Crisis of Faith
It is almost ironic that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which spent years accusing the Congress and its president Sonia Gandhi of undermining India’s institutions by using the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against political opponents now stands accused of meddling in the functioning of the CBI, the Supreme Court and even the Reserve Bank of India.
Last year saw controversies sprout in virtually all institutions of the democracy. The CBI spat between Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana was one of the most public the country had seen in recent times and needed the intervention of both the government and the Supreme Court.
The top-level spat between the two happened allegedly because of the Centre’s attempt to use Asthana, a close aide of the Modi government, to carry out political investigations while working in an agency that already has a reputation for politically motivated action.
The Central government recently curtailed the tenure of Special CBI Director Rakesh Asthana along with the tenure of three other top officers -- Joint Director Arun Kumar Sharma, DIG Manish Kumar Sinha and SP Jayant J. Naiknavare, who were considered close to Asthana during the fight with Verma.
The government on October 23 sent Asthana on forced leave divesting him of his powers along with Verma after their clash levelling mutual allegations of corruption against each other.
Recent raids conducted in multiple states in the country drew sharp reactions from politicians across the board. The Congress called the recent CBI booking of former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda a result of "Modis political vendetta", warning the Central agencies and their officers of going against their legal mandate to further the interests of their political masters.
Not just the Congress but prominent opposition leaders including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal flayed the Narendra Modi government for using the agencies to harass and intimidate the opposition.
Strongly condemning the CBI booking Hooda and raiding his residences in connection with a land allotment case, Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said the action coming ahead of the Lok Sabha polls and the bypolls in Haryana, was a clear indication of the Centre using agencies to harass and intimidate political opponents.
"Hooda's residences have been raided on a day when he is to address a rally for the Jind bypoll. By this the government has given a clear message that it will continue to use the CBI and other central agencies as a tool to intimidate and harass the opposition," Sharma told the media.
Referring to similar actions by the CBI against other opposition leaders including in West Bengal and Bihar, Sharma said that Modi and the BJP were rattled by their imminent defeat in the Lok Sabha polls and were now resorting to "political vendetta".
He blamed Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah for the CBI and other agencies losing their credibility.
Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee, many of whose party leaders were arrested and interrogated in chit fund scams by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED), also slammed Modi and the BJP.
"Political vendetta continues. BJP and its ‘allies' comprising multiple government agencies harassing all allies of opposition. From Kolkata to Delhi and beyond," she said in a series of tweets.
Referring to Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee said nobody was being spared.
"Are they scared, are they desperate?" she asked calling the "headless agency" (CBI) to have become "spineless BJP".
Replying to her tweets, Kejriwal whose Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) too has been at the receiving end of the CBI, alleged that Modi was fighting the political battle through the enforcement agencies.
"From Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati in UP to Mamata Banerjee in Bengal and AAP in Delhi, Modi-Shah duo has spared no political opponent," he said.
The judicial crisis began last year when four of the top five judges of the Supreme Court held a press conference to complain about democracy being in danger. The four judges were critical of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and the way in which many cases were allocated.
There is much controversy over judicial appointments under the current regime with the government trying to influence the collegium system. In 2015, the Supreme Court had to strike down the government’s National Judicial Appointments Council, which would have changed the system entirely.
Earlier this month, the government elevated Karnataka High Court Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Sanjiv Khanna of the Delhi High Court to the Supreme Court even as a controversy raged over their recommendation by the apex court's collegium.
The government issued the notification disclosing the appointments by President Ram Nath Kovind on a day the Bar Council of India also joined issue, terming as "unjust and improper" the collegium "recalling and reviewing" its earlier recommendation of Jan 12.
The notification said they are being appointed with immediate effect from the date they assume charge.
The appointments come even as the collegium decision to reverse the earlier recommendation of elevating the Chief Justices of Rajasthan and Delhi High Courts Pradeep Nandrajog and Rajendra Menon respectively and instead pushing the names of Maheshwari and Khanna.
Later, Justice Sanjay Kaul of the Supreme Court had written to the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi with an objection against sidelining Nandrajog saying he was the senior most among the judges in the zone of consideration and a wrong signal would go out if he was passed over.
Former Delhi High Court judge Kailash Gambhir wrote to the President saying 32 judges were being superseded by the elevation of Khanna.
"To be honest, the said news breaking all traditions has sent shockwaves to the entire legal and judicial fraternity.
"This is appalling and outrageous that such an earth shattering decision has been taken to supersede as many as 32 judges which include many Chief Justices, casting aspersions on their intellect, merit and integrity," he said.
Gambhir said the supersession of the 32 judges will be a "historical blunder" and pleaded the President to preserve the credibility and independence of the judiciary.
Urging the President to ponder over the issue, Gambhir said "how will the democracy and independence of judiciary in the country survive".
"I write to you as having been a proud member of this vibrant judiciary, which has withstood the tests on its credibility every now and then, but I am afraid may not survive this time," added Gambhir.
Political observers say the BJP’s interference in the workings of democratic institutes while performing poorly on economic issues is the reason it has lost traction. In its undermining of institutions like the Reserve Bank of India, Supreme Court and the investigative agencies, the BJP alienates not just other political parties, but also its voters.