Search, seize, cease: on I-T raids at Jayalalithaa's residence

In Tamil Nadu’s politically surcharged atmosphere, almost everything takes on a political hue. Searches and seizures by the Income Tax department following the death of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa were without doubt integral to the clean-up operation in a State known for brazen corruption and abuse of power at different levels. But some of the actions of the enforcement agencies have given the impression that they are selective in nature, leading to charges that they were motivated by the political interests of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads the government at the Centre. In the latest instance, Income Tax officials searched the residence of Jayalalithaa, following up on seizures made at properties held by the family of her friend V.K. Sasikala. But curiously, Income Tax officials were insistent that the rooms used by Jayalalithaa were not the object of inquiry, only those used by Sasikala and secretary S. Poongundran. Jayalalithaa remains a revered figure in Tamil Nadu’s politics, and the BJP’s efforts over the last several months have been two-fold: to acknowledge her political legacy and to denounce the claims of the Sasikala family as its true inheritor. Not surprisingly, in an attempt to undermine the BJP’s control of the narrative, Sasikala’s nephew, T.T.V. Dhinakaran, described the searches as an assault on Jayalalithaa’s soul. The credibility of the searches thus hinges on the Income Tax department widening the net beyond the Sasikala family and cracking down on corruption at the highest levels.

Adding to the credibility issue is the evident lack of serious follow-up on searches made earlier. Within weeks of Jayalalithaa’s death, Income Tax officials conducted searches against the then Chief Secretary, P. Rama Mohana Rao, and claimed to have unearthed assets disproportionate to his known sources of income. But almost a year later, there is little forward movement in the case. Similarly, searches at the properties of Health Minister C. Vijaya Baskar, a confidant of Mr. Dhinakaran, have yielded little in terms of framing of charges. Mr. Baskar remains a Minister, but he is a little warier of associating openly with Mr. Dhinakaran. The political impact of the searches is infinitely greater than their legal consequences. Both factions of the AIADMK seem eager to please the BJP, which does not have much more than a toehold in the State. In the absence of the searches resulting in serious action, the Central enforcement agencies will appear as no more than political weapons in the hands of the BJP. Widening the scope of and deepening the probe consequent to the searches are essential for taking the drive against political corruption to its logical end. Just as important, however, is the need for enforcement agencies to demonstrate their independence and credibility.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 9:47:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/search-seize-cease/article20556378.ece

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