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

Arti Ghargi

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CBI

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.

CBI

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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.

CBI

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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?

Opinion

Why Congress’ strategy to keep everyone guessing in Rajasthan will work?

Arti Ghargi

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Congress has very strong chances of lifting the trophy in Rajasthan. However, the dilemma is who will lift it? Gehlot or Pilot?

 

“I will contest the Assembly elections following the Aadesh (order) of Congress president Rahul Gandhi and on the Nivedan (request) of Ashok Gehlot,” uttered Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee chief Sachin Pilot. He was talking at a Press Conference in Rajasthan. The Press briefing that was called to welcome Bharatiya Janata Party MP Harish Meena into the Congress fold soon turned into an event of a confrontation.

Moments before Pilot’s humble but near sarcastic acceptance of him contesting the election, it was AICC general secretary and former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot who announced that both he and Sachin Pilot would be contesting the upcoming assembly election. It is not new for the Rajasthan Congress heavyweights to be asked about the infighting within the state unit. The leaders have been denying it for quite a sometime.

Rajasthan

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On Wednesday, when Gehlot was asked about it, he said, “Reports about infighting in the Congress have been in circulation for some time now. This is a BJP conspiracy.” He announced, “The Congress in Rajasthan is united and both Sachin and I will contest the election unitedly.” The authoritarian tone of the statement even surprised the State Congress Chief Sachin Pilot. However, the visibly startled Pilot soon regained control of the situation and said that he will contest election upon the orders of Rahul Gandhi and request of Ashok Gehlot.

Pilot and Gehlot both contesting the assembly election clearly mean that curtains will not be drawn on the debate of CM candidate soon. The infighting within the Rajasthan Congress between the Gehlot and Pilot faction is the major headache of the Congress which is hoping for a resurgence in the state election.

Rajasthan

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Pilot vs Gehlot:

It was in September this year when during a press conference, Ashok Gehlot had said, “When the face has been in front of you for 10 years, where is the need of talking about a new face?” He was referring to his own 10 years of experience as Rajasthan CM. While Gehlot has been somewhat vocal about his aspiration to be the Rajasthan CM for the third time, Pilot has been tight-lipped about his ambitions. When he was asked the same question, he avoided the question by saying that he is not in the CM race and is “only working to ensure the party’s thumping victory”. However, the supporters of Sachin Pilot feel that he is the rightful contender of the CM throne.

However, both the leaders supposedly buried their differences and tried to contain the clash between their supporters. This was evident throughout the ‘Sankalp’ rallies organized by the party. A rally in Karauli- a tribal region of Rajasthan put to rest all the talks of differences within Congress state unit. Making their way through the sea of people spread over 20 km from the rally venue, both Gehlot and Pilot arrived on a bike. Sachin Pilot was riding the bike while Gehlot sat on the back seat. When they reached the venue, the party cadre even hailed then as “Jai-Veeru” of the state Congress. Not too long ago, both of them also were seen sharing the same bus seat during a campaign.

Rajasthan

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Though the efforts have been made by the duo to show that Congress Unit is united, the underlying reality as everyone senses is that both Pilot and Gehlot are CM aspirants. Gehlot has a wealth of vast and diverse experience in active politics in his kitty. Since he was appointed as the AICC state in-charge during the Gujarat Assembly election, his stature in the party has only risen. He is now seen amongst the closes aides of Congress President Rahul Gandhi.

On the other hand, Sachin Pilot who is almost three decades younger than Gehlot has mobilization of grassroots workers to his credit. The two times MP, lost in 2014. But the party still handed over the reins of state Congress committee to him. Since the last five years, Pilot has been touring Rajasthan connecting with voters and workers alike. The young Turk comes as the fresh face among the veterans. He is quite popular among the youngsters of the state. Besides, he is a close friend of Rahul Gandhi.

