There is a thin line separating politically weakened law enforcement agencies allowing the powerful and mighty to get away with any crime from a probe against top leaders becoming politically vindictive. The Enforcement Directorate must muster all strength from within to remain professional and fair during the entire probe against the top leadership of the Congress party in the National Herald case.
The Enforcement Directorate summons to the Gandhis on June 8 did come as a surprise to most people, who must have presumed that case had lost its way. It was the way of doing things long ago, when political courtesy or an unspoken barter ensured no government probed the wrongdoings of its rival and ensured that such cases never reached a logical end.
But things have changed in India, with at least two former chief ministers, the once mighty J. Jayalalithaa and Lalu Prasad Yadav, being convicted; it was only a play of fate that ensured that just Lalu, and Jayalalithaa’s close aide Sasikala, ended up serving severe imprisonment terms.
The Congress, understandably, has called it a witch hunt, arguing a famous redux of the 2G scam defence, of zero or notional loss, saying the case was political, dubbing it “weird”, because there was no money transaction involved in the entire matter. The charges, as per the supporters of the Grand Old Party, were “more hollow” than a pack of cards. A strange phrase, that.
Senior lawyer and party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said, “We are not a bit scared, or overawed, or intimidated… by such cheap tactics.”
The BJP responded quickly, with its party president J. P. Nadda arguing that documents don’t lie and that guilty people never accept their crimes. However, the party knows that the case, especially with the supreme family being directly charged, is highly political, and its repercussions would be more political than legal.
In its worst moments, the Congress Party has been known to find political life and revival of electoral fortunes when public sympathy goes the Gandhi family way. The symbolism of Sonia Gandhi, now suffering from Covid, going to the Enforcement Directorate office to submit her response is not without its share of risk for the ruling side.
The other side of the political irony in the case is that BJP MP Subramanian Swamy, who initiated the case with gusto nearly a decade ago, is now hardly keen to please the top brass of his own party. Mr Swamy had alleged that the Gandhis had indulged in “cheating” and “misappropriation of funds”, while acquiring the newspaper historically owned by the party.
While there cannot be any argument seeking special treatment for the Gandhis, or anyone, or any immunity from legal consequence of their actions, it cannot become a case of ED pursuing the matter to please their political masters, who then use the ED, or any other agency, to service their political ends.
Senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram tweeted, “Money laundering without money is like alleging purse snatching without a purse.”
The ED must prove itself clean in this crucial case. Justice must not only be done in the end, but the entire process must also be fair and above board.