The internal feud in the country's premier investigative agency Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) continued for the second day, as four alleged members of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) were nabbed outside the residence of Alok Verma, the CBI director who was divested of his authority and sent on leave on Wednesday. The central government has been under fire from the Opposition with Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and leaders like MK Stalin calling the developments of the controversy an "administrative anarchy".
Thursday's events of the four IB men allegedly 'snooping' around Verma's residence were followed by the government's order of sending Verma and the agency's Special Director Rakesh Asthana, who have been at loggerheads since the controversy began, on leave on Wednesday.
Leading the attack against the government on the issue, Congress president Rahul Gandhi alleged that Verma was forcibly sent on leave as he was collecting documents relating to the Rafale "scam" and the country and its Constitution were in danger under the ruling dispensation. In a series of tweets, Gandhi also said, "The prime minister's message is very clear that whoever comes near Rafale (issue) will be removed, wiped out."
The alleged scam in the purchase of the French-made fighter aircraft has been making headlines for a few months after the Congress levelled several accusations of corruption against Modi.
The BJP responded to Rahul's allegations, terming them "rubbish". Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said, "I regard this charge as rubbish. The fact that Opposition parties are saying we know what agency was going to do next itself casts a doubt on the fairness process. I don't believe what they are saying is true, but if they did have access to what was going on in the mind of a person, that itself demolishes the integrity of the person they are trying to support."
On Wednesday, DMK chief MK Stalin joined the Opposition in slamming the Centre for the rumblings in the CBI, saying they have come at a time when the agency was likely to take up cases like the controversial Rafale deal. Sending Verma on leave amidst his spat with Asthana was not just "autocratic", but also showed the BJP government's "administrative anarchy," Stalin claimed in a statement.
The leader of Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Assembly said the action against Verma comes at a time when he had reportedly initiated a probe into the Rafale deal. "Reports suggest he had ordered a preliminary inquiry into the Rafale deal. The prime minister, who was angered by this, has used the opportunity to appoint IG level official Rao as director and this is a misuse of authority," Stalin said.
He said there was a public perception that the Centre's actions were seen more to "conceal" the Rafale issue rather than protecting Asthana. Verma was always opposed to the "forceful imposition of Asthana into the CBI by Prime Minister Modi," he said, and condemned the action against Verma. The actions of the prime minister created an impression of an "undeclared emergency," he added.
The CBI was presently handling sensitive cases and therefore required a director with "impeccable integrity", he said. "But by appointing a junior officer, the BJP government has made the CBI its caged parrot," he said. Stalin alleged that the central agency may be used against the Opposition during elections.
"It is unacceptable to see a war being declared against CBI's independence, credibility and autonomy," he said and called for revoking of the action against Verma.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal retweeted Modi's 2013 tweet in which he had slammed the then UPA government for allegedly "undermining the intelligence system" of the country.
Kejriwal retweeted Modi's 5 June, 2013 tweet in which he had said that it was "unfortunate that in its quest to target political opponents, Centre (UPA government) is undermining intelligence systems with CBI questioning IB officials."
"What are the reasons for sending CBI director on leave? Under which law did the Modi govt get the authority to initiate action against the chief of an investigating agency appointed as per the Lokpal Act? What is the Modi govt trying to hide?" he said.
Later, addressing a gathering at an event in Delhi, Kejriwal alleged, "Prime Minister Narendra Modi has suspended the CBI director at 3 am. Do you know this? Why? I tell you that the Modi government is buying one Rafale fighter jet with a cost of Rs 1,500 crore instead of its original cost of Rs 546 crore. They are doing a scam of Rs 36,000 crore in buying 36 Refale jets.
"When the CBI director (Alok Verma), who is an honest person, started investigation in the case, he was suddenly transferred at 3 am," Kejriwal said.
The Congress is slated to hold protests on Friday outside all CBI offices across the country, demanding an apology from Modi and the reinstatement of Verma as CBI director. Top Congress leaders will be part of the protest outside the agency's headquarters in the national capital, while state leaders, including state party chiefs, will take part in similar protests.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been rallying the Opposition against the government in light of the CBI controversy. After slamming the Centre on the issue on Twitter on Wednesday, Rahul also addressed the issue during his campaign in Rajasthan. He accused the prime minister of not consulting with a mandatory three-member committee required for such decisions, instead took the decision on his own.
He also reiterated his "chowkidar" charge, saying that the prime minister was scared that the country would know that the "chowkidar" had stolen Rs 30,000 crore.
Congress's chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the prime minister's "desperate bid" to cover up the Rafale "scam" had pushed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into complete "disintegration".
He also hit out at Jaitley and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad for putting out a "weak defence of cleaning the system to justify the prime minister's panic reaction on the Rafale scam". "In order to save the prime minister, the finance minister and the law minister are taking refuge behind a bogus apology by giving an explanation of a fraud equivalence," the Congress leader said.
The Communist Party of India's national secretary D Raja also described the situation in the CBI as that of a "coup" that has shocked the nation and demanded that Modi, as head of the government, explain the truth to the people. He also said that the prime minister must clarify on the speculations that the government's actions are linked to the Rafale scam.
"What is happening in the CBI is like a coup that has shocked the entire nation. The CBI has been plunged into such a crisis. Its credibility stands completely destroyed. It is happening under the nose of the prime minister. "There is speculation that it has something to do with the Rafale scam. People want to know the truth. The prime minister being the head of the government should explain to the people and the nation," Raja said.
In a statement, the party alleged that the PMO was acting like an all-powerful 'extra-constitutional body'.
Opposition leader Sharad Yadav said that the way the government had conducted the matter was "constitutionally, morally and politically wrong and illegal". He said in a statement that the decision to transfer Verma was in violation of rules laid down by the Supreme Court that only a selection commission, comprising the prime minister, the chief justice of India and the leader of the largest opposition party can decide on suspending or removing the CBI chief.
"Whatever has been done (at midnight on Tuesday) by the government is constitutionally, morally and politically wrong, illegal and tantamount to interference in the functioning of the independent body," Yadav said.
AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi claimed that the government's move was wrong as the CBI director has a fixed tenure in office by law.
"According to Section 4 of the Delhi Police Establishment Act, you cannot remove the director. He has a fixed tenure. A high-power committee has nominated him. If CVC says it has recommended and (government) removed him, we would like to know what section (of law) it is," he said.
Owaisi, Lok Sabha member from Hyderabad, also alleged that all democratic institutions are being undermined, with their credibility being destroyed under the NDA government.
With inputs from PTI
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Updated Date: Oct 25, 2018 18:18:32 IST