The CBI Chronicles: Who Has  Manipulated The Institution After All?

by Sanju Verma - Jan 21, 2019 12:15 PM +05:30 IST
The CBI Chronicles: Who Has  Manipulated The Institution After All? P Chidambaram with former CBI director Ranjit Sinha. (Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • The Congress and the CBI — a saga of the master and a caged parrot.

At the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) national convention, more than 11,000 karyakartas from all over the country had gathered in an unprecedented show of strength. And in a manner befitting the largest political organisation in the world with more than 11 crore members and counting, and one which holds power in 17 Indian states, the war cry for the 2019 general elections was sounded.

Two things stood out at the event. The first was the stirring speech of the indefatigable national president of the BJP, Amit Shah and the second was the no holds barred speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who took the stage as a BJP karyakarta. Modi's speech had many wow moments but it was his honest recollection of how a Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) dispensation hounded him, when he was the chief minister of Gujarat, which stood out for its brutal honesty.

Modi was only reinforcing what has been an open secret for well over a decade. It is a well-documented fact that the Modi-Shah duo was deliberately targeted by the then Congress establishment, to cut them down to size. That a moribund Congress and its coterie failed miserably to checkmate this irrepressible duo, is another story altogether.

In fact, the committee headed by retired Justice H S Bedi which probed over 20 alleged fake encounters in Gujarat between 2002 and 2007, recently submitted its findings to the Supreme Court. It concluded that three of them - killing of Samir Khan, Haji Ismail and Kasim Jafer Hussain, were fake encounters and recommended criminal prosecution of 10 policemen.

While criminal prosecution was recommended for those involved in the three encounters, nowhere did the committee say or imply that it was established that the Modi government in Gujarat or his bureaucrats were involved in systematic targeting or killing of members of a particular religion or of any minority community.

The findings of the Special Task Force (STF) and the monitoring committee under Justice Bedi clearly show that Modi was deliberately harassed with ulterior political motives. Though the two-judge bench of S K Kaul and L Nageswara Rao have neither accepted or rejected the 221-page report by Justice Bedi, it has now sufficiently been established with no 'ifs’ or 'buts’ whatsoever that the dispensation of Modi as the chief minister of Gujarat was clean.

The Justice Bedi report is actually a shot in the arm for Modi, as it comes close on the heels of the Special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Court's verdict acquitting all the 22 accused in the Sohrabuddin case in August 2017. The verdict, which was subsequently endorsed by the Bombay High Court, upheld the discharge granted by a trial court to ex-Gujarat ATS chief D G Vanzara and four others.

All these police officers from Gujarat and Rajasthan had been targeted in the case of the 'encounter' of gangster Sohrabuddin Shaikh, his wife Kausar Bi and aide, Tulsiram Prajapati. The Bombay High Court held that the applications challenging their discharge were devoid of merit. Those from the failed Lutyens lobby and a rudderless opposition who accuse the current Modi regime of undermining institutions and cry foul at the drop of a hat, would do well to remember that Modi spent eight to nine grueling hours a day on umpteen days facing ruthless interrogators. It was only after facing this that he was duly abdicated by every single probe agency and every single court of this country.

Shah, who was the home minister of Gujarat in the said period, was even sent to Sabarmati Jail for a few months post his arrest in 2010 but he faced the law of the land like any law-abiding citizen. That he returned after being given a clean chit in the case, and despite the numerous targets on his back by the Congress-led establishment is undoubtedly a story of immense grit and determination.

As for Vanzara, he was hounded by a biased press, which pronounced him guilty and he spent nine long years in jail on a grave charge of extra judicial killings while on duty. But the charges were eventually not proved in any court of law. In granting relief to Vanzara and former IPS officers, Rajkumar Pandian and N K Amin of the Gujarat Police and Dinesh M N and Dalpat Singh Rathod of the Rajasthan Police, Justice Anand Badar held that the applications challenging their discharge were devoid of merit.

The Congress is guilty of using every institution in the country with reckless insolence to target Modi and Shah from 2002-2014. And today, ironically, they are crying from rooftops about the BJP not respecting institutions!

