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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?