ED and I-T should not be used as vindictive tools

MUMBAI, INDIA - JULY 10: Karnataka Congress minister DK Shivakumar detained by Mumbai police outside Renaissance Hotel in Powai, on July 10, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Satish Bate/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The Supreme Court once called India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) a caged parrot. Now the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax Department are turning out to be His Master’s Voice (HMV) specialising in playing tunes dictated by the party in power. Unless, of course, the courts, in their wisdom, stop the jarring tune.

The recent spate of ED investigations and arrests have a pattern that could be dangerous for democracy in the future. Settling political scores is not the agenda of ED. If that is the case, it becomes not an Enforcement Directorate, but a ‘Vindictive Directorate’.

Future governments could use the same weapon to down their adversaries. Silencing critics is not a healthy sign for free democracy.

The recent ED moves against P Chidambaram, Ratul Puri, DK Sivakumar, Raj Thackeray and others fit into the pattern of a vindictive agenda. The common factor is that all of them are critics of the BJP and the Central Government. In the case of Ratul Puri, it is his uncle Kamal Nath who is a vociferous critic of the Modi government.

That does not mean that Chidambaram is an angel in white dhoti. He may have laundered money through a maze of dubious and clandestine routes which the ED may take years to find out; but there are others too who have laundered money or hidden their wealth; like Mayawati, Lalu and his parivar. Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has had cases pending against him for the last five years. Why not investigate him?

Like Chidambaram, the case of DK Shivakumar is similar. Just a few weeks ago, he bitterly and often maliciously took on the BJP on the floor of the Assembly during the confidence vote moved by former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy. The Enforcement Directorate soon came knocking.

His arrest was in connection with a money laundering case registered by the ED last year when Rs 8.83 crore in unaccounted cash was discovered by the IT Department during raids in New Delhi in locations linked to the Congress leader.

The income tax department raid came soon after DKS had sheltered 44 Congress MLAs from Gujarat at a resort outside Bengaluru ahead of a crucial poll in Gujarat for Rajya Sabha seats. In that election, Congress leader Ahmed Patel’s fortunes were dependent on the 44 MLAs sheltered by Shivakumar.

DKS, like Chidambaram, is not an angel. He is known to have amassed wealth and most of it is not dry-washed clean. In Karnataka, he is known for his arm-twisting tactics to mint money for himself or for the Congress. But then, there are others too in a long list who have made dirty money – like BS Yediyurappa himself and the mining barons– the Reddy brothers- who are BJP supporters. Why is the ED silent on them?

Further south, there is a mine of hidden wealth amassed by the ruling AIADMK men in Tamil Nadu. While DKS is being charged for unaccounted wealth of Rs 8.83 crore, AIADMK minister Vijay Bhaskar was caught red-handed with Rs 7 crore in cash just before the polls. He continues to be a minister and the ED has probably locked up his case for future use.

And when critics change colours, the cases automatically go into hibernation. In Goa, the cases of illegal gambling across the Konkan region against deputy CM Chandrakant Kavlekar has gone into cold storage after he switched over to the BJP; Atanasio ‘Babush’ Monserrate, who faces a serious charge of raping a minor in 2016, is today the BJP's posterboy. In fact, the BJP had launched a “Save Goa from Babush” campaign when he was on the other side of the political fence.

As a Congress strongman, Assam’s Himanta Biswa Sarma was accused by the BJP in the multi-crore Saradha scam; so was Mukul Roy, once a close confidante of Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Both of them have emerged saffron-clean after a dip in the 'lotus pond.'

The point here is that the mandate of the ED is to unearth hidden or illegal wealth, irrespective of party colours. If party colours come into play, it would be bully democracy at work, where silencing critics would be the agenda.

The BJP’s logic is that the fight against the corrupt lords like Chidambaram, DKS and others will earn the government the clean image of a tough taskmaster. But when one-sided patterns emerge, people are quick to spot it. It is time to free the IT and ED from the role of His Master’s Voice and allow them to become the voice of the people who yearn to have a society free of corruption.