With questions being raised about the integrity of the most senior officers of the CBI, what else can one say?
The CBI-versus-CBI faceoff isn’t going to end soon. Forget phrases such as “caged parrot”, for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) isn’t a caged parrot; it is, for all practical purposes, a dead parrot.
What else can one say about the country’s so-called premier investigative agency when the most important questions that everyone wants answered these days are: “Director (Alok Verma) kiska aadmi hai? (CBI special director Rakesh) Asthana kiska aadmi hai (Who is Alok Verma’s master in the government? To whom does Rakesh Asthana owe his job in the CBI)?”
While the erstwhile Congress-led UPA-II government made it obvious that the CBI was the government’s lapdog, it is the Narendra Modi-led NDA government that has killed and buried the parrot.
But politicians are easy targets.
The largest share of blame for the ongoing fiasco should rest with one agency, which, ironically, is the one tasked with conducting a free and fair inquiry into the alleged misdeeds of CBI director Alok Verma – the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).
And, what about the Supreme Court’s failure to bring the parrot out of the cage? When UPA law minister Ashwani Kumar made suo-motu changes to the Coalgate draft report that the CBI was scheduled to submit in court, the Supreme Court had thundered: “Our first exercise will be to liberate CBI from political interference. CBI’s independent position must be restored.”
The CVC’s guilt
Unfortunately, all talk of liberating the CBI was conveniently forgotten once the issue got relegated to the inside pages of newspapers.
Under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, which guides the functioning of the CBI, the CVC has the power of superintendence over the CBI insofar as offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act are concerned.
Also, it is the CVC which, in consultation with the CBI director, clears the appointment of officers of the level of superintendent of police (SP) and above in the CBI (except for the post of director).
But the CVC was found lacking in all spheres of superintendence, as the ongoing drama clearly establishes in a much better way than any case investigated by the CBI over the last 20 years.
Shouldn’t we be asking why the CVC failed to take note of the red-flags raised – incidentally by Verma himself – about the proposal to appoint controversial Gujarat-cadre IPS officer Rakesh Asthana as his deputy? Did the CVC hold a thorough inquiry before deciding to ignore Verma’s objections?
But what can one expect from a CVC that is headed by a man – K.V. Chowdary, a former Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) chairman – whose own appointment was challenged through a PIL before being upheld by the Supreme Court.
It seems everybody has forgotten the old dictum about the need for Caesar’s wife to be above suspicion.
Equal share of blame
Forget Asthana, even the manner in which the CVC cleared the appointment of acting director M. Nageshwar Rao is questionable.
Rao faces a long list of charges that lead to serious questions about his continuation in service; his appointment as the CBI top boss, even as an interim measure, doesn’t make for a convincing picture. For details do read my colleague Ananya Bhardwaj’s excellent report here about Rao’s baggage.
Not just that, the failure of the CVC to effectively intervene to control the internal tussle in the CBI from blowing up into a free-for-all should also worry everyone.
Coming back to the CBI, I am not saying anything new when I suggest that every political party has a vested interest in keeping the CBI in a cage.
So what if the Modi government, due to its poor handling of the situation, has actually killed the parrot? Shouldn’t Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who took to the streets along with his cadres to protest against the government’s interference in the CBI, at least inform the country why his own party’s government took the CBI out of the purview of the Right to Information Act? That too on the asking of the then director A.P. Singh, who, in view of the seriousness of the charges against him with regard to his links with controversial meat exporter Moin Qureshi, should have been facing trial and not beaming at us from TV screens every second day, giving us gyaan on how CBI should be run.
And what about Ranjit Sinha, the CBI director who crossed all kinds of Lakshman rekhas with his underhand deals with the same Qureshi?
And, guess where Qureshi, the man whose name is now synonymous with the rot in the CBI, is: In some foreign country, out on bail, with no sign that he is going to face jail time for the alleged offences that the Modi government and its ministers and agencies accuse him of having committed.
With a conviction rate that – even in trial courts – is nothing to write home about (3 per cent), the CBI is anyway dead. All that is left is for us to be good Hindus and cremate it.
What could have been
Post-script: I have my own CBI story.
In March-April 2013, I was investigating a tip-off from a senior government functionary that the then union law minister Ashwani Kumar had “summoned” the then CBI chief Ranjit Singh and several other officers to his office and made changes to the draft of a Coalgate report that the agency was going to submit in the Supreme Court.
After multiple confirmations, the news report was published and the minister forced to resign.
But it was at one of my several meetings – after the minister had resigned – that my source made a comment that has stuck with me since then. “Why did only the minister have to resign? Why not the CBI chief (Sinha)?” the source asked. “I was at the meeting and he didn’t protest one bit when the minister was making changes to the report. Wasn’t he guilty of being party to the conspiracy?”
Incidentally, in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, Sinha, while acknowledging that he had “shared” the draft with Kumar, said it was done “as desired by them”.
If only action had also been taken against Sinha then, the nation might have been spared the ugly spectacle of the top two CBI officers fighting each other, as Verma and Asthana are doing. But, like everything else with our polity, it is a big if!