 

Congress’ formula- Keep them guessing:

The anti-incumbency against BJP and Vasundhara Raje government is turning a boon for the Congress. The party has very strong chances of lifting the trophy in Rajasthan. However, the dilemma is who will lift it? Gehlot or Pilot? Both are strong contenders of the CM post. It is a difficult choice for Rahul Gandhi to make.

However, the party chose to douse the fire for now. Congress is best known for not announcing its CM candidate ahead of the election. Even in MP, the party has refrained from projecting a CM face between Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia. Announcing a CM face between Gehlot and Sachin Pilot would mean turning the supporters of these factions against each other.

Rajasthan

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If the party announces Gehlot as its CM candidate, chances are young voters-supporters of Pilot would turn against Congress. Had it announced Pilot as the CM face, the veterans-supporters of Gehlot and senior party leaders would rebel. And no wise political leader would want a rebel in the poll-bound state party unit.

The Congress is keeping voters and party workers guessing. Surprisingly, as opposed to the argument that announcing a CM face will help driving a clear campaign, this formula seems to work for Congress. The idea is simple. Both the factions want to see their leader as the Chief Minister. Now that both Gehlot and Pilot are contesting, the supporters would put their best foot forward to ensure their leaders have an edge. Which, eventually will help the Congress party on a broader scale.

Rajasthan

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With clearing the air around the Pilot and Gehlot contesting the elections, the Congress has doused the fire for now. But the real challenge will be faced by Rahul Gandhi in case the party wins the elections. While the temporary solution avoids a full-blown confrontation between the Gehlot-Pilot factions, he needs to work towards a middle way out.

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Opinion

How the deadly 2013 Maoist attack wiped out entire Congress leadership in Chhattisgarh

Arti Ghargi

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The deadly Darbha Valley attack by Maoists wiped out almost entire Congress leadership in the state of Chhattisgarh.

The campaigning for the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections first phase wound up today. The two primary political parties in the race fired stinging shots at each other on the last day of campaigning. While, Congress President Rahul Gandhi graced the battleground Chhattisgarh on the last day; from BJP, star campaigner UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and party president Amit Shah held the fort.

On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed his first rally in the state in Jagdalpur.  Lashing out at the Congress, he said that the opposition Congress is trying to protect the ‘Urban Maoists’. “Urban Maoists live in air-conditioned surroundings, move in luxury cars and send their children to study abroad, but ruin the lives of children here. Naxalites kill our Jawans and Congress calls them revolutionaries,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The obvious reference was UP Congress chief Raj Babbar’s remark that Naxalites are revolutionaries who have lost the path.

Raj Babbar

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For the BJP, which is battling anti-incumbency of 15 years in the state, this apparent gaffe by Congress leader came as a handy tool. Having known Prime Minister’s ability to set the narratives it wasn’t surprising that he decided to corner Congress on Babbar’s comment. In the past too, during Gujarat Elections, Mani Shankar Ayyar’s “Neech” comment was used by PM Modi against Congress.

Toeing his line, UP CM Yogi Adityanath and Party President Amit Shah continued hitting the raw nerve and attacking Congress over the issue. While talking to reporters Amit Shah said that Congress which calls Naxalites as revolutionaries cannot think of state’s development; Yogi Adityanath at a separate rally accused that Congress in the state fuelled Naxalism for its selfish motives.

As the tables seem to turn against Congress over the recent row, one must also recall the deadly Darbha Valley attack by Naxalites which wiped out almost entire Congress leadership in the state. Incidentally, the attack had happened a few kilometres away from Jagdalpur.

It was on May 25, 2013, a few days before the 2013 Chhattisgarh Assembly elections that the stalwarts of state Congress were killed in the Maoist attack. The attack caused the death of more than two dozen people of which twelve were Congress leaders and workers. The attack which was termed amongst the deadliest attack killed former state Minister Mahendra Karma, Chhattisgarh Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel and Vidya Charan Shukla a senior Congress leader who succumbed to his injuries two weeks later.

