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CBI internal struggle: Should the premier investigative agency be disbanded?

What is extremely unfortunate about the CBI vs CBI fight is that it has smothered the imagery of the institution.


A premier investigating agency of world’s largest democracy entangled with an ugly, out-in-public fight between the two topmost officials, both trying to discredit each other while the leadership looks over- seems like a perfect flimsy story. The fact is, it is happening right now in India’s leading investigative agency Central Bureau of the investigation. The public fallout between the No.1 of CBI i.e. CBI director Alok Verma and No.2 i.e. Special Director Rakesh Asthana has now reached to a point where the agency seems to be having an unprecedented face-off. The infight which was boiling for over a year has reached its zenith with the CBI going ahead and filing an FIR against its Special Director Rakesh Asthana.

The CBI has filed a bribery case against its second in command, Special Director Rakesh Asthana. Incidentally, Asthana had levelled same allegations of bribery against Verma two months ago in a letter written to the cabinet secretary. The CBI registered the case against Asthana — FIR RC 13(A) of 2018 —on October 15 after receiving a complaint from Satish Sana who is being investigated in the meat exporter Moin Qureshi case. Satish Sana had alleged that Asthana had promised to help him get a clean chit in exchange of ₹5 crores as bribery with ₹3 crores as an advance.

The internal power struggle in the CBI has now appeared on the political radar with Congress President Rahul Gandhi accusing the Prime Minister Modi of making the agency a “weapon of political vendetta”. He tweeted saying that the premier investigation agency was on a terminal decline and “at war with itself”. “The PM’s blue-eyed boy, Gujarat cadre officer, of Godra SIT fame, infiltrated as No. 2 into the CBI, has now been caught taking bribes,” he added.

Meanwhile, Rakesh Asthana who is at the centre of the entire controversy has said that there is a conspiracy being concocted to malign him.

Who is Rakesh Asthana?

Rakesh Asthana, the Special Director of the CBI whom Rahul Gandhi described as PM Modi’s “Blue-eyed boy” is a 1984-batch Gujarat cadre IPS. He took over as the special director of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on October 22, 2017, after a brief stint as the additional director in CBI earlier.

His appointment to the CBI created a lot of storms. Apparently, Asthana had probed the burning of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra. He even presided over the arrest of former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad Yadav in the fodder scam in 1997 as a Superintendent of Police in CBI. Asthana is also said to be close to PM Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. Thus, his appointment to the CBI raised many eyebrows.

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In 2016, he was even made director for a few months. However, after the opposition took a strong objection, the government had to set up a fresh panel of senior officials. Asthana’s name eventually had to be withdrawn as even the leader of the opposition is on a selection panel of the CBI Director. Furthermore, Alok Verma got selected for the top job.

The troubles for Asthana started appearing when his name emerged in the ‘2011 diary’ scandal which was recovered in the Sandesara Group IT raids. The group owns Sterling Biotech. There are BBM messages and entries made on Asthana’s name.

Alok Verma vs Rakesh Asthana:

The first dispute between the two top CBI officers sparked a year ago when Rakesh Asthana (then Additional Director) was being considered for the promotion i.e. the post of special director. Alok Verma had strongly opposed his elevation citing appearance of Asthana’s name in Sandesara group’s diary scandal.

As Mr Pranab Dhal Saman points out in his article in the Print, Asthana created a Special Investigation Team under him during his brief stint as the director of the agency, for a unique set of quick delivery cases. “The cases included the Vijay Mallya probe, Agusta probe, corruption case against Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and the politically sensitive Rajasthan ambulance scam case, among others,” Samanta says.

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Now, even though he was dropped as the Director of CBI, these SIT’s still remained with him. The cases undertaken by these SITs are all politically sensitive cases. The Verma faction, however, took an edge when they moved on Lalu Prasad, apparently without his knowledge, in the railway’s hotel sale case in July. This is the same event which led to breaking of the Mahagathbandhan of Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar in Bihar.

The time is crucial now as in 2019, Alok Verma will complete his term as the director of CBI. According to the hierarchy, Asthana is expected to take over the top post which is just before the 2019 general elections.

Sources in the PM’s office say the CBI has not sought permission to act against its officer, Mr Asthana, as is required in such cases.

What is the conclusion?

The infighting within the various government agencies are not new affairs, what is extremely unfortunate about the CBI vs CBI fight is, it has smothered the imagery of the institution. The credibility of the CBI as “independent” investigative agency has been compromised. The current altercation in the CBI though seems to be the internal politics, in a broader sense, it is also somewhere connected to the political dots.

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The CBI has often been accused of being a toy at the hands of political parties at the power. It has long been accused of being a tool of intimidating the political opponent. This trend of managing the “CBI” started with the UPA era. Although, the “management” was done in an unobtrusive and hush-hush way. Under the current dispensation, using CBI for political consideration has become more open and brazen. This has eroded the trustworthiness of CBI.

In the light of the recent incident, it must be pondered upon whether urgent reforms are needed in the premier institute of investigation or with the deep political infiltration, should it be disbanded completely?

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