One more selective, political arrest

D K Shivakumar (PTI Photo)

It is possible that D K Shivakumar, former minister and senior Congress leader of Karnataka, has to answer many difficult questions about his wealth and financial dealings. The Income Tax Department (I-T) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have the right and the responsibility to ask these questions till they get the right answers. But, as in the case of another Congress leader and former Union minister P Chidambaram, the four-day questioning of Shivakumar by the ED and the remand secured for him raise some legitimate questions about the actions, too. These questions pertain to both the intent of the actions and the way they were carried out. They were carried out in the glare of publicity over days and made into spectacles with some thrill and suspense added for appeal. It was ensured that there was ample media coverage so that they would have an impact on popular perceptions. They cast a shadow on the intentions behind the actions. 

There are legal, political and even ethical issues involved in the treatment meted out to Shivakumar. Legally, there is no doubt that he has to be held accountable for any wrongdoing or violations of the law he may have committed. He is not known to be an angel, and available information would not help anyone to defend him over the charges being levelled against him. But, as in the case of Chidambaram, the insistence on remand and custodial interrogation is difficult to accept when there is no flight risk and the law gives the right to everyone not to incriminate himself. The investigating agency has to bring forth the evidence, and so the charge of evasion of queries is not valid. The more important question is about the selective enforcement of the law. Only leaders of the Opposition, especially the Congress, seem to be the targets of I-T, ED or CBI investigations and hostile actions. Those on the ruling party’s side and others who switch over to it seem to be safe from any adverse probe or action even when they face serious charges of misconduct, corruption and worse. This is not whataboutery, and is not a legally right issue to be raised at all, but it has a lot of political significance and even ethical undertones. 

No-one would believe that the enforcement agencies are acting on their own. Their partisan conduct lowers their credibility and confirms the charge that they are using the force of the law in service of the government of the day to target its political rivals. While Shivakumar has to answer the questions posed to him, the questions about the fairness and propriety of enforcement actions will become sharper with each selective strike against Opposition politicians.

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