Is Modi govt's 'ICE' treatment out of petty vindictiveness?

Is Modi govt's 'ICE' treatment out of petty vindictiveness?

The raids on the offices and homes of Y S Chowdary, who was till recently a minister of state in the Narendra Modi government, have raised serious questions. While probes into political opponents by the investigative agencies provoke cries of revenge, the Enforcement Directorate's moves against Chowdary, a Rajya Sabha member belonging to Telugu Desam Party, have led to charges that the central government is acting in a petty manner.

Though Chowdary is one of the richest politicians, he had not received any notice as long as the TDP was a part of the NDA and the MP himself was the junior minister in the Ministry of Science, Technology and Earth Sciences. Interestingly, the allegations against Chowdary that his firms had cheated a foreign bank of nearly Rs 200 crore had come up soon after he was sworn in as a minister, but the ED took action only four years later, that too eight months after he ceased to be a minister. Chowdary claimed he had quit management of the companies under his name and was only a personal guarantor to the loan.

The opposition has always cried foul that its selected members are chosen for the freezing ICE treatment by the Modi government. While 'I' represents Income Tax (I-T), 'C' is for CBI and 'E' is for the Enforcement Directorate (ED). While CBI is directly under the prime minister, income tax and enforcement are under the finance ministry. They cite the case of how the I-T department, which had not dared to act when Jayalalithaa was chief minister of Tamil Nadu, has gone on a raiding spree against AIADMK ministers, top bureaucrats and industrialists in the southern state to keep them under control. Congress has said that many politicians are being sought to be silenced for opposing the BJP government, citing the examples of RJD's Lalu Prasad and his children Tej Pratap and Misa Bharti; Congress' D K Shivakumar in Karnataka, among others.

The opposition argues that whenever the charges are levelled against the central government for allowing big bank defaulters like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi to flee the country are raised, there will be raids conducted and cases registered in a bid to divert attention. It is alleged Modi and BJP president Amit Shah are orchestrating the intimidation of inconvenient voices in the opposition.

While the prime minister has maintained public silence, he has privately explained that he does not go after anyone. But if a complaint comes to his office, it would get thoroughly investigated. Modi has told visitors that he only allows the law to take its course, and if the complaint of corruption is frivolous, it gets dropped.

However in his election rallies, Modi derides the Congress and its leaders for their corruption, citing major corruption cases that had erupted during the second term of Manmohan Singh as prime minister. However, finance minister Arun Jaitley maintains that the I-T department and ED have become more active, because there are no godfathers to protect the corrupt persons who evade taxes or launder ill gotten wealth. He is confident that both the I-T department and ED which have filed cases against high-profile leaders like Sonia Gandhi, Lalu Prasad, Shivakumar and now Chowdhary will be able to prove their case in courts.

The temporary appointment of a senior I-T official Sanjay Kumar Mishra as enforcement director has also led to speculation that he has been specifically brought to the post to expedite politically sensitive cases. With CBI in terrible disarray due to allegations of corruption by the director Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana against each other, it is the I-T department and ED which are more active in pursuing corruption cases against politicians.

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