Raising the pitch of the battle

As the general elections approach, the ruling BJP and the opposition parties are raising the pitch of their battle which is going to be a no-holds-barred one. Chandra Babu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh has withdrawn the “letter of consent” to the CBI that empowered the central agency to inquire into cases in the State without seeking permission of the State Government. Now it will have to obtain the State’s permission each time it wants to inquire into any case, unless the inquiry is ordered by the Supreme Court or the High Court of the State. Within hours, Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal did the same and latest indications are that the Punjab Government is also thinking of following suit.
From the point of view of federalism there is nothing to object to as the law and order is a State subject. But the Modi Government is not likely to take this ‘affront’ from the opposition-ruled States lying down. What steps it takes next to counter the States remains to be seen. That the party ruling at the Centre uses the investigating agencies under its control like the CBI, ED, SFIO, Income-tax, etc., against its political opponents is a well known fact. The Congress also did the same when it ruled the Centre. Political parties in our country, irrespective of their ideology, have the same scant respect for federalism and the rights of the States. The attitude to federalism is determined by whether you are in power at the Centre or in the State. The perspective changes with the change in the seat of power.
The Sarkaria Commission sought to put an end to all disputes about the rights of the States vis-à-vis the Centre. But obviously its recommendations failed to resolve the problem. There is no doubt that the CBI has lost much of the respect it once commanded since it chose to become the “caged parrot” of the Centre. Recent weeks have witnessed a fierce power struggle in the agency with senior officers trying to discredit and run down one another. Some cases are now pending before the Supreme Court. The degree of freedom with which foreign investigation and intelligence agencies operate in the Western countries is unthinkable in our country. The colonial legacy left by the British is very much at work. So long as political parties do not allow the federal agencies to act purely professionally and refrain from interfering in their work, nothing will change. Rather the trend will be to enable the central agencies to operate in the States without the latter’s consent.

Sunday, 18 November, 2018