THERE IS SHOCK AND DISBELIEF IN THE CBI RANKS. THEY FEEL THE PRIME MINISTER SHOULD NOT HAVE LET THE FEUD SIMMER FOR SO LONG
The opposition Congress was quick to seize the opportunity arising out of the disarray in the CBI. The party claims Verma planned to hold the government to account over the 2016 purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France. On October 4, Verma had met Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan and former Union ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, who handed him a petition urging him to probe the alleged irregularities in the Rafale deal. “The PM’s message is clear, whoever comes near Rafale will be removed, wiped out. The country and the Constitution are in danger,” Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted soon after Verma’s removal.
But according to the eight-page order the CVC served on Verma on October 23, it was inaction on Asthana’s August 24 complaint that forced the CVC’s hand in this ‘extraordinary and emergent situation’. The CVC had sent Verma three notices, but to no avail. Verma did not respond to a letter sent to him on October 3, requesting him to attend a meeting with the CVC the next day. He also ignored the CVC’s request for a report on Asthana’s secret note by October 22, the day the CBI raided its own premises and arrested its Deputy SP.
With the ongoing tumult within the agency, the question being asked is how this will affect the important cases it is handling. The high-profile cases include the Aircel-Maxis case, in which the CBI chargesheeted former finance minister P. Chidambaram and his son Karti this July for alleged FIPB (Foreign Investment Promotion Board) approvals granted for pecuniary benefits when Chidambaram was finance minister. Asthana was investigating the Mallya extradition and the AgustaWestland cases.
The CBI’s fratricidal war, meanwhile, threatens to engulf important sections of the bureaucracy outside the agency. Verma, ED’s Singh and the CBI’s A.K. Sharma, a Gujarat officer close to the Modi government since the Gujarat days, but severely opposed to Asthana due to personal rivalry, are believed to be on one side. Many of these officers, it is believed, have the support of an influential BJP MP and also some ministers in the Modi government. On the other side are Asthana and revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia, supported by P.K. Mishra, additional principal secretary to the prime minister, and his second-in command Bhaskar Khulbe, who handles postings in the PMO. BJP chief Amit Shah informally advises Modi on crucial postings, such as in the CBI, ED and the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Meanwhile, there is shock and disbelief in the 7,000-plus ranks of the CBI. Officers say they feel let down and embarrassed by the war within. They believe the prime minister was wrong in letting the feud between the two top CBI officials simmer for so long.
While Asthana has been named as prime accused in the FIR, there seems to be no direct evidence linking him to the case. A key loophole is that Babu says middleman Prasad called Asthana from Dubai on WhatsApp. VoIP calls are banned in the UAE. What was surprising in Asthana’s case was that Babu’s statement against him and Kumar was turned into an FIR the very day he gave the statement, which was against established conventions when officers from the same service or organisation are