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CBI imbroglio indicates BJP’s sense of panic

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The Supreme Court, in its order on October 23, restricted the use of fireworks during all festivals across the country to a window between 8 pm and 10 pm. Delhi’s well-heeled gentry hailed the order in the hope that the city — which bears the brunt of pollution each winter — will have a cleaner Diwali this year.

But two weeks before Diwali, and a few hours after the apex court order, the air turned foul in the heart of the capital’s elite Lutyens’ zone. It reeked of menace and intrigue. The explosion took place well after midnight, quietly and stealthily. But its reverberations spread far and wide; its repercussions are still unraveling.

In a pre-dawn crackdown that has no parallel in democratic India, raids were conducted on the headquarters of the Central Bureau of Investigation, the premier anti-corruption agency in the country. The office of the CBI director, Alok Verma, was sealed, and a whole lot of evidence that the agency had gathered was seized. In the morning, orders were served on both Verma and CBI special director and No. 2, Rakesh Asthana, sending them on “leave”, as many as 13 officers were summarily transferred, and CBI joint director, M. Nageshwar Rao, was appointed the interim chief.

The mafia style operation this past week may have seemed like a surreal drama without precedence. But what preceded and followed it, and continues to be the dominant narrative, tells a different story. For the truth is that the Narendra Modi government has pulled off a classic smoke and mirrors act. Smoke and mirrors — defined as “the obscuring or embellishing of the truth of a situation with misleading or irrelevant information”, something that “is intended to make you believe that something is being done or is true when it is not” — has never been as apt a description as in the unfolding drama of the CBI.

The line peddled by the Bharatiya Janata Party spokesmen is that the government had to resort to an ‘extraordinary action’ to meet an ‘extraordinary situation’ caused by internal turmoil within the CBI; a “turf war” between the top two in the agency; an ego clash between two individuals who charged one another with corruption.

On Friday, after the Supreme Court order in response to Verma’s plea against his virtual dismissal, the Union finance minister, Arun Jaitley, came up with a more sophisticated spin. The Supreme Court appointed a retired judge, A.K. Patnaik, to supervise the Central Vigilance Commission probe into the charges of corruption made by Asthana against Verma to be completed in two weeks. It also issued notices to the Centre and the CVC on the plea of the NGO, Common Cause, to set up an SIT to investigate alleged corrupt practices by Asthana.

Clearly pleased that the apex court had not passed any strictures against the government and had not reinstated Verma immediately, Jaitley said, “The Supreme Court ruling is an extremely positive development… All officers of the CBI, particularly the top two, are like Caesar’s wife and must be beyond suspicion.”

Fine words these, except that it conceals a truth that is at the heart of the CBI’s current crisis. The CBI has been mired in controversy before. Previous governments, too, have used the agency to settle political scores, leading to the Supreme Court’s famous “caged parrot” epithet some years ago.

But never before has the top leadership of the government been so blatant in backing one officer over another, and, in the process, brazenly subverting elementary norms that govern any supposedly autonomous entity https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/cbi-imbroglio-indicates-bjp-s-sense-of-panic/cid/1672832?ref=top-stories_home-template

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