CBI vs CBI vs Govt: How infighting, mudslinging and inter-agency snooping is corroding India's elite institutions
The gang war in the CBI has raised raising serious questions about the high and mighty entrusted with crucial organisations governing the country
"Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer; things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere, the ceremony of innocence is drowned, the best lack all conviction, while the worst, are full of passionate intensity."
These lines by William Butler Yeats best describe the gang war in the CBI, which has also led to the corrosion of the steel frame of other institutions, raising serious questions about the high and mighty entrusted with crucial organisations governing the country. The hostile and vindictive behaviour of faction-ridden agencies may have already altered the lifespan of a seasoned R&AW spy and undermined the State's authority. Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi's outburst over the shoddy state of affairs only betrays his inner feelings on the lingering mudslinging.
A meeting last year at the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) office at INA triggered a chain reaction and unfortunately, dragged the top institutions — starting from the PMO to NSA — into the open battle involving the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and R&AW, besides the CBI and the CVC. The meeting was held to promote Rakesh Asthana as the second-in-command of the CBI. The director Alok Verma opposed it, but the government overruled his reservation. Knives were out of the scabbard. Much has been written about Verma-Asthana factions and officers of other agencies pulling the strings, targeting each other with charges and counter-charges but the falconer watched from the sideline until the ceremony of innocence was buried on 15 October, 2018.
Verma decided to lodge an FIR against his deputy for allegedly taking a bribe to scuttle the probe in the Moin Qureshi case and named an R&AW officer and two Dubai-based men alleged to be middlemen. At this juncture, the shadowy war had turned into a public duel unravelling some very inconvenient truths after a midnight sweep. The story thereafter turned into that of a turf war between agencies, one about greed, settling personal scores, spying on each other and illegally tapping phones of officers. A series of applications filed in the courts and selective leakages of classified documents show the officers used all sorts of weapons with a vengeance. A senior officer said naming R&AW officer Samanta Goel in the CBI’s FIR was the ED’s revenge for tapping phones of and generating a report against one of its senior officer's way back in 2016.
"For CBI, the two persons named in the FIR are alleged middlemen; for spy organisations, they are assets. Activities of R&AW are supposed to be cloaked in secrecy but by dragging out Goel's name, they inflicted incalculable damage," the officer said.
Meir Amit, former Mossad chief had once famously said, "Naming a serving spy is serious. Spying is a secret business and not a pleasant one. No matter what someone has done, you have to protect him or her from outsiders. You can deal as harshly as you think fit with her/him inside the organisation. But to the outside world, s/he must remain untouchable and, better yet, unaccountable and unknown."
But that did not happen in Goel’s case. He was not only named, his conversations and details of phone interception were put out in the public domain. It is very clear from AK Bassi's petition in the Supreme Court that that Goel's phone was tapped. Bassi, who was the investigating officer against Asthana was termed as a 'person of doubtful integrity' by the latter. Bassi gave a list of conversations between the R&AW officer and Somesh (Prasad, alleged middleman), alleging that the duo had linkages with Asthana and detailed efforts to allegedly frame honest officers and complainant Sathish Babu Sana.
Bassi in his application said: "The all-pervasive manipulations and machinations to save some select officers from their misdeeds and penalise officers like the applicant for conscientiously carrying out their duties, have forced the applicant herein to knock the doors of this Honourable Court, and seek justice." After Bassi, another CBI officer MK Sinha moved the Supreme Court and dragged everyone from the PMO, a Union minister and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval into the controversy alleging the ongoing controversy was symptomatic of a larger deep-rooted malaise in the country's premier investigation agency, the CBI.
Besides allegations against top decision-makers in the government, Sinha's petition reveals another ugly truth: That the CBI was intercepting calls like it was its primary job responsibility. Sinha, dragging the PMO into the tussle, admitted that Goel's phone was tapped on 23 October when he was in Chandigarh. "The applicant herein was informed by DIG/DD (SU) that someone spoke to Goel (who was in Chandigarh at that time) and asked him to help, to which Goel replied that things have been managed with the PMO and everything is fine. The same night the entire investigating team was shifted," Sinha’s application said.
Besides naming the PMO, R&AW, NSA, a Union minister, the Cabinet secretary, law secretary and CVC, Sinha also pointed to the malaise in the CBI and ED, arguing that if not reined in, the CBI may become 'Centre for Bogus Investigation' and ED may turn into 'Extortion Directorate'. There are also two central figures in this entire controversy: Moin Qureshi and Satish Babu Sana. Qureshi has been under the scanner of various Central agencies including ED, CBI, Income Tax Department since 2013 and the latest case was filed against him in early 2017. According to the CBI: "Moin Akhtar Qureshi has collected huge amount of money in this manner as he was in connivance with said public servants holding high public office and thereby been able to illegally acquire immovable properties situated outside India."
Who are these public servants close to Qureshi? Well, the CBI, ED and I-T Department are still trying to figure it out, even though a former CBI director's name had already cropped up.
"The man, who had in 2013-14 revealed his annual income as around Rs 80 lakh allegedly acquired seven properties abroad situated in London, Singapore, New York and Dubai. It is very clear that entire system was compromised, otherwise why has no action been taken yet? From politicians to bureaucrats, everyone is a suspect in scuttling the probe," a source said.
Sana, is not just an acquaintance of Qureshi. He had transferred Rs 50 lakh to Qureshi in July 2012 through his bank account. Subsequently, in November 2013, Qureshi gave a share certificate of M/s Great Height Infratech worth Rs 50 lakh to Sana. He also allegedly delivered Rs 1.5 crore to Qureshi in November 2012. Like Qureshi, Sana is also being probed by the ED while treating him as a witness in the case. The details of the case including chats and transcripts of calls reviewed by Firstpost shows they had top-level connections and were making efforts to dilute the cases pending against them.
Whether money exchanged hands is a matter of further investigation, but evidence on record makes it amply clear that there was a nefarious nexus with the officers in order to scuttle the investigation. The bigger question is who is benefitting from already damaged institutions? Obviously, those accused of corruption and their godfathers in the system are the happiest men. They have successfully turned agencies against each other and are busy chasing each other's rivals instead of the corrupt. Whosoever wins, the loser surely will be the political leadership. The decision-makers must be reminded of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: "Ah! well a-day! what evil looks, had I from old and young! Instead of the cross, the Albatross, about my neck was hung".
The political leadership will have to deal with the situation with an iron fist. It hardly has any choice. It won't want to head to the 2019 election with an albatross around its neck.
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