DC Edit | Timing of ED raids in Chhattisgarh is suspect

Update: 2023-02-21 18:51 GMT
Security personnel outside the residence of a Congress leader during a raid by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with a mining case, in Raipur, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023. ED conducted searches at multiple locations in Chhattisgarh in the case. (Photo: PTI)

The allegations of the NDA government using Central investigation agencies against its political opponents have been running thick and fast for so long that the ruling party appears to have inured itself to them. Otherwise, the sleuths of the Enforcement Directorate would not have been knocking on the doors of prominent Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh in relation to a coal scam a few days ahead of the party’s plenary session is to begin in Raipur in the state.

No one would have a case of the ED going about its investigation into allegations of money-laundering related to the illegal collection of levy worth over Rs 500 crores on coal by bureaucrats and politicians. The agency has already arrested nine persons, including an officer in chief minister Bhupesh Baghel’s office. But the timing of the raid on Congress leaders who, the party says, have no connection with the scam but are part of the team organising the session is suspect. The BJP will have to respond to Mr Baghel’s allegation that it is resorting to such tactics after being “disappointed with the success of the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ and the truth of Adani being exposed”.

Not one day passes now when there is no ED raid on some high-profile politician or industrialist. Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president D.K. Shivakumar was on record the other day expressing his desperation at the harassment meted out to him by the agency. Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia is another Opposition politician who is called to the offices of the Central agencies on a regular basis.

The ED has on its call a law, Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, which gives it an advantage that most other Indian agencies do not have. The burden of proof is on the accused in money-laundering cases; and only statements given to officers of a certain rank are admissible in court. Despite these advantages, the conviction rate of the agency is unacceptably low.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi never misses the chance to position India as a nation founded on democratic ethos; democracy runs in our veins, he would say. But unfortunately his party, the BJP, and the government he heads, do not appear to believe that the Opposition is part of the democratic project and that it, too, needs space to function. The slogan “Congress-mukt Bharat” does not square with what he proclaims. Undermining the people’s verdict and unseating governments also come contrary to those principles.

The BJP should not think that it can create an “Opposition-mukt Bharat” by denying them political space and it’s highly likely that the people of India would subscribe to that prescription. Attempts to portray opponents as corrupt and inept could pay for some time but the law of diminishing returns would be applicable in such scenarios, too. A sense of hubris is fatal in a democracy and the BJP would do well to guard itself from its effects.

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