In both number and scope, the latest CBI raids on Raja-Radia targets are dramatic. If they mean a newfound determination on the part of decision-makers, it is even more dramatic. Not only were some three dozen raids simultaneously launched; the exercise went sensationally close to touching DMK boss Karunanidhi in person.
Raids on the premises of A. Raja and Niira Radia were daring enough, given their political and corporate connections. Raja was cornered from all sides. Not only his friends and business associates but even the university quarters of his brother were searched by CBI investigators. Among other surprises was the raid on the residence of Pradip Baijal. This is no ordinary IAS celebrity. He was Secretary, Disinvestment when the Disinvestment Ministry sold off government hotels in Mumbai in highly controversial circumstances. He was later chairman of the telecom regulatory authority playing a role in the 2G spectrum pricing mess. On retiring from that post, the gentleman straightaway joined Niira Radia as a paid staff member. Inconvenient coincidences on which the CBI will now have some useful information.
Significant as these raids are, they are dwarfed by others that can only be described as politically defiant. For the first time, Karunanidhi's most prominent wife, Rajathi Ammal, and their favoured daughter, Kanimozhi, came within the CBI's orbit. The two ladies had already figured in the published Radia conversations – and not in a flattering light. Now Rajathi Ammal's auditor had his premises raided. Also raided was a priest, Gaspar Raj, who ran Kanimozhi's favourite NGO, Tamil Maiyam.
Auditors are usually raided when there are dubious financial transactions. Rajathi Ammal's name was also dragged into a major land deal in central Chennai acquired by people close to her. As for NGOs, when the Reverend Gaspar Raj is also associated with activities related to the LTTE, a banned organisation, the altruistic aura of an NGO dims somewhat. That Kanimozhi was a strong supporter of Raja doesn't help either, now that Raja is seen as a bad egg even by important sections of the DMK leadership. She is isolated in the family and is seen as a political novice.
With the CBI looking into the account books and diaries of VIPs hitherto considered beyond its reach, corrective action can at last follow to stop India's drift into corruption-triggered decay. Ay, there's the rub. With politicians we can never be sure of their true intentions. All too often a show of determination on their part is no more than diversionary tactic, leaving the guilty ultimately unpunished.
Two factors make us wonder if the present investigations will be carried to their logical conclusion swiftly and decisively. First, why did the authorities wait so long to take action? For a year or perhaps two, the information brought out by the Radia tapes must have been available to government agencies. But nothing happened. Only when media exposure and public anger mounted, was the CBI told to get into hyperaction. Something suggests that there is someone somewhere who wants to avoid action and let things drift. That someone has to be at the very top.
Secondly, a lack of will has been a distinguishing feature of the Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi dispensation every time corruption cases came into the open. That lack of will is still dominant as the top leadership's shillyshallying over Suresh Kalmadi shows. It has reached a stage where the CBI has complained to the Government that Kalmadi and Commonwealth Games secretary Bhanot are obstructing investigations and must therefore be removed from their posts. Why on earth are these hated men still in their posts? Who is their protector? Why? Again the protector has to be at the very top. Is there someone at that height who is desperate to hide something? Silence and the tactic of brazening it out brought the Prime Minister under the critical scrutiny of the Supreme Court. Sonia Gandhi and her unseen advisors will also be under public suspicion if this brazening-out continues.