Are India’s Probing Agencies Becoming Political Puppets?

Last month the Jammu & Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said the Centre was “weaponising” central investigating agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), National Investigation Agency (NIA), and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) by using them to probe and harass her, her friends and family, and her party leaders. She scathingly remarked that the ruling regime, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was using these agencies as its “mistresses” to target her and her party.

Jammu and Kashmir is now administered as a Union Territory under the terms of Article 239A (which was initially applied to Puducherry is now also applicable to the Union Territory as per The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019) of the Constitution of India. Before that Act was passed, J&K was administered by a coalition government that was formed by an alliance of the PDP and the BJP. That alliance was ill-fated and in June 2018, it broke down, leading J&K back to Governor’s Rule.

Ms Mufti’s remarks alleging that the Centre is using the government’s investigation agencies to target the ruling regime’s political opponents is not an isolated one. This is not the first time that CBI, NIA, ED, and other central investigative agencies have been accused of being used politically by ruling regimes in India. The CBI is India’s premier investigating agency and functions as a national investigating and security organisation as well as an intelligence agency; the NIA acts as the Central Counter Terrorism Law Enforcement Agency; and the ED is a law enforcement agency and economic intelligence agency that is responsible for enforcing economic laws and fighting economic crime in India.

Targeting political rivals or opposition leaders by using the services of such agencies is not new in India. Successive ruling regimes have been observed to have done it. However, the rising concerns are about the alleged spread of the practice since 2014 when the incumbent BJP-led coalition came to power at the Centre and, subsequently, was re-elected in 2019. The BJP’s clearly-stated objective is not only to make India emerge as a country “freed of the Congress” (Congress mukt Bharat, in Hindi) but also to wrest control in as many of the Indian states as it can. So, its political rivals include, not only a national party such as the Congress, but also several regional parties that hold sway in the states.

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The first of the apparently politically-motivated actions by investigating agencies during the BJP-ruled regime began early. Soon after the BJP-led coalition came to power in 2014, investigative agencies swung into action. There were raids at the Delhi chief minister (and vocal opponent of the BJP) Arvind Kejriwal’s office; and old cases against Uttar Pradesh’s Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party president Mayawati were revived. In 2019, just before the general elections, the CBI raided the Kolkata police commissioner’s office without a warrant in what was an action quite clearly directed at undermining the Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee who is the chief minister of West Bengal and also a huge critic of the ruling regime at the Centre.

The list of such political targeting by investigative agencies is long. In 2019, former Haryana chief minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, faced raids in connection to old cases of alleged corruption in land deals; Congress MP and political secretary to Sonia Gandhi, Ahmed Patel (who passed away in 2020) was linked to a money-laundering scheme in Gujarat; and the homes of leaders close to the Biju Janata Dal leader and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik were raided before panchayat elections in that state. These are only a few examples of what Indian political parties, particularly those who oppose the BJP, call “political vendetta” against them. Last month, when the ED summoned a Shiv Sena leader’s wife in Mumbai for questioning in connection with a bank fraud, the party’s workers put up a banner in front of the city’s ED office, which proclaimed that it was a BJP office.

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It should not be anybody’s case the charges that are levelled by the investigating agencies against opposition politicians are rigged or false. Some (or perhaps, even all) of them may have some basis for investigation. But it is the concerted manner in which the agencies are used that is of concern because it smacks of government interference in the role of the agencies that are supposed to be autonomous and apolitical.

One of the most high-profile cases was the one involving former finance minister P Chidambaram in 2019. He was accused of being involved in the INX Media scandal. Chidambaram was charged with allowing an irregular transfer of overseas funds to the media company. Chidambaram was arrested and the CBI tried to extend his custody many times. But that case has now gone nowhere.

That is the other thing. Many of the cases on which investigative agencies have based their actions against opposition political leaders have either died down, reached a dead-end, or not been pursued after the initial raids, arrests, and so on. While that could reinforce the opposition parties’ allegations that the ruling regime is using the agencies for political vendetta, the more serious issue is about what such a practice could do to the reputation and autonomy of India’s central investigating agencies, which are, by law, meant to be non-partisan, apolitical, unbiased, and independent. If these institutions and their functioning are prone to political interference, not only will their functioning be eroded but Indians will lose their faith in the establishment and its ability to function without fear and favour.

