From UPA To NDA, Which Political Leaders Have Been Under Central Agencies' Radar

While 60 per cent of political leaders who came under the CBI’s scanner during UPA rule were opposition leaders, the trend became more profound after 2014 under the BJP-led NDA government

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India's former telecom minister A. Raja (C), escorted by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) official and police, walks out of the court in New Delhi on February 3, 2011 Photo: Getty Images

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal became the second opposition leader to be arrested by the Enforcement Directorate ahead of Lok Sabha elections, weeks after the arrest of Former Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren over allegations of money laundering. For a long time now, central investigative agencies like the ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation have been accused of being a political arm of the ruling government. 

In fact, it was during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance regime in 2013 that Supreme Court Justice RM Lodha had labelled the CBI as a “caged parrot” that only speaks “its master’s voice”. The observation was made in the context of the Centre’s alleged interference in CBI’s probe into the alleged coal block allocation scam.

According to an exclusive investigation conducted by The Indian Express in 2022, a majority of the 200 key politicians the CBI has booked, arrested, raided or questioned, in the last 18 years, have been from the Opposition. However, while 60 per cent of political leaders who came under the CBI’s scanner during UPA rule were opposition leaders, the trend became more profound after 2014 under the BJP-led NDA government, wherein 95 per cent of the political leaders on the central agency's radar have been from the opposition. The investigation also found that of the 72 key leaders the CBI probed from 2004 to 2014 (UPA rule), 29 were either from the Congress or its allies such as DMK.

Here are some prominent cases from the past:

BJP Leader Amit Shah (under UPA rule 2004-14)

BJP leader Amit Shah, who was then a minister in the Gujarat cabinet – was arrested by the CBI in 2010 in the Sohrabuddin encounter case, on charges of murder, extortion and kidnapping. Sohrabuddin was a wanted criminal with around 60 pending cases against him when he was allegedly killed in police custody in 2005, when Amit Shah was the home minister of Gujarat.

It was alleged that the encounter was staged after getting the nod from Amit Shah. While he was granted bail three months later from the Gujarat High Court, he was cleared of all charges in December 2014 when the BJP government came to power.

DMK leader A Raja (under UPA rule 2004-2014)

DMK leader A Raja, who was the telecom minister back then, and Kanimozhi were arrested by the CBI in 2011 in connection with the 2G spectrum allocation case, which was seen as one of the biggest scams in the country wherein 2G or second generation licenses for mobile networks were given at throwaway prices instead of carrying free and fair auctions, according to a CAG report.

The DMK was then an ally of the Congress-led UPA government. Although all the accused in the case were acquitted in December 2017, both CBI and ED have challenged their acquittal. 

YSRCP’s Jagan Mohan Reddy (under UPA rule 2004-14)

Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of late Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, was arrested by the CBI in 2011 over allegations of assisting companies in getting benefits from the Andhra government — during his father YSR Reddy’s rule — in return for investments in his companies. The young leader had quit the Congress party in 2010 after a fallout with the party high command on not being made chief minister in Andhra Pradesh. He was arrested in May 2012, after his political revolt, and was later released on bail. 

Congress’ DK Shivakumar (under NDA rule 2014-present)

DK Shivakumar was arrested by the ED in September 2019 in connection with a money-laundering case on the basis of an Income Tax department investigation of his income sources conducted between 2017 and 2018. While he was later released on bail, the chargesheet for the case was only filed three years later, in the run-up to the 2023 Karnataka Legislative Assembly elections in May. 

Meanwhile, the CBI also registered a case against Shivakumar in 2020, on charges of acquiring assets disproportionate to his known sources of income.

However, the Congress government, which replaced the BJP in Karnataka in May 2023, withdrew the consent given by the latter to the CBI, alleging that the case was referred to the CBI in 2019 even before the FIR was registered in 2020 – a move that was legally challenged by the CBI earlier this year. 

RJD’s Lalu Prasad Yadav and Tejashwi Yadav (under NDA rule 2014-present)

The former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Yadav, his wife Rabri Devi and son Tejashwi Yadav have been accused of giving employment to people in the railways in return for land parcels gifted or sold at cheap rates to the Yadav family and its associates. CBI filed a chargesheet against three of them in 2018.

Congress’ P Chidambaram (under NDA rule 2014-present)

The former Union minister P Chidambaran was arrested by CBI and subsequently ED in 2019 in the INX Media case. The CBI had registered its case on May 15, 2017, alleging irregularities in a Foreign Investment Promotion Board clearance granted to INX Media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during Chidambaram's tenure as finance minister. He got bail in both (ED and CBI ) cases later.