GOVERNMENT ON THE BACKFOOT IN THE CBI AFFAIR
It cannot but be politically embarrassing for the Narendra Mo di government that the decision to send two squabbling central bureau of Investigation (CBI) oficials on leave by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), presumably at the government’s behest, has barely passed muster in the Supreme Court.
The court may not have reinstated the director, Alok Verma, and the special director, Rakesh Asthana, but it has requested a retired Supreme Court judge, A.K. Patnaik, to monitor the CVC’S probe into the allegations against Verma which led to his removal. The centre and the CVC have also been ASKED to ile THEIR response to Verma’s petition on the steps taken against him.
Any presumption on the government’s part, therefore, that its intervention in the CBI in what has been called by its critics as a midnight coup will mean that it will be back to business in the organisation under a new director, M. Nageswara Rao, has been belied.
Far from being def used, the controversy has only been put on the back burner with the court virtually assuming the role of governing the premier investigative agency with Rao being told not to take any policy decisions.
For any government, the loss of control over a major institution is tantamount to a loss of face. It is also a godsend to the opposition. Till now, the latter had been groping for an issue with which to attack the government in the run-up to the assembly elections In ive states.
But, now, even more than the Rafael aircraft deal which is being used by the Congress to accuse the government of crony capitalism, l’affaire CBI will give the party a handy stick with which to beat the ruling dispensation.
The latter, too, and also the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will be worried about the impact of the court case on the middle class. If it transpires that there is a grain of truth in the charge that THE root of THE INIGHTING At THE top of the organisation was the foisting of what has been called the ruling party’s blue-eyed boy, Asthana, in the CBI, then the reaction of the volatile middle class cannot be favourable.
THIS Inluential Group may BE willing to bide its time before the promises of ‘vikas’ ARE Fulilled. But Any suggestion that the government was undermining the autonomy of a generally well-regarded institution by playing favourites with the oficials CAN HAVE politically DAMAGING consequences. As it is, the CBI had been called a “caged parrot” by the Supreme Court when it was described as the “Congress Bureau of Investigation” when Manmohan Singh was the prime minister. The expectation was that the outit would BE put BACK on Its FEET By the new dispensation so that it would be able to retain its reputation for integrity AND EFICIENCY. But THE latest turn of events suggests that the more things change, the more they remain the same.
One reason why the CBI had become the last resort for all controversial cases was the steady deterioration in the impartiality and competence of the police, which had long become a plaything in the hands of politicians where bending the rules were concerned.
If the CBI is also seen to be going down the same path, the government will have to share a great deal of the blame. The chances of this happening are high considering that the Supreme Court will deal with a petition by a non-government organisation on a probe into the allegations of corruption against ASTHANA AND other CBI oficials.
It cannot be a matter of solace to the government that the Supreme Court is increasingly assuming the role of an arbiter in areas where the government and the legislature should have had the inal say such As DETERMINING THE rights of homosexuals or the entry of women into temples.