DDC Poll: BJP’s Botched-Up J&K Plan

Some diehard, liberal optimists are yet again jumping the gun with fake optimism by overwhelmingly asserting that the District Development Council (DDC) election results for about 278 seats in Jammu and Kashmir is “a return to democracy”. There also seems to a view that the election results have proved that the BJP is the single largest party of this former state and new Union Territory, and, therefore, it has been absolved of the arbitrary abrogation of Article 370, the prolonged communication & social lockdown, mass arrests and the military clampdown. This, too, is flagrantly off the mark.

In this freezing cold, the winter of discontent has yet again been reaffirmed and expressed unanimously by the people in the Valley, with all their mistrust and misgivings about the mainstream politicians of the various mainline parties. The DDC polls, if at all, are a reminder, that all is not well in the restive region, and the Valley desperately needs freedom, peace, dignity and democracy. A restoration of the autonomy which was forcibly snatched from the people in early August 2019 by the BJP-led government in Delhi.

The tally of 75 seats for the BJP is a pointer to the sharp religious polarization witnessed in Jammu and Kashmir, especially since 2014. The fact that the BJP had an alliance with Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) earlier, against the popular mood, which led to another round of mass unrest in the Valley, has not been forgotten in the region. Certainly, it did not help in mainstreaming BJP in the region, especially in the Valley, more so, after it broke the alliance, as arbitrarily as ever.

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The military clampdown followed by the arrests of scores of politicians and ordinary people, the total communication and social and political lockdown which continued for months, including a tacit and overt clampdown on the local media, has not erased from popular memory. If at all, the DDC polls have only highlighted the serious lack of faith, the universal bad faith, and the total alienation witnessed in the valley since August last year.

The BJP winning a large chunk in the Jammu region is predictable, though even the Congress and the National Conference led by the Abdullahs have made inroads there. The Congress won 26 seats. The alliance has won in both mixed areas, as well as in Muslim-dominated areas, overwhelmingly.

There have been palpable fears in the Jammu region that outsiders might usurp their land in the current scenario, and this fear has been widely shared in the region of Ladakh as well. Despite that, the Hindu-dominated Jammu has voted for the local candidates of the BJP. The independents have won over 50 seats. Predictably, there are allegations that the BJP is trying to appropriate the independents.

Members of the Gupkar Alliance in Kashmir

Significantly, the BJP has got only 3 per cent odd votes in the Valley, and three seats in the Srinagar region. The Farooq Abdullah-led People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), comprising the PDP, the CPM, the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference, and others, have overwhelming won the mandate with 110 seats. And it has not been easy for the alliance, with its leaders such as Mehbooba Mufti and Sajjad Lone widely seen as compromised leaders who had earlier aligned with the BJP, going against the popular mood.

Besides, there were complaints by the alliance that they were not allowed to campaign freely, their movements were restricted, that the central agencies were making life difficult for them, and that their top leaders were not able to reach out to the masses in the interiors. There were also complaints of the BJP using the state machinery to its benefit, as much as pumping in huge money and resources to win the polls.

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Let it also not be forgotten, that the Apni Party propped up by Delhi has done badly with only 12 seats. The fact is that the Centre’s manipulative moves to change the course of the region’s politics has not really succeeded, especially in the Valley. Since the military clampdown, the Centre has tried to create a new and alternative leadership, sponsored by the Indian State and aligned to BJP, from the local level leadership, such as the panchayats and the districts. This move has not only boomeranged, but failed singularly in creating an alternative leadership, with most of these local, sponsored chieftains unable to even visit their areas due to the fear of a collective backlash.

Several other myths seem to have been broken by the final results of the polls and the process of campaigning. The BJP’s campaign to remove dynasties simply did not work. Despite the bad faith, the people have restored faith in the old dynasties, including Sajjad Lone, Mufti and the Abdullahs.

Second, the DDC winners will involve themselves with strictly local issues — health, water, infrastructure, among other factors. These are municipal issues and in no way reflect the big political picture and social process of the state. People have clearly voted to make a categorical point in the Valley and in the mixed population areas elsewhere – that they unilaterally and unanimously oppose the abrogation of Article 370, the dissolution of the assembly, the arrest of mainstream leaders and others, the lockdown and the clampdown, and the totalitarian method adopted by the Centre under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah since August last year.