The attack was carried by the Maoists in response to the offensive launched by the UPA government to tackle the Maoist insurgency in the state. Enraged by the mobilisation of security forces in the region, Maoists continuously targeted police personnel and political leaders.

 

Darbha Valley attack:

On May 25, 2013 Leaders of the Congress party were carrying out a Parivartan Yatra in the state, with a convoy of 25 vehicles carrying around 200 Congress leaders and workers. They were returning from a meeting organised in Sukma. Congress was hoping to end the decade-long rule of BJP’s Raman Singh in the state with the crackdown of Naxalism as their main poll-plank. Senior Congress leader Mahendra Karma had even emerged as the prominent proponent of Anti-Naxal operation in the state. The Adivasi strongman from Bastar even launched Salwa Judum- a militia composed of tribal youths to counter the Naxal insurgency. His efforts were also supported by the Chhattisgarh government. Though his anti-Naxal efforts put him in the race of Chief Ministership, it also put him in the hit-list of Maoist.

Chhattisgarh

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When the convoy of Congress leaders reached the deeply forested area of Dharba valley on Jagdalpur-Sukma Highway, it was blocked by trees felled by Maoists. The Maoists triggered an IED near the fourth vehicle in the convoy. As soon as vehicles slowed down, around 250 Maoists hiding in the adjoining hilltops of the Jeerum hills opened fire from both the sides. The personal security officers of the Congress leaders took positions and tried to defend them but the firing continued for over 90 minutes.

The Maoists waited for the PSOs to run out of ammunition before asking the Congress leaders to surrender. The Maoists, however, started firing indiscriminately when the Congress leaders emerged from their vehicles. The eyewitness said that when the Maoists struck, the mobile phones of all the leaders were also taken, as the attackers asked the names of the leaders, shooting some of them while leaving others alone.

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Salwa Judum leader Mahendra Karma

In this attack, entire Congress leadership along with eight security personnel and CRPF soldiers were killed. Mahendra Karma who was on the hit list of Maoist was shot dead by 100 bullets and stabbed brutally 78 times. Congress leaders Nand Kumar and Dinesh Patel were also abducted. They were found dead a day later with several fatal injuries. Congress worker Yogendra Sharma was also killed.

 

Chhattisgarh Congress’ leadership crisis:

The first phase of the Chhattisgarh assembly election is to be held on November 12 in Bastar and other Naxal-affected areas of Chhattisgarh. Despite a strong anti-incumbency of fifteen years, Chief Minister Raman Singh is expected to gain an edge and retain his position.

Bhupesh Baghel

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Congress, on the other hand, which lost out on the alliance with Mayawati’s BSP is still in a lurch of leadership that can take on Raman Singh. Since the attack wiped out some of the strongest leaders of the Congress, a party couldn’t develop even a single leader who can challenge Raman Singh’s legacy. Though in the last assembly elections, the difference between the vote share of Congress and BJP was just 0.7%, many polls have predicted it to be widening this time.

With the current leadership entangled in conflicts and controversies, the party may find it difficult to come to power despite favourable conditions.

 

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Why Urjit Patel may not resign despite rift with Modi and Co.

Arti Ghargi

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If Urjit Patel would have resigned, the confidence of foreign investors in the Indian Economy would take a serious hit.

 

The shake-up in India’s apex financial institution RBI and the Modi government came to a defining turn on Wednesday as the reports expressing the possibility of RBI governor Urjit Patel stepping down started doing rounds. CNBC TV18 first reported that the RBI governor may consider resigning from the post as the split between the central bank and ruling Modi government became more apparent in the recent days.

The government and the RBI came to loggerheads after the deputy governor Viral Acharya hinted in a speech on Friday that the government is trying to hinder the independent working of the institution. Stressing on the importance of autonomy of the RBI, Acharya warned that undermining a central bank’s independence could be “potentially catastrophic”. His warning came amidst the reports that government is pressurising RBI to relax its policies and trying to reduce its powers.