Did The BJP Actually Interfere In The Functioning Of The CBI?

First, let us look at the exit of ex-CBI director, Alok Verma, who was 'sacked' on 10 January 2018.

Technically speaking, Verma's exit was simply a transfer to the role of Director General Fire Services, Civil Defence and Home Guards, which he incidentally declined. The relevant question though is whether the Modi government actually undermined Verma or the CBI's independence? The answer is an emphatic — no.

If anything, it was Verma who compromised the dignity, integrity and stature of his office by undermining the authority of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), various service guidelines and much more. Verma's unflattering track record in refusing to cooperate with the CVC repeatedly, in not submitting information pertaining to high profile corruption cases and a host of other things including his very public fight with his deputy Rakesh Asthana are not the only things that sealed his fate. Verma's fate was sealed because while there may not have been enough evidence to indict him, there was enough prima facie evidence to conclude that his behaviour had been circumspect.

While heading a body as powerful as the CBI, even prima facie proof of compromised behaviour is a solid reason to sack the said officer. In fact, on 16 November 2018, the Supreme Court, having reviewed the report of the CVC, revealed that some of its findings were “very uncomplimentary” to Verma.

Those who are questioning the bona-fides of the CVC today would do well to note that it was set up by the government of India on 11 February 1964, on the recommendations of the Committee on Prevention of Corruption, headed by K Santhanam.

While it is true that the CVC does not have powers to register criminal cases and deals only with vigilance or disciplinary cases, it has supervisory powers over the CBI in all vigilance and corruption related matters. In a sense, the CVC is the final arbiter in corruption-related matters, in terms of how a probe is being conducted.

In 2003, the Parliament conferred statutory status on the CVC. Hence, for the likes of Prashant Bhushan, Rahul Gandhi and the confused 'others', to question the CVC Chief K V Chowdary, in the Alok Verma case, is nothing short of undermining the sanctity of the office of the CVC.

The Congress and a particular battery of lawyers including the usual suspects like Prashant Bhushan and others have been harping that Verma was not given a chance to explain himself which is against the principles of natural justice. It should be remembered that Verma decided to indulge in gross indiscipline and besmirch the reputation of a body that stands for public trust and confidence. What these contrarians refuse to acknowledge is that such indiscretion has taken away the moral authority from Verma to continue as the head of the country’s top-most federal investigation agency.

Verma was heard by Justice A K Patnaik and he chose not to be heard by the CVC by indulging in rank insubordination and refusing to cooperate in various cases including the Moin Qureshi case. After being found guilty of 'suspicious behaviour’, to cry foul in hindsight, is just a case of Verma trying to regain the little credibility that he is left with, now that his bluff has been called.

It is the CBI Director’s responsibility to protect the image of the CBI and enhance it during his tenure. This was the primary reason why the CVC was asked to file its report in a sealed cover to the Supreme Court which said, “this course of action has been considered necessary by the court keeping in mind the need to preserve and maintain the sanctity of the institution of CBI and public confidence in the said institution.”

Verma claimed that his deputy Asthana, was corrupt. Even if that were true, hypothetically speaking, the solution was not in turning rogue himself. In fact, Verma should have allowed the courts to decide on Asthana's allegations against him and his own charges against Asthana, rather than selectively leaking information to the press and damaging the stature of the country's premier investigative body.

It speaks very poorly of Verma's professionalism that he went to the CVC to express his strong displeasure at Asthana's promotion as special director and even sought its intervention to scuttle Asthana's rising graph when he himself chose to defy the very same CVC when he was asked to provide details on some sensitive corruption cases by it.

He was sent at least three written reminders in September and October 2018 by the CVC, before being sent on 'leave' on 23 October 2018. Even in professional corporate setups, any CEO would never take kindly to two departmental heads fighting against each other in full public glare, and pending an inquiry, would send both on leave or sack both.

