During the discussions, Chief Justice Ramana raised a “six-month rule” that has never been cited before in the selection of a CBI Director.
The Supreme Court in 2019 said the post of Director General of Police (DGP) of a State was reserved for the best. It was meant neither for the political establishment’s favourite officers, who were on the verge of retirement nor only for those with a minimum residual tenure of two years before superannuation, the court clarified.
Dispelling confusion regarding an order issued on July 3, 2018, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said senior police officers with a residual tenure of six months before normal retirement could be considered for the post of DGP.
“We, therefore, clarify the order of this court dated July 3, 2018… to mean that recommendation for appointment to the post of Director General of Police by the Union Public Service Commission and preparation of panel should be purely on the basis of merit from officers who have a minimum residual tenure of six months.”
Two senior IPS officers, having led investigations in some of Independent India’s most prominent cases, would have never thought that this order by the Supreme Court would diminish their chances of getting the top job at the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). However, the newly-appointed Chief Justice of India, Justice NV Ramana, just ensured the same.
Both these officers have a history of alleged proximity with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Rakesh Asthana: The ‘Supercop’ From Gujarat
The 1984 batch Indian Police Service officer was born in Ranchi, educated at Jawaharlal Nehru University and taught briefly at St Xavier’s College in Ranchi before joining the Gujarat cadre. Asthana, as superintendent of police in the Central Bureau of Investigation, gained prominence in the mid-1990s when he grilled Lalu Prasad, who was then Bihar chief minister, about the fodder scam. Mr Yadav, who was at the peak of his political career, had to go to jail in 1997 after chargesheet filed by Mr Asthana in the case.
In 2000, Asthana was reported to have made the acquaintance of BJP veteran LK Advani after he was put in charge of the politician’s security detail during a visit to Gujarat.
In 2002, Advani, it is said, introduced Asthana to Narendra Modi, who was then Gujarat Chief Minister. Soon Asthana was heading the probe on the Godhra train burning, which killed 59 kar sevaks and sent the state into convulsions of violence.
Mr Asthana was put in charge of the Ahmedabad bomb blast case as 22 explosions shook the city, killing 56 people.
Soon after, Asthana garnered popularity as the ‘supercop’ in the state.
As Narendra Modi moved to Delhi in 2014 with the BJP’s victory in the Lok Sabha elections, Asthana was summoned to the capital to become part of the Central Bureau of Investigation.
In the past seven years since Mr Modi became the Prime Minister, Mr Asthana has headed a special investigation team looking into politically sensitive cases, many of which implicate members of the Opposition. These include the AgustaWestland defence scam, corruption charges against Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, the investigations regarding tycoon and loan defaulter Vijay Mallya and the Rajasthan ambulance scam. As Asthana went after quick results in these cases, it earned him the reputation of being the blue-eyed boy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
However, 2018 saw an open battle between the two top officials of the investigating agency- CBI Director Alok Verma and his second-in-command, Rakesh Asthana. Many alleged that Verma’s willingness to open the Rafale deal investigation was the reason for the government sending him on forced leave, followed by the top officer quitting the services later. After the midnight drama that unfolded at the CBI office, Asthana was forced to go on leave. Both had raised serious corruption allegations against each other, however, it was Asthana who was the object of greater curiosity.
YC Modi: The Namesake Who Gave Clean Chit
Yogesh Chander Modi (Y.C. Modi) is the current Director-General/chief of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) of India. Mr Modi is a 1984 batch officer of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre. He worked with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for a period of around 10 years in two stints (2002-2010 and 2015-2017) where he handled Special Crime and Economic Offences besides Anti-Corruption cases.
Y.C. Modi was part of a Supreme Court-appointed SIT (Special Investigation Team) that probed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. As part of the SIT, where he was inducted in 2010 and served until July 2012, among the other incidents he probed was the Naroda Patiya massacre. The SIT cleared Narendra Modi, who at that time was Gujarat’s Chief Minister.
Another key case he handled in Gujarat during his posting in the CBI during the tenure of Narendra Modi as chief minister of Gujarat was the murder of Haren Pandya, once a political rival to Narendra Modi, in Gandhinagar in 2003. The probe which was headed by Y.C. Modi was slammed by the Gujarat High Court for “ineptitude resulting into injustice” & that “the investigating officers concerned ought to be held accountable for their ineptitude resulting into injustice, huge harassment of many persons concerned and enormous waste of public resources and public time of the courts.” The Pandya investigation led to the conviction of 12 persons under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). They were all subsequently acquitted (found not guilty) by the Gujarat High Court in 2011, having spent eight years in jail. The Supreme Court has vindicated the investigation done by the team headed by Y.C. Modi in its judgement on July 5, 2019.
Mr Modi, prior to joining the NIA on promotion, was working as Additional Director, CBI, and New Delhi. Modi had joined the NIA as Officer on Special Duty (OSD) on September 22, 2017 and shortly after was made the Director-General.
Quid Pro Quo?
Rakesh Asthana and YC Modi are among several officials who either worked with the prime minister when he was chief minister of Gujarat, or else were involved in crucial probes, and have received key posts in the Central government since 2014.
The issue of why Mr Asthana and Mr Modi, along with several other Gujarat cadre officers or those who have worked on Gujarat matters during Modi’s tenure as chief minister, were being put in key positions in premier agencies bothers many critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The CJI Strikes
According to sources, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last evening to select the new chief of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), emphasised a rule that eliminated at least two key candidates shortlisted by the government.
During the discussions, as per sources, Chief Justice Ramana raised a “six-month rule” that has never been cited before in the selection of a CBI Director.
The Chief Justice of India referred to a Supreme Court judgment that had said officers with less than six months left in service should not be considered for police chief posts. The CJI stressed that the selection panel must comply with the law, sources said.
On the panel as the leader of the largest opposition party Congress, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury backed the rule, giving it majority support in the three-member committee.
The said rule disqualified Rakesh Asthana, the Border Security Force chief retiring on August 31, and National Investigation Agency chief YC Modi, retiring on May 31- the two names that were seen to be the frontrunners in the government’s shortlist.
However, looking at the positions these two officers held in their career during PM Modi’s regime and based on the record of their investigations in the past, the Prime Minister would have certainly wanted any one of them at the helm of CBI. Although, the intervention by the CJI is likely to have caught the Modi government off guard.
Subodh Jaiswal Front-runner
For now, the high-powered selection panel of PM Modi, the Chief Justice and opposition leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, after almost 90 minute meeting, zeroed in on three names – former Maharashtra Director General Of Police Subodh Kumar Jaiswal, Director General of Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) KR Chandra and Home Ministry Special Secretary VSK Kaumudi.
Subodh Kumar Jaiswal, the chief of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and the senior-most of the three names unanimously chosen by the panel, is now the frontrunner for the CBI top job.