Ashwani Kumar has been known in Delhi more for his stylish hairstyle than for anything related to his politics. Along with Anand Sharma and others equally schooled in ways of charming the powerful, he has formed a prominent part of the Delhi "inside track", i.e., those with access to the founts of authority. With his selection as Law Minister, reportedly because both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as his immediate family have a deep reserve of personal affection for him, Ashwani Kumar entered into a new stage of orbit, where from a supplicant he became a "decider", in the language of George W. Bush of Iraq.
Because precedents are important in law in India, with several arguments being based on what is said to have taken place in faraway locations during times long gone, Law Minister Ashwani Kumar followed the precedent adopted by his predecessors and took a personal interest in the work of CBI investigators. Should there ever be an honest probe into the functioning of the CBI over the past two decades, it will become clear that the so-called "independent watchdog" is in reality not so much a "caged parrot" as a faithful hound dog of Authority.
Indeed, in practice, deferring to the views of the Prime Minister's Office and the Law Minister by the CBI is standard practice. Should any enquiry be ordered into the Ashwani-CBI episode, it will have very little effect except on the political career of Kumar and his boss Manmohan Singh. What is needed is for an independent commission to examine the entire two-decade functioning of the CBI and determine the extent to which the agency's conclusions were tainted by orders conveyed by the government of the day.
A few simple parameters would suffice. Rather than the voluminous list of cases that the CBI is called upon to investigate, and which has been the source of the lifestyles of former CBI officials and their families, a list of just ten top cases can be culled out, and the investigation confined to just this list. Clearly, it would need to cover each government that has been in power since 1993, beginning with that headed by P.V. Narasimha Rao and going on to Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral, A.B. Vajpayee and now Manmohan Singh.
In particular, certain spectacular failures of the CBI need to be examined in minute detail, such as the trajectory of cases against prominent politicians and fixers, both domestic and foreign. All too often, the CBI has lost cases in court, giving rise to the suspicion that the agency was less than eager to ensure that justice got meted out. Was there any involvement of the then PMO or the then Law Minister in such cases? Was there an order to the CBI to lose, and was the brief given to the lawyers arguing the case for the prosecution vitiated by such an interest in ensuring that the guilty escape? In several instances, the CBI has managed the feat of losing cases in court that ought to have been walkovers.
As everywhere else, there is a tendency in India to go for simple solutions. Anna Hazare, with his invaluable experience in public affairs, is of the view that a Jan Lokpal with the same powers that Zia-ul-Haq enjoyed in Pakistan would be able to finish off corruption in this country. This miraculous being would have the time and the will, besides the patience, to investigate cases of corruption involving any of several million government officials. Certainly, especially if someone within the Anna Hazare retinue became the Jan Lokpal (hopefully someone who has had the privilege of a "lal batti" on his car) this scourge of the wicked would never himself turn corrupt. There are those, and this columnist is among them, who are cynical enough to say that the Jan Lokpal as conjured by Anna Hazare and his acolytes would very soon be a wealthy man, as would those having access to him.
Meanwhile, corruption in India would continue to gallop. The same sorry result will happen if action gets taken only against Ashwani Kumar, who has clearly obeyed one order too many from his superiors. What is needed is a commission comprising not just of present and retired folks on government salaries, but chosen from among the overwhelming majority of the population who have all their lives been at the receiving end of the endemic mismanagement which passes for governance in India. This team should delve into the 10 cases selected and at the very least, name and shame those connected with the functioning of the CBI who have bought and sold justice for thirty
pieces of silver.