The Supreme Court of India has done exactly what any intervener in a war would have done. There was a civil war going on in the CBI. The war was set in motion by the government of India in order to serve its petty little interests like preventing an investigation into the Rafale deal. At one stage, however, it lost control; the Prime Minister's personal intervention was also of no avail and the whole affair turned ugly and came hurtling out into the open.
Like the press conference of the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court in January this year, the war within the CBI was also an unprecedented event in the history of independent India. The Special Director of the CBI, an officer who was appointed to that post ignoring all protests to the contrary, wrote letters to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Cabinet Secretary making serious allegations of corruption against the Director of the CBI. The Director, who was investigating allegations of corruption against the Special Director, got an FIR filed against him. A Dy. S. P. rank officer of the CBI, who was allegedly a henchman of the Special Director, was actually arrested by the agency, produced in the CBI court and was placed in custody. The Prime Minister called both the Director, CBI, and the Special Director, but even his personal intervention was of no avail.
Then the government did what it should never have done. In a midnight operation reminiscent of the Emergency days, it disabled both the officers, sent them on forced leave, appointed a junior officer of the rank of Joint Director as the interim head of the agency and transferred a whole lot of other officers. The officer who was investigating the case against the Special Director was transferred to the Andamans. The country watched these shocking developments in horror and disbelief. Then, all concerned, the CBI Director, the Special Director and the NGO Common Cause rushed to the Supreme Court with their complaints.
The court has passed an interim order and has posted the matter for the next hearing on November 12. Its interim order is like a ceasefire order. It has directed all concerned to disengage and stop shooting at each other so that peace could be restored in the organization. It has not touched for the time being the other contentious issues like whether the government has the power to ask the CBI Director to proceed on forced leave and stop him from discharging his functions without actually transferring him. That will obviously come later. The court has not entertained the petition of the Special Director. It has directed the CVC to finish the enquiry into the corruption charges leveled against the Director by the Special Director within two weeks, rejecting his request to extend it to three weeks. But in a major show of distrust in the CVC, it has ordered that a retired judge of the Supreme Court, Justice AK Patnaik, will supervise the enquiry. The interim Director of the CBI, Nageshwar Rao, has been directed not to take any policy decisions or any major decisions. He has been allowed to perform only the routine tasks that are essential to keep the CBI functional. The court has also directed that the list of all the decisions taken by him after assuming charge, including decisions with regard to transfer of investigations, change of investigating officers, "etc, etc" would be furnished to the court in a sealed cover on or before November 12.
The order of the Supreme Court should restore peace in the CBI for the present and enable its headquarters and its far-flung offices all over the country to function normally without any hindrance. So a ceasefire has been enforced, the warring factions have been restrained and a final decision on the other contentious legal issues has been postponed for the next hearing. So far, so good or so bad. The conclusion, however, is irrefutable - that the credibility of the premier investigating agency of the country has been damaged almost beyond repair and the government at the highest level has covered itself with mud and presented to the country a textbook example of how not to handle a sensitive situation.
Once again, it has fallen to the lot of the Supreme Court to intervene in a chaotic situation created by the government and restore some sanity. At the same time, it has presented an opportunity for all concerned, specially the Supreme Court, to set things right in a manner which will hold good for some decades to come. But more importantly, the CBI imbroglio clearly shows that the "strong" government of Narendra Modi has finally lost control over governance in its fifth and final year in office. The CBI Director and Special Director did not listen to the Prime Minister's advice. The Reserve Bank of India, which the government tried to turn into another "caged parrot", now refuses to tamely follow its directions. Even the Deputy Governor, Viral Acharya, feels free to openly challenge the government on the question of the autonomy of the bank. The officers of the government of India will do only what is most essential and otherwise refuse to take any risks. Key posts have remained unfilled for months and years. In the meanwhile, the economy is moving from one crisis to another with a Finance Minister who appears to be in charge of everything except Finance. The government has simply lost the plot and is only firefighting.
The Rafale deal has already done a lot of damage. It has the potential to destroy this government.
Yashwant Sinha, former BJP leader, was Minister of Finance (1998-2002) and Minister of External Affairs (2002-2004)
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