Regardless of whether the Central Bureau of Investigation was right in raiding former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav and filing a First Information Report against him in a case of alleged corruption, we should feel extremely worried about India’s democracy.

This is undoubtedly an unpopular line to take and bound to invite accusations of partisanship and condoning corruption.

Such accusations will be flung largely because it is presumed that Lalu Yadav has to be guilty of corruption. There is his past to reckon with – he has been convicted in the fodder scam case. The stereotyping of his Yadav caste as unruly and the persona of buffoon that Lalu Yadav deliberately wears have reinforced the impression that he is a wheeler-dealer in the garb of a politician.

The timing

Yet it is hard to ignore the timing of the charges of corruption that the CBI and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have been flinging at Lalu Yadav.

Lalu Yadav had recently announced his plan to organise a massive Opposition rally in August. The two principal Opposition leaders of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, chose to forget their past bickering to declare they would attend Lalu’s rally. There have been media stories of Lalu assuring Mayawati that he would get her re-elected to the Rajya Sabha from Bihar, as she lacks the required numbers to get elected from Uttar Pradesh.

These manoeuvres are indeed a harbinger of Opposition unity. An alliance between Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh could pose a formidable obstacle to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambition of bagging a second term in office in 2019, the year in which the next Lok Sabha elections will be held.

From this perspective, the raid on Lalu revives the past narrative that he is corrupt and seeks to discourage others from joining an alliance of which he is a member. It also sends a signal to others that whoever dares to challenge Modi will have to countenance a blowback in the form of raids, prospects of going to jail and having to fight interminable court cases.

Might it not be a mere coincidence that the timing of the CBI’s raid on Lalu has overlapped with his playing a role in uniting the Opposition? It could well be.

Nitish Kumar, Akhilesh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav at Mamata Banerjee's swearing in ceremony as West Bengal chief minister. Image: PTI
Nitish Kumar, Akhilesh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav at Mamata Banerjee's swearing in ceremony as West Bengal chief minister. Image: PTI

Yet it appears too much of a coincidence that the timeline of corruption charges surfacing against Opposition leaders has ostensibly been politically advantageous for the BJP, as have been CBI raids and the Enforcement Directorate’s bursts of zeal.

Thus, for instance, the Enforcement Directorate told the media that Mayawati’s brother, Anand Kumar, had deposited over Rs 100 crores in his bank account. The disclosure came in December, barely two months before the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections were to begin.

In April, the finance ministry’s financial investigation unit claimed to have prepared a report showing “dubious transactions running into several thousand crores” by a company run by Kumar and his wife. Weeks before, Mayawati had hinted to the possibility of her aligning with Akhilesh.

The Adityanath government has declared it will scrutinise, for massive financial irregularities, four projects that Akhilesh initiated in his tenure as chief minister. This declaration has come after Akhilesh agreed to attend Lalu’s August rally.

It is hard to pick holes in the proposition that only a current government can investigate the past misdeeds of the previous incumbent. But then think – the CBI summoned Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat in what is popularly called the sting operation case in December. The state went to polls on February 15. Again, raids on political personalities in Tamil Nadu were conducted at the time two All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam factions were in talks for a merger.

Really, is it just a coincidence that so many raids or summons occur just before a crucial political turn is about to take place?

Three categories

A new political model is emerging. It is a model crafted to grab power, debilitate the Opposition, and anoint Modi as the country’s hegemon or supreme leader. Call it The Modi Model to Power.

It clubs people into three different categories and offers different treatment to each. In the first category are those who nurtured doubts about Modi, but have acquiesced to his authority. Earlier, a good number of members of Parliament from the BJP would whisper: “Modi ka BJP mein koi dost nahin, dushman hai ya naukar (In BJP, Modi has no friends. They are his enemies or his servants).”

These BJP members of Parliament have become silent either because they perceive benefits accruing to them from Modi or because they have realised the futility of opposing him. In the latter subgroup belong leaders such as Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari, who have been reconciled to their dwarfing. Joining them is also the BJP’s ageing patriarch, LK Advani, who after giving periodic headline-grabbing jolts to Modi has been reconciled to his protégé’s supremacy.

In the second category are those leaders who are not in the BJP but whose politics doesn’t have Modi as its pivot. Think Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu or his counterparts in Telangana and Tamil Nadu, KC Rao and Palaniswami. Include also former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav.

But this is inherently a fluid category. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has desisted from speaking out against Modi. But the prevailing peace might not last long, largely because Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have the state in their crosshairs.

Karanataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah is lucky – the Central government agencies haven’t come after him because he wasn’t a Central minister during the 10 years of the United Progressive Alliance regime. The CBI presumably has no files to make out a case against him.

But Himachal Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh had been a Central minister under the United Progressive Alliance and was raided in 2015. Perhaps the raid might have been justified, but to carry it out on the day of his daughter’s wedding bespoke of intent to terrorise. The state goes to the polls this year. It helps to plan in advance.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav during the swearing in ceremony of the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar in November 2015. Image: PTI
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav during the swearing in ceremony of the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar in November 2015. Image: PTI

In the third category are leaders who believe Modi, for innumerable reasons, ought to be opposed and think of him, rightly or wrongly, as dangerous to India’s democracy. Modi, in turn, perceives them as his implacable foes who could script his downfall or dent his popularity or have a mass base which the BJP needs to fatten upon.

It is this category of leaders who have felt the maximum heat of the Modi model. Think Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, whose office was raided and his principal secretary, Rajendra Kumar, suspended from service. It is now the turn of Lalu Yadav, and if Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati remain recalcitrant, the sleuths will soon get down to raiding and investigating them. Ask former minister P Chidambaram, whose son was recently raided.

What about the Gandhis, Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka? Tarnish the image of Congress allies, potential or otherwise, and the Gandhis and their party can’t mount a challenge to Modi on their own, or so it is thought.

The questions

It is inevitable to believe that the raids on Opposition leaders are motivated as somehow no one from the BJP, or seen to be close to the party, has been meted the same treatment.

Here are a few questions for the reader to consider: What happened to the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh? Was the BJP’s lavish expenditure on the 2014 election campaign all legitimate money? Is the Centre probing Baba Ramdev, whose company, the Reuters news agency claimed in May, was given an estimated $46 million in discounts for land acquisition in states the BJP rules? One could likewise go on about specific cases about other corporate houses seen to be close to the current government. And these questions, ironically, answer why the recent raid on Lalu should have us worried about India’s democracy.