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Photo: Mint

Opinion | How infighting put a blot on CBI’s reputation

CBI's present troubles are a result of naked ambitions of politically inclined officers

The Supreme Court (SC) had once mocked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), calling it a caged parrot. Who would have thought that the voices of those clashing with each other in this “cage" would become so powerful that the protagonists would themselves turn into a spectacle?

The unfolding of events in the aftermath of the clash between two top officials in the country’s highest probe agency is unfortunate. It is the first occasion when CBI has been forced to raid its own office. Agency chief Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana were sent on forced leave and their offices sealed. CBI’s command is now in the hands of senior-most joint director M. Nageshwar Rao. His record is not without reproach. If you were to believe Prashant Bhushan, even the record of Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), the person keeping a tab on CBI, is not without blemish.

So grave is the situation that CBI chief Verma has put his own government and the CVC in the dock. He is calling his deputy Asthana the leader of a gang of extortionists. The CVC has countered that Verma is not cooperating with the investigation. Asthana has sought a special investigation team under the aegis of the Bombay high court. His loyalist—deputy superintendent of police Devendra Kumar —has been taken into custody even as the team investigating him has been dismantled. In election season, the controversy has handed the opposition with another instrument to target the government. Allegations are being flung that this is the by-product of appointment of officers close to the government. It is true that every party has used this mantra for its own benefit.

The tradition of political interference in bureaucracy is not new. Let me share a personal experience with you. Many years ago, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder Kanshi Ram had founded the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS4) with the cooperation of government officials and bureaucrats. My first interaction with him took place in 1982 at the residence of a commissioner-level officer. Those were the days when bureaucrats wanted to be in the good books of politicians, and maintain their independence at the same time. But looking at the commissioner playing yes-man to Kanshi Ram, I realised that senior bureaucrats were changing their complexion. Here, you shouldn’t assume that only Kanshi Ram was responsible for the moral degeneration of the bureaucracy. It was just that he anticipated the undercurrent and chose to back his instincts. That is why when he went on to establish BSP, within one and a half decades, his disciple Mayawati was ensconced in the seat of power in Lucknow.

During that short meeting in Allahabad, I understood that the day is not far when politics and bureaucracy will be tinged in the same hue. Impartial bureaucrats will be outnumbered and they would have to make do with positions where their talent would gather dust. The epidemic that took root in the senior bureaucracy has now percolated down to junior levels.

Politics have divided the bureaucracy on the basis of caste, region and religion. Its ill-effects are before us. Let me tell you a story. A caste struggle had broken out in a town in Uttar Pradesh around three years ago. The police could bring it under control after a lot of struggle. Even a superintendent level officer leading the police contingent became a victim of this violence. This happens rarely despite heavy police deployment. I happened to meet this officer a few days after this. He was naturally in anguish. During a long conversation, he gave me some surprising pieces of information. He said the force had been divided into two groups because of two senior leaders of the state. In times of turmoil, the only police personnel who fight along with the seniors were those whose favoured chief minister was in power. The personnel from the other group create a lot of noise, but do very little. Filled with rage, the senior officer mentioned the castes of these two groups, but I don’t want to reveal these in the interests of editorial sanctity.

Perhaps the officer was overreacting. But without doubt, politicians have dented the morale of the bureaucracy. Divided in their loyalties, the bureaucratic system has failed to safeguard the common man’s interests. CBI’s present troubles are a result of the naked ambitions of politically inclined officers. Now, the Supreme Court (SC) has given the CVC two weeks to probe this case under the supervision of a retired SC judge. Whatever be the final verdict of the SC, one thing is certain: this controversy has put a blot on the reputation of the already controversial CBI. The nation’s top investigative agency will take some time recovering from this.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.

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