When the Supreme Court on April 19 endorsed the Central Bureau Of Investigation’s decision to revive criminal conspiracy charges against senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, including LK Advani, in the Babri Masjid demolition case, it was seen as a move by the Modi government to rule him out as a candidate for the presidential election in July.
The real target, however, may have been something else.
By allowing the investigative agency to proceed with criminal charges against leaders of its own party, the Modi government was sending out a warning to Opposition leaders – especially the Congress – that they should expect the same firmness in the cases pending them.
“Basically, Modi is telling us that if his government can proceed against BJP leaders, it would not hesitate to do the same against us…that we could be next in line,” said a former Congress minister.
On December 6, 1992, the Babri mosque was demolished by thousands of karsevaks, who claimed that the land on which the structure stood was the birthplace of Ram. The incident triggered communal riots across the country. In its ruling last month, the Supreme Court directed that Advani and other BJP leaders, including Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, be tried for criminal conspiracy in the case for allegedly inciting the karsevaks.
The CBI is under the jurisdiction of the government and is believed to follow its directions and the Supreme Court ruling (based on the position taken by the investigative agency) could be a way to contain Opposition parties, especially those leading the attack against Modi.
After its unprecedented performance in the assembly elections earlier this year, where it formed the government in four of five states that went to polls, including Uttar Pradesh, a confident and aggressive BJP is moving ahead to decimate its rivals.
That’s where the corruption cases against Opposition leaders could come in handy. This is why, in recent weeks, several ongoing but old cases against Congress leaders are back in the news. For instance, there have been several reports about the investigations into the ongoing National Herald case against party President Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi, who are accused of illegally acquiring property worth Rs 5,000 crore of Associated Journals Limited, which publishes The National Herald newspaper, by setting up a shell company.
Also making headlines are Robert Vadra’s land deals, which have been under scrutiny ever since the BJP came to power in 2014. The BJP-led Haryana government had set up a commission to investigate the allegations of irregularities in the land purchased by Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law between 2004 and 2014, when the Congress was in power in the state. The Dhingra panel’s report, which was made public last week, said Vadra had made a profit of Rs 50 crore from a land deal in 2008 without investing any money.
While BJP leaders insist that these cases are not politically motivated and that the agencies are only doing their job, Congress insiders had speculated that investigations into the corruption cases against Opposition leaders would pick up speed if the BJP emerged victorious in Uttar Pradesh. “We expected the government to unleash all the agencies – from the CBI to the Enforcement Directorate – to corner the Opposition,” said a senior Congress office bearer.
The Congress is not the only party that is feeling the heat. The CBI on April 17 filed FIRs against 13 leaders of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress in the Narada case, which pertains to a sting operation that purportedly showed leaders of the party accepting cash from a company in exchange for favours.
The Biju Janata Dal has also been targetted. The CBI is investigating a ponzi scheme in Odisha, in which members of the Naveen Patnaik-led party were allegedly linked to a company that cheated investors of several crores. Though investigations have been on since 2013, the CBI started taking active interest in the case only after the BJP started gaining ground in Odisha.
However, the Congress, especially the Gandhi family, is the Modi government’s prime target. The BJP has realised if it is to succeed in its mission to obliterate the Congress, it has to first discredit and destroy the reputation of the Nehru-Gandhi family, which is the glue that binds the party together.
It is also the glue that can piece together a grand alliance of Opposition parties to counter the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The Congress is the largest Opposition party and the Gandhis – Sonia Gandhi in particular – still wields considerable influence among regional parties. She has also started reaching out to other Opposition leaders to discuss a common candidate for the presidential election, which could pave the way for the formation of a larger anti-BJP front.
The ongoing investigations, however, could weaken the parties or pressurise them to abandon their plans of coming together.