CBI vs CBI row gives Congress golden opportunity to take Narendra Modi government head on

As the power tussle within the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) plays out in public, dragging the powerful Prime Minister's Office into controversy, the glee in the Congress camp is understandable.

The fight involving the top two officials of the premier investigative agency — Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana — has come as godsend for a party looking to put Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a spot of bother ahead of the 2019 elections. This time, it gets to aim at him at a more personal level since one of the persons in the fracas has a strong Gujarat link.

The party is also using the opportunity to bring the spotlight back on the Rafale deal. In a tweet on Wednesday, Congress president Rahul Gandhi alleged that CBI chief Verma has been sent on leave as he was involved in collecting evidence on the Rafale deal.

The PMO, according to TV news reports, was unhappy with Verma after he entertained complaints on the deal from former minister Arun Shourie and lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan a couple of weeks ago.

 CBI vs CBI row gives Congress golden opportunity to take Narendra Modi government head on

Representational image. AFP

The issue has caused the government serious embarrassment since Asthana is a Gujarat-cadre IPS officer who is close to both Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. He was elevated to the number two position in the agency and sources say he had a habit of throwing his weight around.

With the infighting within the agency between Verma and Asthana, the credibility of CBI is seriously hurt. Enough mudslinging has taken place over a fortnight due to allegations and counter-allegations exchanged between the two officials, which has also brought out alleged cases of corruption against the bureau officials. Asthana has investigated several high-profile and sensitive cases – from Godhra train fire (2002) to fodder scam, in which RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav was arrested; from Vijay Mallya’s bank fraud case to AgustaWestland chopper scam case.

In September, Asthana wrote to the government against his boss Verma, and his complaint was referred to Central Vigilance Commission. He accused Verma of trying to interfere with and thwart investigations in important cases.

Congress, which has desperately been looking for issues to take Modi and his government to task, has lost no time in training guns at the government. Congress leader and in-charge, AICC Communication, Randeep Surjewala, on Tuesday said, “Prime Minster Shri Narendra Modi is solely accountable and responsible for dismantling, denigrating and destroying India’s premier investigation agency CBI. Habitual and perpetual misuse of CBI by PM Modi and BJP president Amit Shah in fixing political opponents and illegal intervention of serious criminal cases has landed the CBI in an unfathomable mess, eroding its independence and credibility.”

The Congress has alleged the government violated CBI laws, deliberately misused and controlled every institution, including the CBI, violated a Supreme Court ruling, and attempted to save Asthana. Meanwhile, Asthana has been stripped of all his responsibilities at CBI and a probe has been initiated against him. Nine CBI officials probing the Asthana case have been transferred.

Reacting sharply to these transfers, Surjewala said that “illegality, interference and unconstitutionality of Modi government today has hit a new low”.

However, this is not the first time that the CBI’s credibility and functioning have been questioned. Not long ago, former CBI director Ranjit Sinha famously agreed with the Supreme Court’s observation that the CBI was a 'caged parrot that speaks to its master's voice'. It now appears the parrot may have many masters, not all necessarily political ones, and it may have a mind of its own too. And yes, political control was always a good excuse to hide under.

Though the ongoing CBI fiasco has taken an ugly political battle, it hardly matters for the voters, as they know well how a ruling government uses the CBI to counter its Opposition. There are innumerable examples in the past. During the previous UPA regime, it was the BJP, as the Opposition party, which had begun using the acronym of ‘Congress Bureau of Investigation’ for CBI, in reference to agency’s alleged tilt towards the party in power then.

Come what may, the public will cast its vote as it wishes to, irrespective of the CBI scam. But the government, on the other hand, needs to fix the CBI issue with an iron hand to keep its promise made to the electorate of delivering a ‘corruption-free government’. As Modi had said, “Na khaunga, na khaane doonga (Neither will I engage in corruption nor allow anyone to do it.)"

Updated Date: Oct 24, 2018 20:32:12 IST