New Delhi: Following the Narendra Modi government’s dramatic decision to divest Alok Verma of his duties as the CBI director on Wednesday, opposition leaders launched a series of attacks on the Centre for allegedly undermining the independence of India’s top investigation agency. For the last few days, the CBI has been in the midst of unprecedented infighting between Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana, who has also been asked to go on leave.
While the CBI, on the orders of Verma, filed an FIR naming Asthana as the prime accused in a bribery case, Verma found himself on the receiving end when Asthana accused him of interfering and impeding some of the probes headed by him.
Responding to the Centre’s decision to remove both the officers and instead appoint the agency’s joint director M. Nageshwar Rao as the head of CBI, Congress leader Randeep Surjewala said on Twitter, “Modi government buries the ‘last nail’ into the independence of CBI. Systematic dismantling and denigrating of CBI is now complete. Once a premier investigating agency, PM ensures that CBI’s integrity, credibility and reliability is ‘buried and dead’.”
The Congress in the past has on the attack, criticising the Modi government for using the CBI to dig up old cases against opposition leaders instead of letting the agency act independently. It said that the CBI had become a tool for the government to fulfill its political purposes.
“PM Modi seeks to achieve surreptitiously and clandestinely what he can’t do directly to sack the CBI director. Habitual and perpetual misuse of CBI by Modi government and BJP to tamper fair investigation of serious criminal cases is the reason for this unfathomable mess. PM Modi has demonstrated the true colour of his infamous ‘Modi Made Gujarat Model’ by this cloak-and-dagger mugging of CBI,” Surjewala said.
“Has the CBI director been sacked for his keenness to probe the layers of corruption in Rafale scam. Isn’t the rest a shoddy cover-up,” he questioned the prime minister.
The Wire had reported on Tuesday that Verma had been “resisting attempts by the ruling party leadership to arbitrarily use the agency’s powers to raid opposition leaders as a tool of intimidation.” The report noted that Asthana may have been the government’s primary point person in the agency for this, leading to a war-like situation within the CBI.
Earlier, quoting The Wire story, senior Congress leader Ashok Gehlot also commented on the CBI’s loss of credibility.
What is happening in #CBI is very unfortunate. The investigation agency is losing it’s credibility. Under Modi ji, the agency’s role has been totally undermined n what we are seeing is the result of over interference by ruling party. #CBIVsCBI https://t.co/ADxLcrIhLW
— Ashok Gehlot (@ashokgehlot51) October 23, 2018
Senior advocate and leader of Swaraj Abhiyan Prashant Bhushan, who had moved the Supreme Court in 2017 against the appointment of Asthana as the special director of the agency, said that the move to remove Verma was “illegal” and could be challenged in the courts.
Instead of suspending Rakesh Asthana, it seems that the PM is trying to send the CBI Director Verma on leave! PM has no authority to send CBI director on leave as his tenure is protected. It is not CBI vs CBI. It is CBI versus a corrupt officer planted in the CBI by the PMO. https://t.co/b1PH5h1WgC
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) October 23, 2018
Hours before Verma was sacked, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had also come out strongly against the way the Centre had dealt with the issue. It saw in the CBI battle a continuing corrosion of autonomous institutions under the Modi government.
“The recent happenings in the premier investigating agency of the country, the CBI, shows the degree of damage that is being caused by the present BJP government at the Centre to Constitutional authorities and institutions of parliamentary democracy in India. The undermining of the parliament itself, interference in the judiciary, manipulation of institutions like the CBI are not due to poor ‘governance’ but due to malafide intentions to undermine the secular democratic foundations of the Indian Constitution. The Polit Bureau considers these developments are seriously damaging the Indian Republic and must be resisted tooth and nail. The RSS-BJP must be stopped from creating further damage to our country’s Constitutional order,” a press statement by the CPI(M) said.
The Communist Party of India (ML-Liberation)’s general secretary, Dipankar Bhattacharya demanded that Verma be reinstated. “Once again Modi protects an accused and victimises an official for discharging his duty. It could not get more brazen than this. Government of the corrupt, for the corrupt, by the corrupt,” he said on Twitter while responding to Verma’s removal.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal too upped its attack on the Modi government. “The credibility of this premier investigation agency (CBI) is below zero level today. This is the singular feat achieved by Narendra Modi ji’s government. What is coming out in the open now was quite obvious, given the multiple charges against the special director (Asthana) of the agency. Modi government’s position in this entire controversy only confirms that this Gujarat cadre officer knows too much about ‘Gujarat model of Development’,” the party said in a statement.
Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal remarked that Verma’s ouster could have something to do with his inclinations to initiate a probe on the controversial Rafale deal, which could have put the government on the dock.
Is there a co-relation betn Rafale deal and removal of Alok Verma? Was Alok Verma about to start investigations into Rafale, which cud become problem for Modi ji?
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) October 24, 2018
AAP leader Sanjay Singh and the trio of Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushan had filed separate complaints to the CBI and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to look into the Rafale matter. Although the CBI is not bound by law to entertain private complaints, Verma had received the complaints. It is being said that Verma had asked the Union ministry of defence whether the annexures attached with these complaints were authentic or not. This had led some to speculate that Verma wanted to launch an investigation on the Rafale deal.
A few, like rebel Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Baijayant Panda, supported the decision. Panda saw in the appointment of Nageshwar Rao an opportunity for the CBI to launch a probe into the chit fund scam that had rocked the Naveen Patnaik government.
Good that both top #CBI ofcrs put on leave, shd’v happnd much earlier
Now an Odisha cadre IPS in charge, will anythg happen to the ‘conduits’ & ‘weakened’ probes here (see)?
Earlier an upright Odisha Ofcr was derailed from this post on fake charges, overruled by HC but too late https://t.co/hmuNIbs2gN
— Baijayant Jay Panda (@PandaJay) October 24, 2018
Sudhindra Bhadoria, the official spokesperson of the Bahujan Samaj Party, said that governments led by both the BJP and the Congress have used the CBI to their advantage at different times, and currently it was the turn of the BJP to step over the autonomy of the agency.
“The recent developments have established the fact that CBI was used so far as a tool of vendetta by different governments. Today, it is out in the open and the CBI is now under the lens of the entire country. That the agency is, like the honourable Supreme Court had observed, a ‘caged parrot’ has been established without any doubt,” he told The Wire.