The media has reported that Mrs Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and Mr Arun Jaitley, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, have strongly objected to a proposal from the government to appoint Mr S.C. Sinha, the retiring chief of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), as a member of the National Human Rights Commission.
They are reported to have suggested that someone not belonging to the Indian Police Service should be appointed to this post. They have also reportedly pointed out that the NIA has come under controversy in connection with its investigation of allegations of involvement of some Hindus in acts of terrorism. There have been allegations in the past that the NIA was sought to be misused by the government to demonise the RSS by projecting the arrested Hindus as having acted at the instance of the RSS.
It may be recalled that some allegations openly made by Mr Sushil Kumar Shinde, minister for home affairs, in this connection which sought to create an impression in the public mind that there were terrorism training camps being run by some Hindus, came in for strong criticism from the opposition. He made these allegations at a brain-storming session of the Congress(I) at Jaipur, which nominated Mr Rahul Gandhi as the Vice-President of the Congress.
One understands the NHRC has an investigation division to investigate allegations of human rights violations and that this Division has been usually headed by a retired IPS officer, well-versed in investigation. He investigates the complaints and submits his findings to the Commission as a whole.
The NIA was set up in 2009 after the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai to undertake the investigation of terrorism cases with a pan-Indian dimension referred to it by the government. Whereas in the US the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) automatically investigates all terrorism cases without the President playing any role in the matter, in India, the ministry of home affairs, which is the supervising ministry of the NIA, has kept in its hands the discretion to decide which cases will be investigated by the NIA and which cases need not be.
There have been allegations that the government has been misusing this discretionary power to discredit the RSS and the BJP by selectively removing investigations against the arrested Hindus from the hands of the state police concerned and transferring them to the NIA.
The effectiveness of the NIA as a terrorism investigation agency depends not only on its investigation capability, but also on its credibility as an independent agency like the FBI of the US that does not allow itself to be misused by the government for its own political agenda.
The investigation and prosecution record of the NIA since its inception in 2009 has been poor. Many terrorist incidents have remained undetected. It is distrusted both by the Hindu and Muslim communities. Large sections of the Hindus distrust it of letting itself be misused by the government for discrediting the Hindutva organisations and creating suspicions of their involvement in terrorism.
Large sections of Muslims too distrust it of seeking to implicate innocent Muslims in terrorism cases and harassing them. As a result, the public credibility of the NIA is poor.
While it would be unfair to hold the retiring chief of the NIA responsible for this state of affairs, the public perception will be that he cannot escape responsibility for this.
Many of the complaints of human rights violations received by the NHRC are against the police and counter-terrorism agencies. The public would tend to believe that retired IPS officers appointed to head the investigation division would not be fair and impartial in their investigation and would try to cover up the misdeeds of fellow police officers.
There is, therefore, validity in the reported contention of Mrs Sushma Swaraj that a retired IPS officer should not be appointed to this post. Particularly, it will be very unwise to appoint the retiring chief of the NIA to this post. The investigations of the NHRC will not have any credibility in the eyes of the aggrieved communities.
Moreover, the elections to the Lok Sabha are due in the next few months. The appointment of the retiring NIA chief at this time as a member of the NHRC will create a suspicion that the government has a hidden political agenda. This matter needs to be brought to the notice of the Election Commission too.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. Twitter: @SORBONNE75