The Central Bureau of Investigation, aptly described as ‘caged parrot’ by the Supreme Court, may be facing a crisis of confidence but the latest sparring over its jurisdiction in States has triggered an unseemly and avoidable row. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s sudden move to revoke the ‘General Consent’ that all States offer the CBI does not augur well for the Centre-State relations and amounts to undermining the federal spirit. His West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee has followed suit, giving it an explicit political colour. Even at the height of the vilification campaign by the Centre against certain State leaders in the past, such a move was never initiated. This is a risky political gambit by the two powerful regional satraps because while the public at large might be sympathetic to the view that the CBI is an extension of the Central government, the fact that no State government has taken such a step in the past will be used by the BJP to imply that regional leaders have something to hide from investigating agencies. Some of the prominent leaders of both the TDP and the TMC have been at the receiving end of the central agencies like the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax department. The TDP government had recently issued an unusual order to its police not to give protection to ED and I-T officials during raids conducted on some industrialists linked to the ruling party.
One wonders what purpose such a move to withhold consent to central investigating agencies would serve, particularly when political parties of all hues often demand a probe by these agencies into any allegations of graft in their States. In the case of AP, the Chief Minister’s move raises several questions against the backdrop of a series of raids that has exposed the financial underbelly of the ruling party. With the CBI itself in disarray under the NDA’s watch and the two top officers of the agency fighting each other publicly, Naidu and Banerjee have gambled that by the time the CBI can regain its wits and mount a legal challenge to their decision it will become a fait accompli. The decision by the two formidable State leaders reflects a breakdown of trust in the Centre. It is time the CBI got its act together and worked as a professional body with honesty and integrity and the Centre allayed the suspicions of the States by assuring them that the probe agency’s neutrality would be maintained. There is a danger that many opposition-ruled States may follow the example of AP and West Bengal. If India has to survive as a robust, rule-based nation, it needs to implement police reforms, starting with the CBI.