The former Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director, Mr US Mishra's admission that he faced political pressure while dealing with the disproportionate assets case of Ms. Mayawati, the former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, has once again brought the spotlight onto the worst kept secret in Delhi - that the government often misuses the CBI to harass political opponents or to win over political leaders when it is short of numbers in parliament.

Mishra told a news channel the other day that when the CBI investigates cases against prominent political leaders, "there are some influences to keep the progress report pending or present in a certain way". His revelations must be seen in the context of the opposition's allegation that the CBI was misused by the government in order to browbeat the leaders of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party and to secure their support in parliament for the government's policy of allowing FDI in multi brand retail.

Strangely, by sheer coincidence, the lawyers of Mr.Mulyalam Singh Yadav, the Samjawadi Party supremo who is facing the charge of having disproportionate assets, also told the Supreme Court that it was not a good idea for the CBI to report to the government about the progress of the case because the government could use this as a tool to politically blackmail him. They told the court that Mr.Yadav was a victim of political vendetta and the petitioner in this particular case was a known Congress activist. The history of Mulayam's case lends credence to Mishra's comments that the CBI is subject to government pressure. In October, 2007 the CBI sought the court's permission to file additional evidence against Yadav's family.

However in December, 2008 the same agency told the court that it wanted to withdraw the application it had filed the previous year "in view of the legal advice and direction of the Union of India". Why did the union government want the CBI to back track? What transpired between October, 2007 and December, 2008 to warrant such a volte face?
The case of Mr.Yadav and Ms.Mayawati are just two of many such cases, where the government's intervention has prevented a free and fair investigation and timely prosecution of persons on corruption charges. The most infamous case of governmental interference in the working of the CBI relates to Ottavio Quattrochchi. This Italian businessman and friend of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi knocked of a commission of US $ 7.343 from the Swedish gun manufacturer Bofors when we purchased guns for our army. The story of how and when Quattrochchi got the money was fully documented by the CBI after it obtained documents from banks abroad. The Atal Behari Vajpayee government even got the Government of U.K to freeze Quattrochchi's account which had this money. Yet, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked the Government of U.K to de-freeze the account and directed the CBI to withdraw the case against Quattrochchi. He even ensured that the CBI did not act promptly when Quattrochchi was detained in Argentina and eventually ensured that the red corner Interpol alert that had been issued in respect of this fugitive was withdrawn.  In fact, such is the persistent interference of the government in this case that it stands as a monument to gross governmental interference in the working of the CBI. But, this is not the only one. There are dozens of such cases.

However, despite such mounting evidence of misuse of the CBI, union ministers have tried to rubbish Mr.Mishra's claims. Union minister V.Narayanasamy has taken a dig at Mr.Mishra and said strangely, wisdom dawns on individuals after their retirement. Several other colleagues of his have also criticized Mr.Mishra and even asserted in all seriousness that there is no governmental interference in the working of the CBI.

But the strange thing about truth is that it has an uncanny knack of coming out into the open, however much one may try to suppress it. Across the world, the process of justice hinges on this natural law – that truth defies suppression and springs out somewhere, sometime. But the government is forever uncomfortable with truth. That is why it issued a gag order some time ago, prohibiting officials in intelligence and security agencies from penning their memoirs. This order came after several persons who held senior positions in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) decided to recount their experiences while handling sensitive responsibilities and assignments in these organizations. The ban was imposed after the release of Maj Gen V.K.Singh's book - `India's External Intelligence - Secrets of Research & Analysis. The author was a Joint Secretary in RAW. In recent times, many others have also recounted their experiences in these two organizations and in the CBI.

Among them are: `Inside IB and RAW - The Rolling Stone That Gathered Moss' by K.Sankaran Nair, former chief of RAW; `The Kaoboys of R& AW - Down memory Lane' by B.Raman, former head of Counter-Terror Division of RAW who retired as Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat; `Open Secrets - India's Intelligence Unveiled' by Maloy Krishna Dhar, former Joint Director, Intelligence Bureau. We also have rare insights into the working of CBI and governmental interference in the organisation's working in `Who owns the CBI - The Naked Truth' by the late Mr.B.R.Lal, former Joint Director, CBI.

At this rate, the government may even ban retired officials from speaking about their experiences. The government's paranoia is inexplicable because we are in the age of transparency, lakhs of citizens are deploying their right to get to the facts via the Right to Information Act (RTI) and there is general agreement that the Official Secrets Act is completely obsolete.

We should not forget that though persons like Mr.Mishra may have been government servants at one time, their first identity is that of citizens and their primary loyalty should be to the Constitution and the democratic order that the Constitution prescribes. All other loyalties ought to come later.  Let the government also not forget what one of its own commissions had to say in regard to more openness in governance. After reviewing the RTI Act, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, which was headed by Mr.Veerappa Moily, said that the government must move "from the prevailing culture of secrecy to a new culture of openness".

How can we usher in the era of "openness" if union ministers hold such illiberal views when a former Director of CBI does some plain speaking? Individuals like Mr.Mishra demand our respect because they are far and few and any hope of cleaning up the system demands wholly on the willingness of such individuals to speak up. One only hopes more retired officials join his ranks. Meanwhile, even though the judiciary has ensured that the Central Vigilance Commission has a supervisory role vis-à-vis the CBI, this does not appear to be enough.  That is why the Comptroller and Auditor-General, Mr. Vinod Rai, has sought constitutional status for the CBI and the Central Vigilance Commission in order to really empower them to fight corruption. In his view the CBI and the CVC are not independent and are often described as handmaidens of the government. We now have it from a former Director of CBI that the government interferes in the organisation's working.  We must act on the CAG's suggestion if we wish to end the farce that goes on in the name of investigations by this premier investigating agency.