The role of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as an antiseptic, apolitical gatherer of vital information is not always secure in the public imagination. As an investigative bureau working under the auspices of the central government, the issue of its ‘independence’ has arisen quite often in the past. But a correlation between the whims of the political party in power at the Centre and the CBI’s ability to do its assigned job is neither direct nor totally linked to motives. Which is when we tend to start thinking of another aspect that determines the success of any such agency: ability.
On Tuesday, the CBI was in the news on two different fronts. In the case of the agency’s requirement to cut through political smog and present the facts of what happened in Nandigram on March 14, the CBI has done its job faithfully. It has presented the Calcutta High Court with the correct — and “more believable” — version of the clashes that took place between police and villagers, stating after examining 399 witnesses that the ruling CPI(M) cadres continue to terrorise witnesses in the West Bengal sub-district. It is even more commendable that the CBI has presented the facts within the time period of two months as the court had asked it to. In another case involving investigations into the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 in Delhi, the CBI has found itself unwillingly in the spotlight — if not in a spot. A Delhi trial court has torn down the clean chit given by the CBI to Jagdish Tytler regarding his role in the 1984 riots. This paper had tracked down a key witness, Jasbir Singh, whom the CBI insisted was “untraceable”. Not only is Mr Singh “traceable” but he is keen to depose against Mr Tytler.
Now it is not a question of whether Mr Singh is right or not. Nor is Mr Tytler less innocent or guilty than he was before. But the fact that a ‘new’ element in the case has cropped up is something that the court rightly has taken note of. It is the CBI’s business now to make up for its ‘inability’ — or ‘unwillingness’ — by re-investigating the case with the missing jigsaw piece at its disposal. The two cases — involving Nandigram and the 1984 riots — are classic case studies of what the CBI can do and what it ends up doing all too often, respectively. Let the CBI be allowed to do its job. And more importantly, let the agency allow itself to do its job.