RBI

Viral Acharya, RBI Dy Governor

In a speech to top industrialists, he even cited Argentina’s 2010 economic crisis as an example. Acharya recalled Argentine government’s meddling in its central bank’s affairs led to a surge in bond yields which in turn hurt the South American economy. Reportedly, the government officials were hurt that Viral Acharya chose to talk about the rift between the government and the central bank in public. Many also believe that the RBI governor Urjit Patel too, shares the same views as that of Acharya.

The spat became more public on Tuesday when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley blamed the institution for “lending spree” during UPA era. While speaking at an event in New Delhi, Jaitley said, “The central bank looked the other way when banks gave loans indiscriminately from 2008 to 2014.”

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According to a CNBC TV18 report, a source said that there is an “irreversible breakdown between RBI governor and the government”. However, by afternoon the doubts surrounding Patel’s resignation were put to rest. RBI governor called for a board meeting on November 19 clearly indicating that there is no resignation on cards as of now. The Finance Ministry too issued an official statement for the first time to clear the air. “The autonomy of the central bank, within the framework of the RBI Act, is an essential and accepted governance requirement. Governments in India have nurtured and respected this,” the statement read.

Though the full-blown confrontation between the government and RBI has deferred, for now, it doesn’t mean that the differences between the two have been buried. Moreover, it certainly doesn’t indicate that all is well with RBI and government. However, there are many reasons why despite the strong disagreement with Modi government, Urjit Patel has chosen to stay or as it seems.

The economic crisis India is witnessing is becoming more and more apparent though, the government has been reluctant in accepting that there is a crisis in the first place. In such a scenario, a war of words playing out between the Finance Minister and Deputy Governor of the Central bank indeed sends a wrong signal. If Patel resigns now, the confidence of foreign investors in the Indian Economy will take a serious hit. Though it may not lead to drastic impact such as investors pulling out of India, however, it does give a bad impression and raises the question on the credibility of the institution.

On the other hand, for Urjit Patel quitting now is like leaving the ship to sink. As HW Business and Finance Editor Akhilesh Bhargava points out, “A commander will not leave the battle even if he is going to retire the next day. The situation for Urjit Patel is somewhat similar. If he quits amid the government-RBI standoff, it will adversely impact the stock market, the rupee will weaken and interest rates will soar.” For any banking professional economic crisis credited to him/ her is bound to bring minus marks on the report card. Urjit Patel certainly would not want that especially in the last leg of his tenure as 24th RBI governor.

While Patel avoided the disaster by not resigning, the government has a lot of answering to do. Why did Finance Minister belittle RBI- the apex financial institute of the country at an event that was attended majorly by the foreign audience? Though it was Viral Acharya who had publicly given a hint about RBI’s rift with the government, Finance minister could have found out a better way to handling the dispute. His statement only further fuelled the fire instead of dousing it.

Urjit Patel

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Secondly, it also raises questions on the policy decisions taken by the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister. Earlier, former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan was said to have differences with the Modi government over a policy matter. Same was the case with Arvind Pangaria, first NITI Aayog VC and Arvind Subramanium, Chief Economic Advisor. Both of them stepped down before their tenure came to completion. Though the government said both of them left due to personal reasons, the pattern certainly cannot be ignored. The economic experts deserting the Modi government begs an important question of whether or not the Modi govt’s policies are flawed?

While it casts a shadow on the functioning of Finance Minister, the RBI crisis affects PM Modi the most. The CBI vs CBI and later the CBI vs government fight was not enough already, the Modi government is hit with another institutional crisis. PM Modi’s image as a leader in control has seriously been dented due to this. The two crisis have rather placed Modi as a leader with no control while the apex institutions are either dealing with infighting or are in a stand-off with his own government.

As of now, Urjit Patel’s decision of not quitting the post has avoided the catastrophe. Will the government be able to find a way to successfully deal with the RBI crisis or will it prove to be a calm before the storm? All eyes are now on the November 19 RBI board meeting.

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