CBI: WHEN CAGED PARROTS FLY
The unprecedented public spat last month between the top two officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has embarrassed Prime Minister Narendra Modi, undermining his image as a great organiser with an iron grip on the bureaucracy. His penchant for micromanagement, once touted as a strength, has backfired. Senior bureaucrats have not taken well to Modi’s tendency to parachute ‘favourite’ officers into prominent roles. Turf wars have been rife, as has one-upmanship, in the CBI, as well as the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the intelligence services and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).
When Modi has not found the ‘right man’ for a post, he has promoted others out of turn. Sanjay Kumar Mishra, for instance, has been appointed as the interim chief of the ED for three months. Mishra, who is known to be close to high officials in the PMO, had not even been empanelled as an additional secretary at the time of his appointment, making it necessary for him to accept the job as an additional charge. M. Nageswara Rao, the interim head of the CBI, was similarly not empanelled when appointed to his post—after the departures of director Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana—and is described as “Modi’s blue-eyed boy” in press coverage of the CBI feud. Rao had written to Union home secretary back in August to complain that the government-appointed panel examining his case for a promotion to the rank of director general was biased and hostile. He alleged he was victim of “skulduggery” and “incessant, internecine fights”
among his fellow officers of the Odisha cadre. Rao regularly engages with a think-tank founded by national security adviser Ajit Doval and BJP national secretary Ram Madhav, and this apparently overrides any reservations those on the expert panel may have about his fitness for promotion.
The appointments of Mishra and Rao suggest that the government wants no truck with inconvenient officers before the general election next year. The outgoing ED chief Karnal Singh, whose tenure ended last week, sided with Verma, an old colleague from Delhi Police, in the latter’s battle with Asthana. This is why Singh has not been replaced with a permanent appointment. Singh himself was a temporary appointee, given two extensions, before the Supreme Court intervened. Singh had already annoyed the government with his support for his deputy Rajeshwar Singh, who had accused revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia of “siding with scamsters”. Singh had also dismissed an R&AW report that suggested his deputy had contacts with Pakistani intelligence. The report, sources say, had been prepared by Samant Kumar Goel, a Punjab cadre IPS officer, who is a close friend of Asthana. BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy described Adhia and Asthana as part of a “gang of four” intent on shielding the likes of former finance minister P. Chidambaram and fugitive Nirav Modi. But if there are allegations, as with Verma’s against Asthana, there are counter-allegations too. Rajeshwar Singh, who has Swamy’s support because he was investigating the Aircel-Maxis case involving Chidambaram and his son Karti, is being probed for amassing assets disproportionate to his known income. The SC gave the go-ahead for the probe in June. He has also left the ED on a two-year study leave, coinciding with the departure of his boss Karnal Singh. It is, obviously, a tangled web.
It is widely acknowledged that the PM has introduced reforms in the bureaucracy, including a more transparent appraisal system, stricter vigilance, and compulsory retirement for erring officers. The stricter appraisal system has reduced the number of empanelled officers—from 87 in 2014 to 11 this year for joint secretary posts. The government is operating with only 34 per cent of the officers it needs, a problem exacerbated by Modi’s insistence on appointing either Gujarat cadre officers or those with a working relationship with his inner circle. In the process, too many administrators have been alienated.
The government is operating with only 34% of the officers it needs, a problem exacerbated by Modi’s insistence on appointing Gujarat cadre officers
‘CAPTIVE BUREAU’ Congress workers protesting outside the CBI headquarters in New Delhi on October 26