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CBI vs CBI fight now has a Rafale trail that leads straight to PM Modi

Arti Ghargi




The talks in Delhi corridors are that CBI Director Alok Verma was deliberating on considering the complaint in Rafale deal.


When we thought that the CBI vs CBI fight, couldn’t get uglier, another high-intensity midnight drama hit the country’s premier investigating agency on early Wednesday. Both the warring top bureaucrats Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana have been sent on forced leave while the joint director of CBI Nageshwar Rao has been asked to take the interim charge. The decision has been challenged by Alok Verma in Supreme Court and asked for an urgent hearing. Considering the unprecedented turbulence in the CBI which raises serious questions on the agency’s image, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the plea on October 26.


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However, these seemingly-flimsy turn of events has opened a can of worm which exposes the rot in the bureaucracy. Though Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in a press conference (which supposedly should have been addressed by the Home Minister) said, that the CBI officers are sent on leave to maintain the agency’s integrity, the murky details coming out on the side-lines are enough to suggest otherwise.

The officer who is at the centre of the CBI broil is Rakesh Asthana. He is a 1984-batch Gujarat cadre IPS. He was appointed as the Special Director of CBI in October 2017. Before that, he had a brief stint as a Director of the CBI in 2016. However, after the opposition created ruckus over his appointment, the government had to reconsider it. That is how Alok Verma got the top job. After the appointment of Alok Verma, Asthana was given the charge as an additional director. The tussle between the two can be traced back to 2017 when Verma had strongly opposed the promotion of Asthana as the CBI Special Director citing the cases of corruption against him. However, this case of CBI fighting CBI is more than just factionalism and the internal fight went awry.


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When Rakesh Asthana was the director of CBI, he constituted SITs under him for quick delivery of cases. These cases included Vijay Mallya probe, AgustaWestland Chopper probe, corruption case against former Himachal Pradesh CM Virbhadra Singh and the politically sensitive Rajasthan ambulance scam case. Incidentally, all these cases are politically sensitive. But the more interesting part is, somehow or other, these cases are related to the states where assembly elections were going to happen.

Agusta Westland scam revealed top names including Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. Even the Raman Singh Govt in Chhattisgarh had come under scanner in the chopper scam. Virbhadra Singh was still the CM of Himachal Pradesh when the SIT was constituted. A year later, the state would appear for elections. Rajasthan Ambulance scam brought forth the name of prominent Congress leader Sachin Pilot. Rajasthan will be going for poll on December 7.

While there is nothing wrong with CBI investigating the politically sensitive cases, Rakesh Asthana being in-charge of the cases definitely stunk of something fishy. Rakesh Asthana, who shot to fame came with the arrest of former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad Yadav in the fodder scam. Asthana was only 36 when he sent Lalu Yadav, the then CM of Bihar to jail in the fodder scam case. After this, he was considered one of the boldest officers on the block. He also handled Asaram Case and 2008 Ahmedabad blast case.


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But he has his share of controversies too. He was named in the infamous 2011 diary scandal. He has several accusations of bribery on him. However, the most consistent allegation on him is being a pawn at the hands of PM Modi and Shah since his Gujarat days. He was part of the Supreme Court-monitored SIT which gave Narendra Modi clean chit in the Godhra Kaand. Since then, he is said to be close to the duo.

Apparently, not only the quarrelling duo of Asthana and Verma was sent on leave but also the entire team of officers close to Verma who were probing the case against Asthana have been sent of leave. The mass transfer order came along with the midnight CBI bloodbath. AK Bassi, the man leading the investigations against Asthana has been transferred to Port Blair in what the government regards as “public interest” (Though, it did not specify how exactly does it qualify as public interest). While SS Guam, has been transferred to Jabalpur, Manish Kumar Sinha has been posted to Nagpur. The joint director policy and in charge of the anti-corruption department AK Sharma has been shifted to the multi-disciplinary monitoring agency.

These overnight transfers leave a room for enough doubt that the government is throwing its entire weight behind Rakesh Asthana. However, a new twist regarding Alok Verma has emerged which points out that the government’s move may not only be to protect Asthana. There is more to the case.

Apparently, one of the threads of information coming out of the case has taken the trail to the Rafale Deal. The opposition had been making noise about corruption and crony capitalism in the Indo-French deal from quite a sometime. Some even wondered if it could be Narendra Modi government’s Bofors moment.

