What the country is witnessing now are unprecedented incidents in the 55-year old history of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the criminal investigation agency of the central government.
The latest in the series of events is the now dethroned CBI Director Alok Verma having approached the Supreme Court, after a ‘confrontation’ with Prime Minister Narendra's confidante and IPS officer from Gujarat cadre, CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana. Over the last few months, both have been hurling corruption charges at each other. But on 15 October, CBI itself filed an FIR against Asthana making him accused no: 1 in a corruption case, and he was on the brink of being arrested when the internal bickering in the CBI came into public view. The case against Asthana is that while being head of an enquiry, he accepted bribe to save from interrogation an accused arrested in the black money case involving Delhi's noted meat exporter Moeen Qureshi. CBI has informed Central Vigilance Commission that in addition to this, there are six corruption cases against him on which enquiries are ongoing. By way of reply to this, Asthana also raised ten corruption cases against Director Alok Verma. When the tussle intensified, the prime minister intervened to cool down the situation, but not successfully. Finally, following the usual 'political principle' of choosing the more intimate between two confidants, the Central Government has 'solved' the problem by removing Alok Verma from his position, and sending to the Andamans the officers in charge of the enquiry against Asthana. When the Opposition came out with its criticism, the Centre was forced to entrust the probe to a special investigation team.
By design, the tasks envisaged for the CBI are conducting enquiries into cases involving severe crimes and equipping the country's police force to fight against corruption too. The reports now are that 26 individuals on the top of that agency are now facing graft charges. And it is in his atttempt to give a clean chit to somebody arrested with crucial evidence, that Asthana has been arrested. Asthana is in charge of several prominent cases keenly watched by the country, such as the Augusta Westland helicopter deal and the loan scam of Vijay Mallya. In the light of the current events, none of these enquiries can be expected to move in the right track. Asthana was honoured by Modi in April 2016 with the title of Additional Director of CBI, and is the prominent one among those tipped for the post of CBI Director in January.
No one will forget that five years ago the Supreme Court had called the CBI a 'caged parrot'. It was when this investigation agency degenerated into the role of being a tool and mouthpiece of the ruling party of the day that Justice Lodha had to describe it so. But such epithets do not seem to have disturbed our ruling class. That is why even after this, the agency has been still dancing to the tunes of the government. Alok Verma was one who expressed readiness to investigate the Rafale scam case, which is shaking Modi government. The Opposition allegation is that it is because of this stance that he was removed overnight through an order solely on the basis of an allegation by Asthana. And the first thing done by Nageshwar Rao, who substituted Alok, was to transfer those officials who investigated the case against Asthana. This lends credence to the suspicion that the happenings behind the curtain are moves using the leverage of power, to protect favourite individuals
Ever since the Emergency, several incidents have happened of the kind that questions the integrity of CBI. They have often been subjected to severe censure by the judiciary too. The response that was floated on all such occasions was that it should undergo reforms in tune with the times and in such a way as to grant greater autonomy. Many had demanded that CBI, which quakes at the sight of interference by political parties, should be given autonomy and be made an independent agency. Five and half decades into its existence, the country is asking for yet another reform. The lesson from the new crisis is nothing but the need for converting the CBI into an investigating agency free from political strings, autonomous and absolutely independent.