India Today - - COVER STORY -

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

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