Why Venkaiah Naidu's 'CBI is no longer a caged parrot' claim doesn't fly
Venkaiah Naidu claims that the CBI is no longer influenced by the ruling party, unlike under the UPA. "Gone are those days," was how he responded to Arvind Kejriwal's allegation that the agency's raid on his office was orchestrated by the prime minister.
Naidu's claim isn't convincing.
Here are the more prominent of such cases:
In March 2007, a PIL filed in the Supreme Court alleged the Yadav family had amassed Rs 100 crore in illegal wealth while Mulyam was the UP chief minister between 2003 and 2007.
Not long after Samajwadi Party was dislodged from power, the CBI, in early 2008, told the court that it had found prima facie evidence against Mulayam, and asked for permission to launch a criminal investigation.
The agency later reported to have found the Yadavs in possession of illegal assets worth Rs 5 crore.
Later that year, the UPA was suddenly left fighting for survival as the Left parties withdrew their support in protest against the nuclear deal with the US.
Mulayam publicly rallied behind the UPA with his 39 MPs and saved the day.
In December 2008, in an about-turn, the CBI asked the apex court's permission to withdraw its plea seeking registration of a regular case against the Yadavs. The court was livid and pulled up the agency for behaving like a government stooge.
[twittable]Guilty, not guilty: why has the CBI made so many about-turns on Mulayam, Mayawati, Lalu cases?[/twittable]
That's not where the drama stopped, however. In 2009, the CBI told the court that it stood by its first plea and wanted to proceed against the Yadavs.
That this change of heart came as the Congress and the SP were sparring over seat sharing in the impending Lok Sabha election wasn't lost on anybody.
In September 2013, the CBI decided to close the case against the Yadavs, citing insufficient evidence.
Now, Mulayam again has reasons to worry. The CBI is showing interest in the Yadav Singh scam case, in which many members of the Yadav family are alleged to be directly involved.
Indeed, this investigation was cited by analysts as a reason for Mulayam to ditch the anti-BJP Grand Alliance in Bihar just before the polls in October.
After years investigating the Rs 5,000-crore NRHM scam in Uttar Pradesh, the CBI finally questioned Mayawati in October this year. The agency claims to have found evidence that directly implicates Mayawati.
Mayawati is accused of bifurcating the health department to allow it to be placed under the family welfare department, then led by her confidant Babu Singh Kushwaha. The former minister has already been chargesheeted.
When the investigation began during the UPA rule, the CBI interrogated all the accused, save Mayawati. The agency seemed to have nothing to ask her. She was then an ally of the Congress.
Mayawati's eventual questioning was said to have been prompted by the testimony of Girish Malik, the prime accused in the scam who has turned approver. Malik was a close aide of Kushwaha, who was responsible for implementing the NRHM in the state.
But Malik has been changing his statements, and indicting people seemingly randomly, for three years now. Why the CBI suddenly found his testimony credible enough to question Mayawati isn't clear.
Could it be an attempt by the BJP to weaken her before the 2017 assembly polls in UP, as the ruling party's critics claim?
In case of Lalu Prasad, who has had several run-ins with the CBI, the agency has shown zeal or lethargy depending on who was ruling from New Delhi.
While the UPA was in power, the agency did not seem keen on prosecuting the fodder scam. In fact, the then CBI chief Ranjit Sinha, in 2014, personally recommended dropping three of the pending cases against Lalu. The move was opposed by the then Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran.
If the CBI's credibility was under doubt during the UPA's rule, it hasn't fared any better under the NDA. While the agency has shown remarkable energy in probing some cases, it has proceeded puzzlingly slowly in certain others.
Is it a surprise that the latter largely affect the BJP and its allies?
Going by the body count, 44 so far, this is the largest scam the country has seen in recent times. Given the involvement of top politicians and officials of Madhya Pradesh, ruled by the BJP, this case should perhaps have been top priority for the agency.
Yet, despite months of investigation, the CBI has failed to make any breakthroughs.
A few month ago, Paras Saklecha and Ajay Dubey, who blew the whistle on the scam, had alleged that the government had directed the CBI "to go slow on the case until at least the Bihar polls".
That the agency did not oppose bail to Yogesh Uprit, one of the prime suspects, doesn't inspire confidence in its credibility.
The Centre had granted Rs 1,028 crore under the National Urban Livelihood Mission for construction of low-cost houses for about 9 lakh urban homeless across the country.
But, as the Supreme Court has noted, only 208 houses have been built so far. The court called it a "scam" and asked why the Maharashtra government, for example, had nothing to show for Rs 170 crore given to it.
[twittable]Heard of NULM scam? Rs 1,028 crore spent to build houses for 900,000 homeless, only 208 built so far[/twittable]
The scam has received little attention so far, including from the CBI.
There are several other cases involving BJP leaders which the CBI has given shirt shrift to.
The allegations against Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Foreign Affairs Sushma Swaraj of helping the scam-tainted former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi.
The role of Maharashtra BJP minister Pankaja Munde in awarding a Rs 230 crore contract for "substandard school meals".
The DDCA scam. Former India cricketers Bishen Singh Bedi and Kirti Azad have alleged a Rs 150-crore corruption scandal in the cricket body when Arun Jaitley was its president.
But CBI hasn't found any of these cases worth probing.
In contrast, the agency crashed Virbhadra Singh's daughter's wedding to probe alleged embezzlement of Rs 6 crore.
The agency has also kept the heat on Mamata Banerjee in the Saradha Scam. She had to sack Trinamool Congress general secretary Shankudeb Panda after the CBI called him in for deposition.
No wonder Naidu's claim that the CBI has suddenly broken out of its cage doesn't fly.