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PM Modi's Anti-Corruption Crusade and the ED, CBI Factors

The Supreme Court on April 5, 2023, refused to entertain a petition filed by 14 political parties alleging that the central investigating agencies such as the Directorate of Enforcement (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) are being weaponised by the Modi government to clamp down on dissent, by arresting Opposition leaders. This verdict is a stinging slap on a combined Opposition that had the gall to doubt the bonafide of our premier probe agencies and then had the audacity to file such a petition in the apex court. Surely, the Congress and these Opposition parties were caught on the wrong foot when the Supreme Court said that political leaders cannot claim a higher immunity than ordinary citizens and hence, a special set of guidelines cannot be issued for them. Imagine the entitlement of the Opposition that it even dared to demand that politicians are a privileged class and need to be treated with kid gloves. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on the other hand, has always stood for inclusivity and has never played the politics of entitlement, bordering on unfounded narcissism.Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the lawyer for the Opposition, eventually had to eat humble pie. He took the court through certain statistics to argue that Centrally controlled investigating agencies are being increasingly deployed in a ‘selective and targeted’ manner against political opponents. He argued that between 2004-2014, of the 72 political leaders investigated by the CBI, 43 were from the Opposition, now the same figure has risen to over 95 percent. The same pattern, he alleged, is reflected in ED’s investigations as well, with the proportion of Opposition leaders from the total number of politicians investigated rising from 54 percent (before 2014) to 95 percent (after 2014). After outlining the said figures, Singhvi argued that there is a skewed application of CBI and ED jurisdictions and the skewed application of law has a chilling effect on our democracy. Well, Singhvi clearly suffers from selective amnesia because if democracy has indeed ever been threatened in India, it was only when the Congress regime was in power, including the dark era of Emergency under the draconian Indira Gandhi, from 1975 to 1977.“Are you saying that because of these statistics, there should be immunity from investigation?” Chief Justice Chandrachud asked Singhvi. Political leaders can’t claim higher immunity, the CJI added, saying, “The problem with this petition is that you are trying to extrapolate statistics into guidelines, where the statistics only apply to politicians. But, we cannot have guidelines exclusively for politicians.” Singhvi, in a futile bid to score some brownie points for his petitioners, added, “Mass arrests are a threat to democracy. It is a sign of authoritarianism. The process becomes the punishment.” To this absurd and devious charge by Singhvi, the CJI went on to say, “Political leaders stand absolutely on the same standing as the citizens of the country. They do not claim a higher identity. How can there be a different set of procedures for them?”
Chief Justice Chandrachud, while asking the Opposition/petitioners to come back with specific instances, said that the top court could not lay down abstract guidelines, adding, “It would be dangerous to formulate general guidelines in the absence of such specific facts.” However, the biggest rebuttal and a clear snub to the 14 Opposition parties came when the CJI told Singhvi, “When you say that space for Opposition has shrunk, the remedy is in that space, the political space. Not the court.” With those words, the CJI called out the bluff of India’s electorally vanquished Opposition which was desperately trying to find a judicial remedy to a political matter, after repeatedly losing elections at the hustings. This petition by Singhvi, on behalf of the Opposition, was basically put in a trash can by the apex court, sending out a loud and clear message that any attempts to delegitimise the ED and CBI or the Modi government’s war against corruption, will not find any takers in the highest echelons of the judiciary unless backed by hard facts.Speaking of PM Modi’s unrelenting anti-corruption crusade, besides the April 5, 2023, verdict which came as a shot in the arm for the Modi government, even back in 2022, on July 27 last year, the apex court upheld the constitutional validity of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, (PMLA), 2002, thereby dismantling the puerile hopes of a debilitated Opposition which wanted PMLA provisions to be diluted.