New Delhi, March 21: The news of the CBI raid on the house of M.K. Stalin, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi son, sent greater shock waves in the Congress and the central government than the ally’s pullout barely two days ago.
An angry Sonia Gandhi immediately summoned V. Narayanasamy, in charge of the CBI as minister of personnel, to understand what happened, while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chose to publicly express anguish over the action.
There was an overwhelming feeling in the Congress and the government that they could have done without the political vendetta slur.
But senior ministers lost no time in convincing the party leadership that the raids could be an instance of “mischief” as no political order or sanction had been given. They argued that the mischief was reflected in the timing even though there was a three-month-old probe requiring searches.
While Narayanasamy promptly ordered an informal inquiry to find out the truth, the Prime Minister took the extraordinary decision of speaking publicly on a CBI case.
Singh said the government was “very upset”. “The timing of the raid is unfortunate. The government didn’t do it. We will find out who is responsible.”
Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath, too, was summoned by Sonia. He later said: “However much we condemn, it would be less. It looks targeted.”
Finance minister P. Chidambaram was the most worried man as the directorate of revenue intelligence (DRI), under his ministry, had referred the complaint about illegal import of vehicles in Tamil Nadu to the CBI three months ago.
“Normally, I don’t comment on the functioning of another ministry or department but I am dismayed and have conveyed it to the minister concerned,” Chidambaram said, alluding to Narayanasamy’s department.
Narayanasamy later said: “We are inquiring into how and why the CBI went to Mr Stalin’s residence. There is no case against him.”
Another senior minister, Kapil Sibal, echoed the “mischief” theory. “Somebody has played mischief having full knowledge of the political situation.”
This is probably the first time a CBI raid has triggered such responses from top central ministers.
Asked if these reactions did not amount to interference in the so-called autonomous functioning of the CBI, Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit said: “Nobody is blocking the CBI but the Prime Minister has the right to express his apprehension about an act being politically misinterpreted. He is only talking about the timing.”
Responding to other queries , Dikshit said: “We are not talking about the merits of the case but the timing is unfortunate. We have no hand in it but there are all kinds of interpretations. We would not like to antagonise our allies at this moment.”
Asked if the reactions of the ministers would not deter the CBI, he said: “The BJP always attributes political motives to CBI but that does not deter them.”
Many Congress leaders insisted relations with the DMK were still cordial and such a plot was unthinkable.
But several other senior party leaders conceded the swoop had come as a huge embarrassment as they watched the BJP pounce on the raid to buttress its charge that the Congress targets political rivals through the CBI and that today’s action was aimed at scaring Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati. The duo face assets cases.
The Congress leaders were a bit relieved in the evening when DMK chief Karunanidhi suggested he believed the Congress central ministers’ claim that they hadn’t ordered the swoop.
But some of the Congress leaders continued to suspect internal sabotage to embarrass and weaken Prime Minister Singh.
The CBI issued a media statement dispelling the perception that it was targeting Stalin.
“During searches conducted at 18 locations today, 17 imported cars have been located and seized. The CBI wishes to clarify that the above operation was strictly in accordance with procedures and there was no intention whatsoever to target any particular individual. Investigation is in progress.”