If anything, the poll results yet again reflect mass resentment and anger at the state of affairs and are a signal that the entire strategy of the ruling regime in the region has moved from one political failure to another.

In this context the rhetoric that the polls would end militancy or extremism is much too far-fetched. If anything, Pakistan-backed armed militancy has only increased since the state was turned into a union territory, and there is no sign of it abating. With China fishing in murky waters in Ladakh, hitherto a part of Jammu and Kashmir, allegedly occupying Indian land, despite the high-level talks, the border region will continue to be restive.

Indeed, with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris coming to power in America, there is speculation that the human and fundamental rights issue might be again raised by democrats, involving Kashmir. Pakistan is sure to raise it yet again internationally, tacitly backed by China. And with the new American leadership’s stated position in support of democracy, secularism and freedom, if there is a shift in American foreign policy on Kashmir, that surely will be another big headache for the regime in Delhi.

Despite all the shadows and black holes, the DDC poll campaign and the results are a good sign. It restores minimalist electoral democracy in a state under siege and virtual occupation. It also promises the final restoration of autonomy and the state assembly under federal principles of the Indian Constitution, whereby people of the region might once again choose to vote for an elected state government – and not a power structure controlled by the Centre with military clampdown.

BJP pulls out of alliance with PDP in J&K

An opportunistic alliance has come to an end. BJP is running away after destroying the peace in the valley. https://t.co/P2C9ZMZtuk

— Congress (@INCIndia) June 19, 2018 The BJP won 25 seats and the PDP 28 in the 87-member assembly and came together in alliance, two months after the December 2014 elections. The NC has 15 seats, the Congress 12 and others seven. Although the BJP and the PDP had campaigned vigorously against each other, they came together with an Agenda of Alliance in the hope of pulling the state out of the cycle of violence. But the Alliance never took hold and the two parties disagreed on most issues even as the security situation continued to deteriorate. Both Omar and the Congress said they will not form an alliance with any party to form government in the state. The BJP also said it favours governor’s rule. If imposed, it will be the fourth time since 2008 and the eighth time since 1977. Madhav said the decision to withdraw was taken after consulting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah. Immediately after his news conference, senior PDP minister and party’s chief spokesperson Naeem Akhthar told reporters in Srinagar that the BJP’s decision had caught the party by surprise. The BJP blamed the PDP for failing to improve the security conditions in the Kashmir Valley. Madhav cited last week’s killing of senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari in the heart of Srinagar in the highly secured area of Press Enclave by unidentified gunmen. The same day — two days before Eid — an Army jawan was abducted while going on Eid leave and killed. “Keeping in mind that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and in order to control the prevailing situation in the state, we have decided that the reins of power in the state be handed over to the governor,” Madhav added. Terrorism, violence and radicalism have risen and the fundamental rights of citizens, including right to life and free speech, are in danger, the BJP leader said. BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Kavinder Gupta told reporters in Delhi that he and his ministerial colleagues have submitted their resignations to the governor as well as to the chief minister. “Centre did everything for the Valley. We’ve tried to put a full-stop to the ceasefire violations by Pakistan. PDP has not been successful in fulfilling its promises. Our leaders have been facing a lot of difficulties from PDP in developmental works in Jammu and Ladakh,” Madhav said. “We are not questioning the intentions of PDP but they have failed in improving the condition of life in Kashmir,” he added. Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said here that the BJP had committed a “Himalayan blunder” by forming a government with the PDP. He said the BJP, a national party, should not have allied with PDP, a regional player. “The regional parties should have been allowed to form an alliance among themselves,” he told reporters. (PTI)]]>

Mehbooba announces amnesty for stone pelters

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has announced amnesty to first-time stone pelters, officials said on Thursday.

In a Twitter post on Wednesday night, Mufti said: “It gives me immense satisfaction to restart the process of withdrawing FIRs against first-time offenders of stone pelting. “My government had initiated the process in May 2016 but it was unfortunately stalled due to the unrest later that year. “It is a ray of hope for these young boys and their families. This initiative will provide them an opp ortunity to rebuild their lives.” The Centre’s special representative on Jammu and Kashmir Dineshwar Sharma had recommended the move to instil confidence among the stakeholders for a sustained dialogue to resolve the Kashmir issue. (IANS) // ]]>