Rafale Deal

It is important to note here that earlier this year senior advocate Prashant Bhushan along with former BJP leaders Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha had formally moved the CBI demanding an investigation into the Rafale fighter jet deal. They filed a complaint against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Union defence minister Manohar Parrikar on the charges of abuse of authority, under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Interestingly, Prashant Bhushan had also challenged Modi govt’s decision to promote Asthana in CBI. However, the Supreme Court refused to hear the petition.

The talks in the Delhi’s corridors are that Alok Verma was deliberating on considering the complaint. His tenure ends in January 2019. Had he acted against the government, it would have been a serious blow to the ruling BJP in the election year. The open secret in the media is a minister of the Modi Government asked journalists to campaign against Alok Verma. Though, the minister was not named. Apparently, the minister told reporters that there should be reports that Alok Verma had helped Mallya flee. However, someone from the fraternity rightly pointed out that when Vijay Mallya fled the country, Alok Verma was not the CBI Director.


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The suspicion grows even stronger with the revelations made through a letter written by the director of Central Vigilance Commission Ajay Kanoujia to AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh. The letter dated May 16, 2008, says that the commission has considered the complaint in the Rafale deal and has decided to send it to Secretary, Ministry of Defence.

The poor handling of the CBI fiasco has already dented the credibility of the government. However, if the Rafale connection is indeed established then it will be the bigger jolt to the Modi govt rather Prime Minister himself. Sacking the entire team probing Asthana corruption case along with Alok Verma who has a clean record and is known as a stickler for rule then will also prove to be a hasty cover-up.

The weakening of CBI did start with the previous UPA regime. However, the mud-slinging that the bureaucracy is witnessing is something that is unprecedented. Indeed, the politics play a big role in bringing the mud to the table. The Supreme Court had already described CBI as a ‘Caged Parrot’. With the current crisis, it is just two caged parrots gawking at each other while the leadership trying to manage them to save itself.

Modi government which came to power with the promise of cleansing the bureaucracy has itself entangled more in the mess. In the fifth year of Modi’s prime ministerial tenure, the shambling bureaucracy signals electoral dangers too. The Prime Minister’s silence on the crisis and attempt of cover-up is more incriminating.

As the CBI vs CBI fight unfolds, the layers of good governance claim by Modi government are falling off exposing the reality. Are we sensing Modi government’s impending doom?


Is Modi government playing with fire with the Savarna Reservation?

Arti Ghargi



We have seen a number of examples in the past where political leaders tried to meddle with the reservation policies which resulted in nothing but the electoral disaster.


On Monday, the Modi cabinet raised the heat amidst the ongoing winter session of parliament by clearing 10% reservation for the economically weaker upper castes. The cabinet decided to amend the Constitution so that the “economically backward” upper castes will get 10% reservation in direct recruitment in government services and admission to higher educational institutions.

The proposed reservation will be over and above the existing 50 per cent reservation enjoyed by the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes, taking the total reservation to 60 per cent. Among the major castes to benefit from the proposed law are Brahmins, Rajputs (Thakurs), Jats, Marathas, Bhumihars, several trading castes, Kapus and Kammas among other Upper Castes.

As the news took over the TV screens and print columns, it was projected as a “Master Stroke” by the Modi government. Some even called it a “Surgical Strike” ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Considering the Savarna backlash that the government received over the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities (amendment) act, this might have been a last-ditch attempt by the ruling BJP to save its Upper Caste voters. Incidentally, the upper caste Hindus are its core vote banks. Thus, this move was being seen as vote bank motivated.

The question, however, remains whether it is actually effective or ground? Whether it will pay the electoral dividends the party is hoping for? Will the move achieve consolidation of both, Dalit and Savarna voters in favour of BJP?

BJP may hope the answer is in affirmative. But a quick scanning of pages of India’s political history can easily tell that it is otherwise. On the contrary, we have seen a number of examples in the past where political leaders tried to meddle with the reservation policies which resulted in nothing but the electoral disaster in the immediate elections.

Karpoori Thakur:

Karpoori Thakur was the first political leader to have felt the heat on the ballot box due to his decisions regarding the reservation policies. The socialist leader who was Bihar’s first non-Congress Chief minister first introduced the reservation for the economically backward upper castes in the country. His decision was based on the findings of the Mungeri Lal Commission. This commission had suggested a total 26% reservation in the state, of which 20% were for the OBC, 3% for the women of any background and 3% reservation for the poor Savarnas.

Karpoori Thakur decided to implement the reservation formula in Bihar in November 1978. However, he decided to divide the OBC category into two other sub-categories for the distribution of quotas, i.e. Extreme Backward Class (EBC) and Backward Class (BC). While EBC were allotted 12% quota, BC was allotted 8%.

