Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Friday hit the streets in the capital along with leaders of his party and its allies on the Rafale issue demanding "reinstatement" of CBI Director Alok Verma and courted arrest after dubbing Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a "chor" (thief).
"Prime Minister Narendra Modi is finishing every institution of the country because he wants to hide the corruption in the Rafale deal. He is attacking the CBI, Election Commission and other institutions. Chowkidar chor hai (Watchman is a thief)," he said in a brief address to a crowd of Congress workers outside the CBI headquarters in Lodhi Road area in south Delhi.
Linking the government's action of divesting CBI Director Alok Verma of his powers, duties and functions with the controversy over the Rafale contract, the Congress president alleged that the prime minister had benefited a businessman to the tune of Rs 30,000 crore through this deal.
"The Congress will not allow the 'chowkidar' to commit this theft. The Opposition parties will not allow the 'chowkidar' to commit the theft," Rahul said amid frenzied slogan shouting by party supporters.
Rahul got on to a truck in front of the police barricades put up ahead of the CBI headquarters in the CGO complex to prevent the protesters from reaching the building. Standing atop the vehicle, Rahul shouted "chowkidhar chor hai". The crowd roared as it repeated the slogan in unison before courting arrest.
Rahul was leading a noisy protest over the government's action in CBI. He was flanked by party leaders Bhupinder Hooda, Ahmed Patel, Ashok Gehlot and Randeep Singh Surjewala as well as Opposition leaders Nadeemul Haque (Trinamool Congress), D Raja (CPI) and Sharad Yadav (Loktantrik Janata Dal).
Carrying placards against the prime minister, the protesters walked the distance with scores of police personnel maintaining vigil and camera crews jostling with each other to capture the moment.
Later, Rahul and other leaders were taken to the Lodhi Colony police station in a police bus and Surjewala tweeted that Rahul and other leaders have been arrested.
"Rahul Gandhi's arrest by an autocratic Modi government won't deter or cow down millions of Congress workers from exposing the dismantling of the CBI to hide the Rafale scam," he said.
Gehlot said the Congress was staging protests outside CBI offices throughout the country with the demand that Verma be reinstated.
"We want the reinstatement of Alok Verma. He can be transferred only by the collegium of Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and Leader of Opposition. The Prime Minister should tender an apology to the nation for destroying the image of CBI," he said.
Later, the leaders were let off.
"The prime minister can run and run but cannot hide from the truth. The truth will come out. The prime minister acted out of fear and panic (on the issue). The prime minister cannot give a rupee in waiver for farmers. Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya, Mehul Choksi, Lalit Modi all fled. Anil Ambani will also flee. The reality is that the prime minister has indulged in corruption. Chowkidhar chor hai," he roared.
Earlier, Rahul led a short march from Dayal Singh College to the CBI headquarters along with opposition leaders. Hundreds of Congress activists took part in the protest, shouting slogans against Modi.
The government has strongly defended its decision, saying it was "absolutely essential" to maintain the CBI's institutional integrity and the move was based on recommendations by the Central Vigilance Commissioner.
The Congress' protests in the national capital were replicated in other parts of the country. State Congress leaders led demonstrations in their regions against what the Congress described as the "illegal, unconstitutional and illegitimate removal of the CBI director by the Modi-Shah duo that has shamed India and its premier investigative agency".
Alleging that the prime minister is experiencing 'Rafale-o-Phobia', the opposition party said the "demolition of the CBI" was prompted by fears that the director was going to conduct a probe into the fighter jet deal. The government sent Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana, who have accused each other of corruption, on leave on Tuesday. It also transferred several CBI officials and appointed M Nageswar Rao as the interim chief of the agency.
The Congress protest was held soon after the matter came up in the Supreme Court. The apex court said former Supreme Court judge AK Patnaik will oversee a CVC inquiry into the allegations and counter allegations and the report has to be placed before it within two weeks. It directed that interim CBI chief M Nageswara Rao shall not take any major policy decisions. Decisions taken by him since 23 October till date shall not be implemented, it said. All decisions taken by Rao shall be placed before the apex court in a sealed cover.
The court sought a response from the CBI, the CVC and the Centre on Verma's plea challenging the government's decision to divest him of his duties.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi posted the next date of hearing on 12 November.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Oct 26, 2018 16:51:56 IST