Neither Mr Shivakumar nor Mr Chidambaram are expected to run away from the law.
The Enforcement Directorate’s arrest in New Delhi on Tuesday of influential Karnataka Congress leader D.K. Shivakumar, on the heels of the arrest of former Union finance minister P. Chidambaram, doesn’t behove a country where the rule of law is meant to be respected.
This is not a plea to ignore allegations of wrongdoing by influential persons. But it’s a lament that the law doesn't seem to be applied shorn of partisan political considerations.
Neither Mr Shivakumar nor Mr Chidambaram are expected to run away from the law. But to be sure, perhaps their passports could be kept with the courts. Once that is ensured, all that the investigative agencies need do is ask the individuals to report to their offices for as long as is necessary to complete their probe, all the while keeping the courts informed of the progress. Dubious statements splashed across newspapers that those being investigated were being “uncooperative"”will not hold water.
This would be the civilised way. An even more civilised way might be to place the individuals in question under house arrest while answering questions. But it is thoroughly uncivilised to mimic the characteristics of military regimes or one-party dictatorships to scale the walls and gates of Mr Chidambaram’s residence at midnight.
In the case of both Mr Shivakumar and Mr Chidambaram, it appeared to be necessary for the police to alert the television media (and others) in advance to create a spectacle that major crooks were being caught at last, and to sow the perception that the government’s political opponents are corrupt law-breakers. From the start, the purpose seemed political, and the police became willing agents.
Experience suggests that it is hard to reform the police and wean it from its brutal ways and its standard operating procedure of seeking to please their political bosses. Possibly the only way to protect citizens — politicians and sections of business and industry — while not harming legitimate investigation is for the courts to keep them under clamps, and not let them violate the dignity of those under investigation. A reassessment of the court's own methods is needed to protect citizens from the raj of ruling politicians and the police.
Leading Opposition figures from many states — notably West Bengal, Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh — have been sought to be broken in recent years. This has partly been done to shut them up or to make them jump ship and joint the BJP in order that the saffron party’s political influence expands. All is forgiven once defection occurs. In Mr Shivakumar’s case, he was an architect and fighter for preserving an anti-BJP momentum.
While the government goes after its opponents with a vengeance, nothing is heard of Madhya Pradesh’s infamous Vyapam scandal under the earlier BJP-run government. Suspicions needing investigation against some of the BJP’s most powerful names also seem to have been conveniently buried.