Charges Against Alok Verma

Verma was lucky to have not been suspended but simply sent on leave on 23 October 2018 and those citing the Vineet Narain judgement about how the CBI boss is ring-fenced by the fixed two-year tenure clause, forget that Verma's is an entirely different case with extraordinarily different circumstances. The most damning allegations against Verma go beyond his poor interpersonal skills, to fabrication of records, trying to induct tainted officers of doubtful integrity like R P Upadhyaya and Rajeev Krishna, or scant respect for procedural niceties. There are serious criminal misconduct cases against him as mentioned in the CVC report.

In the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) case involving former railways minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, the CVC felt that it can be "reasonably concluded that Verma deliberately excluded a name (Rakesh Saxena) from the FIR, for reasons best known to him”.

Again, Verma, reportedly went slow and delayed investigation into gold smuggling charges against senior police officer, Raj Kumar. The CVC found allegations partially substantiated in this gold smuggling case and recommended investigation by a different branch of CBI. In a Haryana land scam, Verma is accused of being in touch with the then director of Town and Country Planning of Haryana in which Rs 36 crore allegedly exchanged hands to make sure that the preliminary enquiry was closed. CVC said that further enquiry was required in this matter too.

In Verma's case, investigating officer Nirbhay Kumar even told CVC that when he went to Verma and insisted that there is a strong case against Saxena in the IRCTC scam, he was "scolded". In the appointment of alleged 'tainted' officers Rajeev Krishna and R P Upadhyay in CBI, the CVC report refers to CBI special unit's files. The files reveal that Uttar Pradesh cadre IPS officer Rajeev Krishna was "rejected" for induction in CBI in 2002 and 2008 as well. Similarly, about Delhi cadre IPS officer R P Upadhyay, files revealed that there were "adverse inputs" on him by CBI's vigilance unit, which were ignored by Verma, who was hell bent on inducting these two tainted names, again in gross violation of professional ethics.

A petition filed by Sarthak Chaturvedi in the Delhi High Court claimed that Verma had abused his powers and violated the mandated guidelines on phone tapping and surveillance. He has tapped the phones of National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Law Secretary Suresh Chandra, Cabinet Secretary P K Sinha, Special Director RAW Samant Goel, former RAW director Dineshwar Prasad and his sons Manoj and Somesh Prasad and, various other top-ranking officials including Rakesh Asthana. The CVC is right, therefore, in asking for a full-fledged criminal investigation to be conducted into the various suspicious doings of Verma, including forgery of records which is a serious offence if proved and could result in a jail term of up to seven years under various sections of the IPC, ranging from Section 463 to Section 474.

Non-cooperation, non-compliance with laid out work-related guidelines by scuttling probes in high-profile bank default cases, leaking out sensitive information on Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya to the media, refusing to undertake custodial interrogation of Satish Sana in the infamous Moin Qureshi bribery case and delaying probe in the INX Media case may not be sufficient to indict Alok Verma till proven in a court of law. But these cases are more than sufficient to transfer him out of office as the CBI cannot and should not be led by a person who is a serial offender, abetting rank indiscipline and lowering the dignity of a body that should instill trust in the citizenry.

That he was not thrown out of his job but only transferred to another lateral position, shows the Modi government's complete faith in upholding the credibility of the institutional framework of this country. In dismissals, the accused is given a hearing, not in the case of suspensions, wrote former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju, in a scathingly honest post. In fact, all the journalists cheering for Verma should answer — will they be allowed to retain their jobs if they indulge in gross insubordination and show contempt for standard official, operating procedures? And here, it is not just any other organisation but the country's premier investigative agency, whose head chose to go rogue, among other things! How many people have defied Rahul Gandhi and still hold onto plum posts in the Congress? None!

Verma's misguided arrogance and scant regard for even the highest court of this land, the Supreme Court, is well borne out by the fact that despite specifically being barred by the apex court from taking any policy decisions after being "reinstated" on 8 January 2018, the first thing that Verma did on 9 January 2018 was to revoke the earlier transfer orders of S S Gurm. Gurm had been transferred to Jabalpur and A K Bassi had been transferred to Port Blair. Verma's blatant show of power in calling back to Delhi these two officers, was contempt of the apex court, adding to the long list of Verma's earlier transgressions.