Electorally, it proved to be disastrous for the leader. He had to endure major upper caste backlash for this move. Within a week, he had to vacate the CM chair. The reservation policy he introduced is popularly known as “Karpoori Thakur Formula”. The policy was halted in 1992-93 until the Supreme Court quashed it. However, with the Modi government’s new reservation card, the demand for implementing the formula in government jobs and educational opportunities has started gaining pace in Bihar.


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VP Singh:

Who can forget the political debacle VP Singh brought upon himself by announcing the implementation of Mandal commission report. Not only the country burned for months following violent protests but the controversial move proved to be a fatal blow to VP Singh’s political career.

In August 1990, seven years after the Mandal Commission report on the identification of OBC’s based on 11 parameters, VP Singh in his independence day address declared his intention of implementing the commission’s suggestions. The report proposed OBCs to be given 27% reservation making the total number of reservation go up to 49%.

This move sparked a series of student protest. The Self-immolation committed by more than 50 students across the country and suicide attempts by more than 100 people marked the end of the VP Singh’s minority government. Just 11 months after he took oath as the Prime Minister, VP Singh had to step down and was succeeded by Chandra Shekhar.


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Bhupinder Huda:

Having witnessed the fire sparked by the controversial reservation policies, Congress (UPA) for most of its term kept the reservation off its priority. Until 2014, when it made a last-ditch attempt to win the election, touched the reservation issue.

On the face of elections, Congress proposed to include Jats in Other Backward Class category. The Jat reservation only resulted in violent protests and hartals in the state. The Supreme Court eventually rejected it. The Congress, as we know, was reduced to only 1 seat.

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Prithviraj Chavan:

The Congress-NCP coalition government in the state of Maharashtra too followed the suite off Haryana government. The Prithviraj Chavan-led coalition government announced 16% reservation for the Marathas who have been demanding reservation since long. The move did not prove much fruitful as the coalition had to face dismal numbers in the immediate assembly election.

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These and many other cases in the past prove that any decision with regards to the reservation is equal to playing with fire. Thus, it begs a question whether the Modi government has learnt the time and again tested lesson provided by Indian Politics. With the recent decision, it seems it hasn’t or perhaps, it has chosen to ignore it.

Will it turn out to be political suicide for Modi government as well? Or will he be successful in breaking the jinx?

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Don’t need Congress, SP-BSP strong enough to defeat BJP in UP: Kiranmoy Nanda





Kolkata | Samajwadi Party (SP) national vice-president Kiranmoy Nanda on Sunday said his party, together with the BSP, is strong enough to defeat the BJP in Uttar Pradesh in the upcoming general election and there is no need of an “insignificant” force like the Congress to make it happen.

He, however, hinted that the SP-BSP alliance might just leave aside the Rae Bareli and Amethi constituencies, represented in the Lok Sabha by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi respectively.

“In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is an insignificant force, so we are not even thinking of including or excluding it. The SP-BSP alliance is the main force which will take on the BJP. The Congress might be there in one or two seats, it is for the Congress to decide what position it wishes to see itself in,” Nanda told PTI in an interview.

His comments came two days after Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati and SP leader Akhilesh Yadav moved closer to finalise a seat-sharing formula, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Both the leaders held a meeting in New Delhi on Friday.

Nanda felt the Congress was yet to adjust to the mantra of “alliance politics” as it was unwilling to “leave even an inch to its allies in states where it is strong, but expects others to share their pound of flesh with it in states where it is a weak force”.

Asked whether keeping the Congress out of the alliance in Uttar Pradesh would be an advantage for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he said, “From our past experiences, we can say, in cases where the Congress had fielded candidates against the SP-BSP alliance, we did not face any problem in defeating the BJP. The Congress’s vote share is completely insignificant.

“Rather there have been instances where the Congress had not put up its candidate in a seat and the BJP got its vote share.”

Nanda cited the examples of the Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha bypolls, where the Congress had fielded candidates against the SP-BSP nominees, but that did not deter the alliance from defeating the BJP.

Referring to the recently-held Assembly polls in five states, he said had the Congress worked out an alliance in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP would have faced a complete ouster in the two states.

“Did the Congress go for a pre-poll alliance with the SP-BSP in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan? The answer is no. The Congress’s policy is it will take benefits from everybody, but when it gets an opportunity, it does not want to share it with others,” Nanda said.

The former fisheries minister of West Bengal during the Left Front regime asserted that the SP-BSP alliance would be a “gamechanger” in the general election in Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 Lok Sabha seats.

