Of political witch-hunt & Indian judiciary

By Prabhakar Timble
19 October 2019 09:38 IST

In 2018, Vladimir Putin won the fourth term as Russian President receiving over 75% of the vote. He has been the longest serving top-most leader either as President or Prime Minister of Russia since 1999. His strongest opponent, Alexei Navalny was disallowed from taking part because of a criminal case against him. Independent agencies reported that elections were rigged by stuffing ballot boxes with extra ballots and through use of coercive tactics.  It is widely accepted that Putin’s opponents were either put in jail or charged with crimes and that Putin does not falter to manage murder of his political enemies. It is no secret that this longest serving political leader has irresistible love for the topic patriotism and this jingoism is made the central doctrine in the country’s military and security ideology. With blind patriotism gaining roots, dissent and opposition is nailed as unpatriotic. It is no wonder that the Indian government regards Putin’s Russia as an “integral friend and trustworthy partner!!”

Back home, we see a spree of inordinately delayed activism by the CBI and ED on the political opposition. Pallaniappan Chidambaram, who held the positions of Finance Minister and Home Minister in the union cabinet, is in the custody of CBI. After 55 days of custody, now the ED is thirsty for custodial interrogation. This is supposedly for the charge of money laundering for clearances issued by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) in 2007. The investigating authorities thought it appropriate to take cognizance in 2017, only after a decade of silence. D. K. Shivkumar, a Congress politician from Karnataka is brought under the scanner. The same agencies turn cold and frigid when it comes to investigation of BJP Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa diaries and unaccounted stink. The agencies make noise of clampdown on Robert Vadra on the eve of every election. They rise up demanding custodial interrogation of Kamal Nath, the moment he takes charge as Congress CM of Madhya Pradesh.  As the elections dawn on the state of Maharashtra, the opposition heavy-weights Praful Patel and Sharad Pawar get targeted from I.T., CBI and ED. Likewise, each and every political opponent is sought to be picked up for  custodial investigation. The timing of the action speaks it all raising clouds of suspicion over the intentions of these agencies and their remote political managers.

Coming straight to the home state, we have noted how a former BJP Chief Minister of Goa, well-recognised locally as the master of coercive tactics used to utilize such weaponry to silence and unnerve the opposition. He was tenaciously toying to put another former CM of Goa in jail on matters relating to mining and Louis Berger.  Like a tiger playing with his prey, this Chief Minister would ensure either their custodial interrogation or their political obedience.

There can never be two opinions that the economic criminals should be booked, investigated and punished as per the existing laws. The question is that all politicians or businessmen hunted by the agencies or better to say the current government for illegalities happen to be those who either dissent or stand in opposition to the ruling party. No agency showed even an iota of interest to commence any probe for over a decade. No ruling politician accused of corruption and illegalities is summoned by the CBI or ED even for a farcical inquiry.  Added, it is observed that once the opponents get annexed to the ruling party, the eruption by the investigative agencies comes to a screeching halt. There is no single example of deviation. Even a poor exception to all that is stated above is not seen.

Bail was almost an established rule through judicial precedents and jail was an exception. The concept of anticipatory bail got evolved largely because of the excesses of the executive on the opponents. Today, somehow, custodial interrogation is getting judicial acceptability. Custody itself amounts to pre-punishment. Long custody of an individual is harsh. An investigative agency waiting in the wings to demand custodial interrogation, the moment another brother agency quenches the thirst is nothing short of corruption and sell out of the independence to the masters. This unduly long incarceration prior to conviction is highly unjust and unfair. During custody, the suspect is deprived of freedoms and several rights are put on hold.

The support received from the judiciary for such kind of executive excess and lawlessness is intriguing. Most of the offences for which these political opponents are sought to be booked can be largely proved through paper transactions. Long drawn custodial interrogation is an anti-thesis of the doctrine of self-incrimination. In such circumstances, the society and the media holds the accused to be guilty before any conviction.

The judicial acquiescence amounts to a tacit patronage to such colorable, almost deceiving type of investigation. The issue here is not of individuals or the abuse of institutions by the politicians. The centre of gravity shifts on the judiciary which is pleased to deny bail and sanction custodial interrogation. Anyway, this independent arm looked at with awe and expectation as the guardian of democratic freedoms and rights is losing if not already lost its sheen. When a judge of a lower court directs to file FIR on grounds of sedition against a group of intellectuals for addressing a letter to the Prime Minister, the rot we are in gets reflected. The repetitive denial of bail to social activists booked in the Bhima Koregaon case sends the signal of judiciary turning regressive. The supreme indifference of the Supreme Court in the matter of Article 370 and repressive actions in Jammu & Kashmir is shaking the confidence of people in judiciary as the repository of constitutional rights and values. That the Indian judiciary is weeding the core constitutional wings and getting lured to the new testament of patriotism and nationalism is bound to send tremors.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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