The CBI was super-busy in September. Early in the month, it questioned former Noida chief engineer Yadav Singh in cases related to corruption and disproportionate assets. Singh is known to be close to Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and his relatives. Days later, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati was summoned to the CBI headquarters in Delhi for questioning in a case related to the alleged embezzlement of Rs.10,000 crore from the National Rural Health Mission. On September 26, the CBI raided the private residence of Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and registered a disproportionate assets case against him and his wife.
It seems “the caged parrot” (the epithet the Supreme Court gave the CBI in 2013) is back doing what it supposedly does best: guarding the interests of its political masters. It is believed that the sudden quickening of pace in the CBI investigations in UP is aimed at overcoming the Narendra Modi government’s ‘numbers woe’ in the Rajya Sabha. The Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party together have 25 members in the upper house of Parliament. Both the parties have a history of striking political bargains with the ruling dispensation at the Centre. And the CBI had often been the stick that prodded them to do so.
In the case of Virbhadra Singh, it seems the Modi government is playing the same trick that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government tried in the case of B.S. Yeddyurappa, BJP leader and former Karnataka chief minister. The Congress used the corruption charges against Yeddyurappa to win back Karnataka from the BJP. The saffron camp now believes that implementing the same strategy against the Congress chief minister in Himachal Pradesh can help it reap benefits in the 2017 assembly elections.
To put pressure on Singh, the CBI registered the disproportionate assets case against him and raided 13 locations, including his residences in Shimla and Delhi, on the day his daughter got married. When the UPA was in power, the CBI had registered only a preliminary enquiry (PE) against him and his family for allegedly amassing a wealth of Rs.6.03 crore disproportionate to their known sources of income. But the case went cold, for reasons obvious.
A CBI spokesperson, however, recently said, “This FIR was the outcome of a PE that revealed that then Union minister [Singh], while serving during 2009-2012, had allegedly accumulated assets worth Rs.6.03 crore approximately, in his name and in the name of his family members, which were found to be disproportionate to his known sources of income. The other persons named in the FIR allegedly abetted then Union minister in committing the offence.”
On September 30, the Himachal Pradesh High Court restrained the CBI from arresting Singh, even as it allowed the investigation to continue. The decision came on a petition filed by Singh, saying the CBI had overstepped its jurisdiction by lodging the FIR without getting permission from the speaker of the assembly. The court asked the investigators whether the raid at the chief minister’s residence without conforming to section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act would dilute the federal structure of the Constitution. The section gives powers to the CBI to investigate cases without the consent of state governments. The next hearing on the case is scheduled for November 18.
The CBI has registered more than 74 FIRs and filed 48 charge-sheets in its three-year investigation into the National Rural Health Mission scam. But it had not questioned Mayawati until last month. There is talk in political circles that the sudden move against Mayawati has “something to do with numbers game in the Rajya Sabha”. In the absence of a majority in the upper house, the Modi government has failed to push through several of its key reforms, including the land acquisition and the goods and services tax bills.
When asked about the sudden need to question Mayawati, at a time when several charge-sheets in the case are with the court, CBI Director Anil Sinha said, “The agency will proceed as per the demands of the investigation.” Sources said the CBI had sought to question her on the basis of “strong grounds”. Interestingly, Mayawati has not been named in any of the 74 FIRs related to the NRHM case.
An officer said the CBI had earlier informed Mayawati of its intent to “examine” her on certain “policy” issues, such as the bifurcation of the state health department into health and family welfare departments when she was chief minister, the alleged irregularities in the appointment of more than 100 health care officials, and the alleged misappropriation of the NRHM funds by the state’s chief medical officers and health care officials.
In her defence, Mayawati said she had “nothing to hide” and that the CBI was “free to question her”. She said all the policy decisions were taken by the state cabinet and not by the chief minister alone.
She also launched a counteroffensive against Modi, saying, “The Central agencies should give up on such underhand tactics to gain political mileage in UP by trying to malign me and my party. This is nothing but an unfortunate attempt by the Centre to use the CBI to divert people’s attention from its failed policies.”
Mayawati has come under the CBI scanner twice before. The first time was in 2003, when the CBI launched an inquiry in the Taj corridor case, after it was alleged that a project to develop the area around the Taj Mahal, approved by her government, was seeped in irregularities. The inquiry later led to the filing of a disproportionate assets case against her. Sources say both the cases went astray because Mayawati struck a political bargain with the UPA government.
The real target of the CBI investigation against Yadav Singh seems to be Mulayam and his relatives. Last month, the Samajwadi government in UP raised eyebrows when it moved the Supreme Court against the Allahabad High Court’s decision to order a CBI probe into alleged irregularities Singh committed when he was chief engineer of Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority. There are allegations that Ram Gopal Yadav, Mulayam’s brother who is considered to be the No 2 in the Samajwadi hierarchy, had benefited from a business deal with a company owned by a person close to Singh.