Two questions on Friday morning screamed for our attention and begged for answers. Both were short and succinct. Why is Modi afraid of a CBI chief? Are we donkeys?
The Telegraph, the Calcutta based newspaper, put the second question on its front page. The answer was obvious. We must be donkeys to believe that CBI Director Alok Verma was ‘transferred’ by the high level selection panel to protect the ‘institutional integrity’ of the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Because if Verma is indeed guilty of the various charges, he should have been sacked and not transferred barely 20 days before his term was to end on January 31. Even his transfer order is apparently illegal because he would have retired from the IPS if he had not been appointed Director of CBI.
One can trust this Government to initiate a probe into the allegations against Verma. Judging by its past conduct, the Government is quite capable of asking the CBI itself to look into the charges against its chief and investigated by hand-picked officers.
But when the CVC could sit over the allegations for two months between August 20 and October 23 last year—and yet find six of the ten charges to be unsubstantiated, one tends to believe in the statement issued by the ousted Director that he was ousted because he tried to prevent external influences to affect the functioning of the agency. We must indeed be donkeys if we believe the official version of why Verma had to go.
That takes us to the first question. Why is Narendra Modi afraid of a CBI chief? That there was panic on October 23 is pretty obvious. The two top officers of the CBI were fighting like ‘Kilkenny cats’ for several months but the Government or the CVC showed no urgency to intervene.
Indeed, after sleeping over the allegations against Verma for two months, the CVC and the PMO burnt the midnight oil on October 23 to send the two officers on forced leave. And the first thing that the interim director Nageshwar Rao did was to transfer officers investigating certain sensitive cases, including charges against the Special Director Rakesh Asthana, an IPS officer of the Gujarat cadre believed to be close to both Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.
The haste on display during the midnight coup and also this week, when the Government refused to wait for even 48 hours before calling the meeting of the selection panel to decide on Verma’s fate, point to the ‘determination’ within the establishment to oust Verma as quickly as possible. We would be donkeys to believe that this haste was to ensure the credibility and integrity of the institution.
Can Alok Verma be silenced? He is said to have turned down feelers of being appointed Governor of a state. And the alacrity with which he issued a statement regretting the haste with which he was shown the door on ‘frivolous’ charges, is an indication that at some point he would disclose the interference that the CBI faced from external sources. The credibility and integrity of the CBI has taken a knock and it will take several years before it can regain its credibility.
The role of the Supreme Court too must come under scrutiny. While jurists have questioned its apparently flawed judgment in the Alok Verma case, it is not clear why the court reinstated Verma if it had no jurisdiction over his tenure. If the selection panel was to decide his fate, why conduct a farce of a hearing?
The reinstatement of Verma did give the impression that charges against Verma were not serious enough. And a plain reading of the charges show that similar charges of delaying sanction, obstructing investigation and favouring the accused etc. are charges that can be levelled against any chief of the CBI.
The Supreme Court too has not quite covered itself with glory with a three-judge bench deciding that the charges did not merit Verma’s transfer and that the transfer was illegal ( had the charges been serious, the court could have struck down the transfer but restrained Verma from assuming office till the selection panel decided his fate) and the second senior most judge Justice A.K. Sikri concurring with the Government the same week that the charges were serious enough to merit Verma’s transfer.
The last word on the controversy is not yet out. And it will be a long time before we get to know why the Prime Minister is afraid of a CBI chief.