When a Parliamentary Standing Committee was constituted to discuss the formation of Central Vigilance commission, I was its member from the Rajya Sabha. The two points which were debated at length were: one, whether the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should be under the proposed commission, and two, whether the government's prior permission was necessary before taking action against a public servant with the rank of joint secretary and above. I was amazed to find the unanimity among members of different political parties on both points. This was despite the Supreme Court's order to constitute a Vigilance Commission, answerable directly to Parliament. Had the court's order been respected, the CBI would not have been a government department as it is today. A couple of members touched this point but only in a cursory manner. The CBI fought tooth and nail against the Vigilance Commission's superintendence. Ruling at New Delhi at the time was the Bhartiya Jayanata Party (BJP). It was as vociferous in opposition to the CBI coming under the Vigilance Commission as the Congress and the Left parties were. What bothered them was that they would not be able to use the services of the CBI in the states they ruled. How could an independent CBI serve their purpose if and when they wanted to use the agency against the opposition? Hence an independent CBI was far from their mind. According to the Special Police Establishment Act which has constituted the CBI, the centre cannot use the agency in a state without the latter's permission. The state allows the agency's operation or initiates it if the party in power finds it politically convenient. The working of the CBI shows that the centre uses it to punish or favour an individual, a leader or political party. The part the agency played to help Ottavia Quattorchhi, an Italian and a friend of Sonia Gandhi family, to escape in the Bofors payoff scandal and get money from the London bank is one glaring example of favouritism. Law Minister H R Bhardwaj, close to 10, Janpath, saw the completion of the process till the end. Lalu Prasad Yadav, involved in the fodder scandal when he was Bihar chief minister, was let off the hook once he came to support the Congress at the centre. The latest is the agency's flip-flop in the case of former UP Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav. When he was opposed to the Congress the CBI came into the picture to probe how he came to possess disproportionate assets. Now that he is on the side of the Congress, the CBI informs the Supreme Court that it wants to withdraw its earlier letter for Mulayam's prosecution. Once again Law Minister Bharadwaj has interpreted the case differently. The Supreme Court admonished the CBI. A legal luminary observed that the agency has sold its soul. When in power, the BJP used the agency in a similar way. So much so that the CBI did not appeal against L K Advani's acquittal in the Babri Masjid demolition case in which Advani was the prime suspect. However, the UP government stepped in to file the appeal. Advani rewarded the retiring CBI director by nominating him to the National Human Rights Commission. Whichever party is in power - this time it the Congress - it uses the CBI as it deems fit. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) too has no faith in the CBI. Its general secretary Prakash Karat has said that the Congress is in the habit of influencing the CBI. The CPI-M has alleged that the CBI investigation against Kerala Communist Party secretary in a case which has caused the state crores of rupees was politically motivated. The state is, however, feeling a piquant situation because Chief Minister V S Achudananndan has allowed the CBI to complete its probe. The party's directive is not to recognise the CBI. How to insulate the CBI from political pressure is the question. So far the agency is an instrument in the hands of the party which is in power at the centre. The Supreme Court will have to intervene. The original proposal to entrust the supervision of the CBI to the Central Vigilance Commission is a sound one. Only the court can have this implemented. Had the Ombudsman been appointed as promised by successive governments at the centre, he or she could have seen to the independence of the CBI. Perhaps it could be put under the Ombudsman. Since such an institution is not even in the picture, the credibility of the CBI will be questioned and all its inquiries will have question marks against them. There is no go from its autonomy. Maybe, the Supreme Court which expressed its shock over the CBI stand on the Mulayam Singh's case can appoint a Standing Committee of eminent people to supervise the working of the agency. If this does not happen, the central government will continue to mess up investigations as it has been doing so far. Mine was the only dissenting note on government's permission to act against the joint secretary or above. The Supreme Court had already thrown out the dictum of prior permission and the then BJP-led coalition had enacted a law to make the permission by the government mandatory. I vainly approached the Left parties to lend me support. But they too had their own compulsions in view of the state governments they had ruled. What was obvious was that all parties had in mind the officers who served their purpose and who should not be exposed to any probe. That explains why some senior officers become a tool in the hands of the party in power and do anything on its bidding. In turn, the officers have the confidence that even if they were ever put on the mat by investigating agencies or otherwise, they would be saved by the government which had all the power not to allow a probe, much less prosecution, against joint secretaries or above. This is precisely what happened during the emergency. Public servants willingly committed excesses for the reward of quick promotion or cushy posting. They should have been held accountable but were not. This has given civil servants a new culture. The proximity of officers to the seat of power has made them blind to follow even inherent ethical conduct in public behaviour. For many a public functionary the dividing line between the right and the wrong, moral and immoral has ceased to exist. They are only at the beck and call of the ruling party to carry out its command, however wrong and dirty. This is a point to worry in a democratic structure. The writer is a former member of the Indian Parliament and senior journalist.