The drama over the feud between CBI’s two top bosses spilled over in the courtroom on Friday when the SC refused to hear Asthana’s petition on the ground that his petition was not listed.
The din over the pre-Diwali implosion within the CBI refuses to die down as the Supreme Court on Friday directed the Central Vigilance Commissioner to complete the probe against CBI chief Alok Verma within two weeks. Verma, along with his deputy, special director Rakesh Asthana, was forced to go on leave by the Modi government in a midnight order last week. Verma had knocked on the doors of the apex court challenging the government order.
A former SC judge shall oversee the CVC enquiry against Verma. The court also reined in interim director Nageswara Rao asking him to refrain from taking policy decisions till pending enquiry.
The drama over the feud between CBI’s two top bosses spilled over in the courtroom on Friday when the SC refused to hear Asthana’s petition on the ground that his petition was not listed. The Centre pleaded the CVC inquiry should also include enquiry against Asthana but the Court dismissed it saying it was only concerned with Verma’s case.
Challenging the government order, Verma cites the SC-mandated order that protects the two-year tenure of the CBI director. Also, that the concurrence of the committee responsible for the selection of the CBI director has to be taken to transfer the CBI director, which, in his case, has been bypassed by the Centre. But Verma’s petition does not stop at just that.
In his petition Verma builds his case to suggest how political influence is being brought to bear upon the investigating agency, which is not always explicit or in writing. “More often than not, it is tacit, and requires considerable courage to withstand it.”
While Verma’s plea is confined to restoring his authority and position for the rest of his term, his petition does touch upon the grey areas within which the CBI has to mostly operate. By raking up the issue of political influence, Verma is not stating anything new but only confirming the fears that the CBI, after all, ends up as handmaid of the powers-that-be.
The CBI was set up in 1963 with the exclusive motive of investigating complicated cases of crimes such as murder and kidnapping. It soon established its reputation as India’s foremost investigating agency, gradually taking up cases of terrorism also. But the criminal-politician nexus grew and matters reached a head in the Eighties.
The judiciary’s pro-active interference led to many high-profile cases landing up at the CBI’s doorstep. As the economy opened up, it also flung its doors wider for financial corruption of humongous magnitude.
No wonder, in 1987, the CBI was divided into several divisions, the prominent being the anti-corruption wing, the economic offences section, and the special crimes division.
As the country entered the coalition era in the Nineties, political parties dropped all pretences of safeguarding CBI’s integrity. The CBI was used not merely as a stick to beat one’s political rival with but also to keep the coalition together and the government afloat.
So despite the CBI investigating cases of Taj corridor or disproportionate assets, regional satraps like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati, for instance, were being courted and browbeaten as the popularity of the ruling party waxed and waned.
Majority governments used ‘tacit influence’– the kind Verma talks about in his petition – rather ingeniously. Therefore, the CBI looked the other way when Jagdish Tytler was discharged from the lower courts in cases of anti-Sikh riots of 1984.
It wasn’t much different for other celebrated cases like the Bofors, involving mega bribes and Quattrocchi. The allegations of political interference have only amplified with the passing years.
By 2012, the new CBI director Ranjit Sinha under UPA-2 took it to a different level, trying desperately to be more loyal than the king. It was reported that the accused in 2G and coal scam cases had access to Sinha’s official residence.
Meat exporter Moin Qureshi, linked to the current CBI crisis, involved in several cases of corruption and money laundering, reportedly visited the official residence of CBI director Ranjit Kumar 70 times during 2013-14.
The current crisis of credibility in the CBI has all the shades of yesterday once more. Only that this time the CBI is at war with itself. Verma has accused Asthana of “creating hurdles” in decisions crucial to the progress of investigation of certain sensitive cases and has “concocted evidence” to malign his reputation.
The big question is why do governments need a pliant man in CBI; what does it say about the integrity of the agency? How can we ensure a climate of fair and impartial investigation? Will the current crisis serve as a wake-up call for decision makers to consider granting more autonomy to the CBI that minimises incidence of conflict of interest or, better still, insulates it from any “outside influence”?
The CBI implosion comes at a time when political parties are girding their loins for yet another battle for Lok Sabha. Opposition parties gave a political twist to the CBI feud linking it to Rafale fighter scam. They claimed Verma was forced to exit because he had stumbled upon complaints that linked Modi government to the Rafale scam.
All eyes shall be on the Supreme Court on November 12 when it takes stock of the CVC report. The apex court’s decision shall not only have a bearing on the fate of CBI but shall also influence the course of politics which is being increasingly determined by the narrative of political corruption.