The name Gandhi spells magic for my generation of Indians and anyone associated with the lineage raises expectations of character and quality. So one felt drawn to Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s DP Kohli Memorial Lecture, delivered to CBI officers, in the hope of some serious food for thought or insight that could illuminate our own, troubled questionings as to what exactly had gone wrong with the Indian Republic.
But it turned out to be more in the nature of a tête-à-tête, rather than a serious engagement.
The lecture surveys a whole gamut of institutions, how they achieved the high noon and then the eclipse set in. But when he came to the CBI, the point of the lecture began to be evident.
What was the occasion for making the point about a CBI director posing a threat to the political class by being a self-directed robot or a power centre in own right? Has any director of the CBI ever shown any inclination in that direction? The malady has been their pusillanimity, their reluctance to make a move against the really powerful.
Those who could instil the fear of law in the hearts of the powerful invariably fall by the wayside. Hence, it is not the powerful who have to fear the CBI. Gandhi seems to have got it wrong. It is not the high-handedness of the CBI that people in high places are worried about. It is the threat to their privilege that is the real issue.
But Gandhi is a man of culture and his anxiety on this score is sufficiently well disguised. “There is justified criticism of CBI high-handedness and lack of sensitivity to loss of reputation of senior members of the bureaucracy against whom needless inquiries can get initiated.”
But even so one would like to know from whose point of view is it “justified criticism”? From the point of view of those whose decisions are the subject matter of investigation? From the point of view of PC Parakh, who has rightly dared the CBI in his book, because he knows, as indeed everyone else, that the CBI has that fine sense of discretion not to encroach upon the area marked by the crossed skull and bones of privilege? He is in a boat that the CBI cannot rock.
The CBI practises the dichotomy of distinction with panache — put on trial the man who supposedly took bribe on behalf of the railway minister and spare the minister himself.
Post Coalgate, a genuine fear seems to have gripped the high and mighty in the upper reaches of the bureaucracy.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was more forthright when he spelt out what constituted criminal misconduct. He claimed an exemption for policy-makers from being made accountable in the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 for policy decisions.
There could not be a more disingenuous plea for exceptionalism. After all who makes the policy — not the legislators or the judges. It is the government on the advice of its top bureaucrats.
Experience tells us that governments have been running on the unstated motto: ‘Dishonesty is the best policy’. Claiming immunity in the name of policy is the first step. Then they could go ahead and announce that dishonesty is their policy, thus taking both their dishonesty and their policy out of the purview of investigators.
Many police officers believe that exterminating terrorists, criminals, etc, is the only policy option in times of crisis, but it so turns out that some of them turn out to be normal peace-loving people.
Will the immunity extend to these matters of life and liberty also or shall we limit it to pecuniary losses only? The CBI understands things but the rest of us uninitiated folks have still not divined the gnostic themes spelt out to them from time to time by eminent people. So these tactless undiplomatic questions need to be raised.
Manoje Nath is a retired IPS officer. The views expressed by the author are personal.