assuring the voters that the Congress will return to power after the by-elections. That, though, does not appear to be so simple. With its 88 MLAs now, Congress needs to win all 28 seats to reach the majority point in a House of 230. The BJP, on the other hand, needs only 9 as it has 107 MLAs at present. The Congress leaders’’ hope lies in the dissensions within the BJP and Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s own fear of Scindia becoming much too powerful in the State BJP if all or most of his supporters win in the by-elections.

Shivraj Singh Chouhan said at a Mandsaur function on September 20 that he is a temporary Chief Minister (of Madhya Pradesh). Chouhan is not known to be a person to say such things lightly; hence the speculation that he has probably received some adverse hint from the party’s Big Boss in Delhi. It may be due to the unsettled state of his mind that a mess is developing in the State government affairs. The controversy over the loan waiver of farmers has become a major embarrassment for his government.

Agriculture Minister Kamal Patel informed the Assembly during its one-day session on September 21 that the Congress government of Kamal Nath had disbursed around Rs 11,000 crore to write off the farm loans of 26,95,381 farmers in the State; farmers with a loan of over Rs one lakh were the beneficiaries of the scheme. About the loans of the remaining farmers, Patel said that a detailed review was under way.

Farmers’ loan waiver was a major plank of the Congress party during the electioneering for the 2019 Assembly elections. After the party formed the government with Kamal Nath as Chief Minister, it had raised the loan amount by promising to waive farm loans up to Rs 2 lakh. However, the government had to go after 15 months following defection of 22 party MLAs loyal to Jyotiraditya Scindia and their resignation from the Assembly.

After formation of BJP government, Chief Minister Chouhan and others in his government and the party have been constantly harping on the Congress government’s failure to keep its promise of waiving loans of farmers; Congress government was accused of telling lies and committing fraud on the State’s farmers. Accusations against the Congress on the farmers’ loan waiver issue had reached a high pitch in view of the ensuing by-elections to the Assembly. Suddenly there are the loan waiver figures given by the Agriculture Minister in the Assembly. As it is a burning issue, one can reasonably assume that the minister may have brought it to the notice of the Chief Minister.

After Patel’s Assembly reply on loan waiver during the Congress regime appeared in media, there was an understandable disquiet among the BJP leaders. But none in the party appeared to think of how to absorb this shock.

Minister of Urban Administration and Development Bhupendra Singh said that what Kamal Patel had stated in the Assembly was based on ‘wrong information’ given by the officials. He told reporters: ‘Adhikariyon ne is sambandh mein Pradesh Vidhan Sabha ko galat jaankari di hai. Jaanch ke baad sahi jaankari di jayegi’ (the officials gave wrong information to the State Assembly regarding this matter. Correct information would be supplied after an inquiry}.

Bhupendra Singh is a veteran legislator and now an important minister. It is surprising that he should project himself as an enemy of common sense. It is the elected minister who is accountable to the Assembly and the people and not XYZ.  While the controversy rages, with the Congress leaders having gleefully jumped into the fray, the Agriculture Minister and the Chief Minister are keeping quiet.

Incidentally, only Chief Minister is not ‘temporary’ in Madhya Pradesh. After Lalji Tandon’s death, Anandiben Patel has been temporarily holding the charge of Governor. Vidhan Sabha continues with pro tem (temporary) Speaker. Half the ministers are temporary as they are not MLAs and there is little chance that by-elections will be held before their six-month period expires. From September 30, MP High Court will also have a temporary Chief Justice (Justice Sanjay Yadav) after retirement of Chief Justice Ajay Kumar Mittal.

October 2020

Debate and Slander

When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the losers.                                                                                                                         — Socrates


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