At the root of the virtual bloodbath inflicted upon the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the wee hours of Wednesday, October 24, is endemic political intervention that the prime investigating agency has relentlessly been subjected to by successive and different governments through past many years. And if the disease has been getting irredeemably morbid by the day, the cure being tried out by the government at the end of it looks to be even worse.
Sadly, this is so despite the fact that the Supreme Court had laid down a clear procedure for the appointment of CBI Director, limiting the role of Government, or political executive to insure the investigating agency’s impartiality and independence. Over two decades ago from now in the infamous Jain Hawala case, involving some of the key-players in politics and other fields at that point of time, the top court had strongly felt the need to insulate the anti-corruption watchdog that the CBI has mainly been since its inception from political control and influence.
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This obviously could never be possible. And, thus, the issue of unwarranted meddling into the affairs of the CBI by the government and politicos is again back before the Supreme Court. This time it has been taken by none other to the apex court but the CBI Director Alok Verma. This was hours after he was made to step aside by sending him on compulsory wait or leave through Government orders to bring a junior officer M Nageswar Rao to temporarily take over as officiating Director.
And through the proverbial night of long knives there have also been large-scale changes in the CBI amid the government and media’s viewpoint is that these had become inevitable to stamp out the virtual war between Verma and his deputy, or Special Director, Rakesh Asthana since it had destroyed the “integrity and credibility” of the CBI. No less a person than Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley justified the government action against Verma and Asthana by saying that this was necessary to maintain the fairness of an impartial probe—“The two senior-most officers involved must sit out on leave till an impartial investigation is complete.”
Among other things the minister’s statement points to a grave threat to the institution called CBI. And it was caused, according to Jaitley like others, because of the bitter war between the director and his immediate junior. The question that arises is what was the government doing as the conflict between the two officers has been festering ever since last year? Verma had opposed Asthana’s posting as Special Director. They could never get along and left no opportunity to slight down each other.
The tipping point reached when the two officers traded charges of taking bribe from a Hyderabad-based businessman against one another. Verma initiated a case against Asthana. And the latter wrote to the government against the former. Asthana also moved a petition before the Delhi High Court to quash the FIR (first information report) filed against him, courtesy the CBI Director. In the meantime, the Prime Minister’s Office summoned the two warring officers but could not succeed in either bringing them to peace, or take a decision to distance them sufficiently to ensure an end of the ongoing war between them.
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The way the two officers fell out and turned against each other took the attention to their possible political connections. Asthana is from Gujarat cadre and he was made CBI’s acting Director before Verma took over from him. Later on Asthana was crucially placed in the organisation despite Verma’s protests. And when the war between them came out into the open, most observers dismissed the possibility of Asthana being humbled in any way and to be made to sort out differences with the director because of his reputation of having direct access to the top rungs of power.
Even when Asthana was put on compulsory leave like Verma and a new team of officers took over from the two one of the first orders that were passed included transfer of officers who were probing allegations made in the FIR against Asthana. This is so despite Jaitley’s assurance of “impartial investigation” into the charges against the two top officers.
As for the possibility of political support to Verma, it cannot be ruled out completely though this could not be visible or open so far like in case of Asthana. This has been more so since Verma has a two-year fixed term as CBI Director from the date of his appointment and it is protected by the guidelines set by the Supreme Court. And, thus, the CBI director’s cohorts in politics don’t need to flaunt their support for him openly.
Nevertheless, the war between Verma and Asthana points to the possibility of a deep chasm to be at work at the political level; and this is suspected to be well within the ruling conglomerate. So the more ominous portends of the battle in the CBI may well still be waiting to unfold.