Opinion | Misuse of Agencies: Why Rahul Gandhi Has No Moral Authority to Accuse Narendra Modi and Amit Shah

March 31,2023

Union Home Minister Amit Shah, while speaking at the Rising India Summit in New Delhi on Wednesday, put the record straight on the issue of the Central government misusing agencies to target the Opposition. “When you point one finger at others, remember that four other fingers are pointing at you,” Shah said as he revealed how the previous UPA government had misused the central agencies to target him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat. “I will tell you how agencies are misused, I have been a victim of it,” he said.

“In my entire interrogation, I was told ‘Modi ka naam de do, de do (Give us Modi’s name). But why should I frame him? Because of me, several innocent police officers were put in jail. Today, the same Congress is crying over their fate. They must reflect on their behaviour,” the Home Minister said as he added: “All these people were there when this was happening. Chidambaram, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, and Rahul Gandhi were all present then.”

A decade is a long time in politics. And it becomes obvious when one reads a letter written by the late BJP leader Arun Jaitley to the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. In his letter, dated 27 September 2013, the then leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha accused the UPA government of misusing agencies to target Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. “The Congress strategy in the face of its depleting popularity is clear. Congress cannot fight the BJP and Narendra Modi politically. Defeat stares them in the face. By misuse of investigative agencies they have so far tried various methods of falsely implicating Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Shri Amit Shah, the then Home Minister and also the Minister of Law, Transport & Parliamentary Affairs of the State of Gujarat and General Secretary of Bharatiya Janata Party and other important BJP leaders,” the letter read.

To illustrate his point, Jaitley mentioned three cases in detail: Sohrabuddin Encounter case, Tulsi Prajapati encounter, and Ishrat Jehan encounter. And in all three cases, what was common was the political misuse of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to target “Shri Amit Shah…, with the ultimate desire of implicating Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat”.

In the Sohrabuddin case, for instance, when the legal department of the CBI opined that there was no case against Amit Shah, the Supervisory Officer of CBI put up a ‘Note’ saying “the arrest of Amit Shah would enable the CBI to get some more witnesses, particularly the police officers since they would then feel intimidated”. The officer also opined that “arresting Amit Shah was necessary since it was necessary to reach the eventual target of investigation of Narendra Modi”. This ‘note’ was approved by then CBI Director Ashwani Kumar.

Soon, Shah was arrested, interestingly, on the testimony of two noted land grabbers of Gujarat! Later, when he was granted bail, with the High Court saying there was no prima facie case against him, the Central government through its agencies ensured that Amit Shah was kept out of Gujarat for two years.

Like the Sohrabuddin case, the Tulsi Prajapati and Ishrat Jehan cases too saw central agencies being misused by the then UPA government. The Open magazine, in an article ‘The Plot Against Modi’ (22 July 2022), revealed how three senior UPA ministers and top party honcho Ahmed Patel met at a house near New Delhi’s Teen Murti Bhavan in October 2013. They were soon joined by CBI Director Ranjit Sinha and Special Director Salim Ali. “The plan apparently was to discuss how to tighten the legal noose around Modi and his close colleague Amit Shah”, in the 2004 Ishrat Jahan encounter case. Unfortunately for the UPA, things didn’t move as per the plan as CBI Director Ranjit Sinha refused “to play ball in anticipation of an extension of his tenure in view of what was tipped to be an almost certain change in government at the Centre”.

The Congress’ misuse and mishandling of agencies have also been revealed by RK Raghavan, the chief of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed to investigate the 2002 Gujarat violence, in his 2020 memoirs, A Road Well Travelled, Raghavan writes how he was under immense pressure and there were “efforts to dislodge” him from the SIT because he “was politically inconvenient to those who were in great danger of being permanently eliminated from the Indian polity”. He, however, held his ground “much to the annoyance of those who were opposed to the chief minister”.

A Road Well Travelled is also significant for the manner in which Narendra Modi behaved when probed by government agencies, which stood in sharp contrast to the Congress’ reaction when Rahul Gandhi was summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). On Modi’s questioning, Raghavan recalls, “We had it conveyed to his (CM’s) staff that he (Modi) had to come in person to the SIT office for this purpose, and that meeting him elsewhere would be misconstrued as a favour. He understood the spirit of our stand and readily agreed to come to the SIT office within the government complex in Gandhinagar.”

Modi’s questioning lasted nine hours. “(Ashok) Malhotra (SIT member who interrogated the CM) told me later that Modi kept his cool right through the marathon session which ended late at night. He never parried questions. Nor did he give the impression of padding up his responses,” Raghavan reveals. When Malhotra asked him whether he would like to break for lunch, Modi initially turned down the offer. “He brought his own bottle of water and did not accept even a cup of tea from the SIT during the marathon questioning comprising a hundred odd questions.”

Interestingly, Modi wanted the questioning to continue without any breaks and “it required tremendous persuasion to make him agree to a short recess”. Raghavan writes, “This was possibly Modi’s concession to the need for a respite for Malhotra rather than for himself. Such was the energy of the man.”

Rahul Gandhi, in sharp contrast, when summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the National Herald case in July 2022, made a lot of hue and cry about the entire exercise. He, and his sister Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra, gave fiery speeches, and Congress workers staged a protest across the country, calling it an assault on Indian democracy by the Modi government.

Time is ripe for Rahul Gandhi to read the Congress’ history and its role in misusing government agencies to target political opponents. It’s not a recent phenomenon. For, agencies have been misused by those in power since the time of Independence, though the scale and intensity of the abuse increased many-fold in the following decades, especially during the 1975-77 Emergency, for instance. As for the agency misuse against Modi and Shah in particular, Rahul Gandhi doesn’t even have to pretend to read the party history. It happened under the prying eyes of his mother Sonia Gandhi’s kitchen cabinet, of which he was an active player.