The Many Transgressions Of The Congress Party

A snippet from the UK’s Daily Mail dated 16 April 2013 reads, according to reliable sources, CBI director Ranjit Sinha is likely to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court (SC) stating that the law minister had seen the report and forced the investigation team to make at least three changes to it. It is believed that the three issues on which the report was tweaked relate to references made to a sitting minister, a former minister in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and a Congress MP. Sources added that the government wants the CBI chief to harmonize his affidavit with its stand articulated by additional solicitor general Harin Raval in the SC that the report was shown to the political executive. Sources disclose that Sinha has no choice in the matter as otherwise he could face a perjury charge. … During the hearing on March 12th, the SC bench, headed by Justice R M Lodha and comprising Justices J Chelameswar and Justice Madan B Lokur, specifically asked Raval, who appeared for the CBI, if the details of the investigation were shared with the political executive. Raval had answered in the negative, saying: 'it is meant for the eyes of the Judges only and the report is a classified document only for apprising the court of the progress in the probe’."

It is an open secret, however, that Ranjit Sinha had indeed shared the classified report on the coal scam under Congress-led UPA-2, with the then Law Minister Ashwini Kumar, before it reached the apex court. I submit that the draft (status report) of the same was shared with law minister as desired by him prior to its submission before the Supreme Court... It was also shared with one joint secretary level officer each of Prime Minister’s Office and ministry of coal as desired by them.” This is a statement given by Ranjit Sinha in April 2013 and available in the public domain in most journals that carried this story then.

This is not all. In 2010, senior IPS officer from the Gujarat cadre, Geetha Johri had filed a curative petition in the Supreme Court asking for the then CBI boss, Balwinder Singh who was supervising the Sohrabuddin case, to be removed from the probe and made a witness in the case. She claimed she and her assistant were being threatened to depose against Amit Shah by the CBI honcho at the behest of the Congress-led government in New Delhi.

Eight years later, Johri's claims stood vindicated, when in his 350-page judgement, the special CBI judge, S J Sharma gave a clean chit to Amit Shah. I have examined the entire evidence placed before me. Having so examined the entire evidence and having conducted the trial, I have no hesitation in recording that during the investigation of these offences the CBI was doing something other than reaching the truth of these offences,” Judge Sharma, recorded in his judgement, a scathing criticism of the erstwhile political dispensation which wanted to destroy Amit Shah's political career. It clearly appears that the CBI was more concerned in establishing a particular pre-conceived and pre-meditated theory, rather than finding out the truth,” the judge ruled, adding, “my predecessor has, while passing an order of discharge of accused number 16 (BJP president Amit Shah), clearly recorded that the investigation was politically motivated.”

There are some who claim that the case against Shah and others collapsed after 92 of the 210 witnesses turned hostile. Special judge Sharma has, however, held that the witnesses spoke the truth and it was the CBI which had wrongly recorded their statements. “I had the occasion of seeing the deposition of the witnesses while they were in the witness box which clearly reflected that they were speaking the truth before this court, clearly indicating that their statements were wrongly recorded under Section 161 of the Criminal Procedure Code by CBI during investigation,” he said in his verdict, again demolishing the lies perpetrated by those who propounded the "hostile witnesses" theory, to target Amit Shah.

The long and short of the entire Alok Verma episode along with the recent H S Bedi report, juxtaposed against Judge S J Sharma's stinging criticism of the manner in which the CBI was used by the earlier political dispensation, clearly establish one thing: if there is a party that has with brazen disregard for all institutional procedures and democratic norms abused the autonomy of probe agencies to settle political scores, it is the Congress.

Equally, since actions speak louder than words, if indeed there is a duo that has been persistently targeted and maligned endlessly but has still chosen to defy every odd to virtually rise from the ashes and script history, it is the irrepressible Narendra Modi- Amit Shah duo, that has faced the law, upheld its integrity unflinchingly and, still emerged unscathed and victorious.

Sanju Verma is an Economist & Chief Spokesperson, BJP, Mumbai.

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