The Centre on Tuesday night divested Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) chief Alok Verma of his powers and sent him on leave amid the ongoing infighting in the country’s premier probe agency.
The move came after the CBI registered a case against its special director Rakesh Asthana. The Supreme Court granted interim relief to Asthana from the arrest and directed the CBI to maintain status quo.
However, the feud between the two senior most CBI officers – director Verma and special director Asthana, triggered a political storm that hit the Narendra Modi-led central government.
Reacting to Centre’s action against the CBI chief, Congress president Rahul Gandhi alleged that the decision to ‘sack’ Alok Verma was taken out of fear as he was willing to investigate the alleged irregularities in the Rafale fighter aircraft deal.
“PM removed the CBI Director to stop him from investigating Rafale. Mr 56 broke the law when he bypassed CJI & LOP. Mr Modi, Rafale is a deadly aircraft with a superb radar. You can run, but you can't hide from It,” Gandhi wrote on Twitter.
Gandhi has been single-handedly raising the issue of the controversial Rafale deal signed between the Government of India (GoI) and France in 2015 under the leadership of Narendra Modi and Francois Hollande.
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The Congress chief alleged that the Modi government signed the deal on a high price compared to what was finalised during the erstwhile UPA government. He also alleged that the Modi government overlooked the experienced state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to choose Anil Ambani’s 10-day old company as Indian partner of Dassault Aviation – the company responsible to manufacture the Rafale aircraft.
But the million-dollar question in this whole CBI feud is whether the decision to divest Alok Verma’s powers as CBI chief was taken out of fear of probe in the Rafale deal?
While the Centre has denied the Congress chief’s claim, describing it as “rubbish”, the CBI chief has raised serious questions against the Modi government and appeared to be endorsing the Congress chief’s allegations.
In his petition against Centre’s move filed before the Supreme Court, Verma said that the independence and autonomy of the CBI were being compromised when "certain investigations into high functionaries do not take the direction that may be desirable to the government".
"Not all influence that is exerted by the political government would be found explicitly or in writing. More often than not it is tacit and requires considerable courage to withstand," the petition filed by the CBI chief read.
The Opposition parties have long been accusing the BJP government of “systematically dismantling and denigrating” the CBI and using the premier investigating agency to “blackmail” its political opponents. With Verma’s explosive claims, the onus is now on the Modi government to restore the lost credibility and autonomy of the agency.