“Going by the current situation, it is clear that the SP-BSP alliance will sweep Lok Sabha polls in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP will be ousted. The SP will play a vital role in the next government formation at the Centre, but we are not in the prime ministerial race,” he maintained.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP, along with its allies, had secured 73 of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, whereas the SP had won five and the Congress just two seats.

Nanda also refuted the claims that Shivpal Singh Yadav’s Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia) might play a spoilsport for the SP-BSP alliance in the Hindi heartland state.

“New parties crop up prior to the Lok Sabha polls in politically sensitive Uttar Pradesh, but they fail to create any impact,” he asserted.

Talking about the choice of prime ministerial candidate of the opposition alliance, Nanda said the matter would be decided on the basis of consensus after the polls.

“We are not averse to anyone for the prime minister’s post but that issue will be decided after the polls, following a discussion with all the parties,” he added.

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Is “Pliable” offensive because Rahul Gandhi said it?

Arti Ghargi




As the entire hullabaloo surrounding “Pliable” continues, a quick search on Google will tell you what the word means.


Many of our journalists on ever-buzzing Indian Twitter are outraging over the word “Pliable”. For those who are completely unaware of how this fairly innocuous-seeming word offended many of my colleagues, let me give you a brief background.

It was on Thursday that Congress President Rahul Gandhi during a press conference sought to take a swipe at Prime Minister Modi’s interview with ANI editor Smita Prakash as being “staged” and lampooning the interviewer as “Pliable”. His remarks were followed by a prompt rebuttal by the ANI chief calling it a “Cheap Shot” and “downright absurd”. “Not expected of a president of the oldest political party in the country,” she tweeted. Many journalists and even politicians (read BJP leaders) came out in her support and slammed Rahul Gandhi for his comments.

“The Grandson of the ‘Emergency dictator’ displays his real DNA – attacks and intimidates an independent Editor,” tweeted Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Adding a question on the silence of “pseudo-liberals” (Wait. The Irony just died). On the other hand, many others disagreed and saw nothing wrong with Rahul Gandhi’s comment. As the debate around “Pliable” heated, the IT cells of both parties aided their respective sides by releasing interview videos of Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi- which is supposed to be a commentary on how certain journalists suck up to the rival parties and what “Pliable” journalism looks like.

As the entire hullabaloo surrounding “Pliable” continues, a quick search on Google will tell you what the word means. According to Google, Pliable means easily bent; flexible or easily influenced. The Cambridge dictionary elaborates a little more- (often disapproving) A pliable person is easily influenced and controlled by other people. Now, going by the literal meaning of the word, it is hardly offensive. But as what’s offensive or what’s not is subjective, let us consider for a moment that it was indeed offensive to some. But the subjective cannot be selective.

Was it a standalone incident where politicians indulged in name calling? Hell No! Many journalists on regular basis are subjected to uncivilized criticism just for doing their job. The range of cuss words used to discredit journalists and their work is innumerable. Not to mention the few which you would see in very often which degrade the standard of public discourse. I am sure many of us have been called “Presstitute, Dalal, Baazaru” and what not. And while Mr Jaitley is busy pointing fingers at Rahul Gandhi. Here is how his own cabinet colleague described the journalists as:

 Not to forget the Modi interview to Smita Prakash in which he terms some journalists as “News Traders”.

Now, after the furore, Editors Guild and other journalistic bodies stepped in and condemned Rahul Gandhi for “words” used by him to criticise the ANI chief. Though it wasn’t a standalone case of politicians name-calling journalists, in this particular case the guild stepped in. The promptness is definitely noteworthy.

In the next few lines, the guild raises the question on the objectionable language used by senior BJP leaders and AAP leaders to criticise the journalists and media at large in the past. This condemnation in retrospect hardly seems genuine and comes across as an effort to escape the whataboutery. The guild says that journalists aren’t immune to the civil criticism. Going by this statement, Pliable is more civil than “Presstitute”, “Dalal” or “Baazaru”.

So what was the outrage for? Was it really because of the use of word Pliable? If it is so, why the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy calling journalists “News Traders” doesn’t incite such response? Or was the outrage because it was Rahul Gandhi who said it. Which then means two things: either the fraternity thinks they do not merit criticism from Rahul Gandhi (or any politician, for that matter) or Rahul Gandhi is too civil in his conduct that we as journalists don’t expect him to use such words. The standard for judging Rahul Gandhi is higher than it is for his contemporaries.

In my opinion, politicians should be the last ones criticizing the journalists. But should they be barred from criticizing the media completely? Not at all. But if we are to condemn them for their comments the ground should be the same for every politician.

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