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Central Bosses of Infighting & big boys

The evident protagonists of the battle are CBI director Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana, but there are are far more powerful figures at play
Rakesh Asthana is believed to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah
Rakesh Asthana is believed to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah
Sourced by the Telegraph

Imran Ahmed Siddiqui   |   New Delhi   |   Published 22.10.18, 09:44 PM

The ugly war within the CBI, marked by the arrest of an officer and the intervention of the Prime Minister on Monday, traces its roots to attempts by the political leadership to bypass the established chain of command, multiple sources have said.

The evident protagonists of the battle are CBI director Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana, who has been booked in a bribery case. Asthana has in turn accused his boss of taking bribes.


But far more powerful figures than the No. 1 and No. 2 in the CBI and a sensitive case are also at play, the sources said.

On Monday, the CBI arrested deputy superintendent of police Devender Kumar, a co-accused with Asthana. 

It emerged that in an unparalleled action, CBI investigators had searched the offices of some of their own officers at bureau headquarters on Sunday. Speculation was also rife that Verma had sought Asthana’s suspension.

The seeds of the spat were sown last October when Verma, a former Delhi police commissioner, objected to Asthana’s elevation as special director, saying his name figured in a bribery probe. Verma handed a dissent note to the appointments committee, headed by the chief vigilance commissioner, but the Centre overruled him.

A 1984-batch Gujarat IPS officer, Asthana is believed to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. As an inspector-general, Asthana had overseen the initial probe into the Godhra train fire that ignited the Gujarat riots of 2002.

He was among 20 bureaucrats from Gujarat who were brought to Delhi within a year of Modi taking charge in the capital in May 2014.

Many in the CBI believe the “cloak-and-dagger” games between the top two officers intensified recently, with the government having remained a mute spectator for months.

Asthana allegedly stayed defiant, thanks to his proximity to the political leadership, while Verma asserted himself and continued with his “my-way-or-highway” style, much to the dislike of some officials in the Prime Minister’s Office, the sources said.

“The rivalry between the No. 1 and No. 2 in the CBI started soon after Verma took over as CBI director last year. Asthana was then calling the shots in the agency because of his proximity to the political leadership, and this angered Verma. He asserted himself and tried to clip Asthana’s wings by asking him to provide daily updates on the cases he was supervising,” said a senior CBI officer.

Until then Asthana, who has been supervising several sensitive cases, including corruption charges against RJD boss Lalu Prasad and his family, P. Chidambaram and the AgustaWestland chopper deal, was reporting directly to the PMO. The CBI is under the administrative control of the department of personnel and training, which reports to the PMO.

“This led to two power camps within the agency — Verma vs Asthana — leading to the ongoing turf war,” the officer said.

Verma, known as a good administrator and an avid golfer, hardly interacts with the media, a trait considered an asset for the politically sensitive post of CBI director.

“As soon as Verma took over the reins, he put his foot down. He was not happy with Asthana acting as an interface between the CBI and the government. He conveyed during internal meetings that as the boss, it was his job to brief the PMO,” the officer said. But, he said, Asthana kept bypassing his boss and reporting directly to the PMO.

Neither Asthana nor Verma was available for comment on the accounts by the officer, which was echoed by other sources, too.

What has injected added intrigue into the battle is that the CBI is probing the contents of a diary, seized in Gujarat in 2011, that purportedly mentions payments to some police officers and politicians.

Long before Verma’s entry into the CBI, the Modi government had courted controversy by appointing Asthana as an interim chief rather than induct a full-time director. Many had then expressed resentment, saying the government had superseded several officers by giving the additional charge to Asthana and alleging that the move smacked of bias and favouritism.

“Although the war is being fought in the glass house of the agency headquarters, its effect is proving to be quite shattering for the government’s image,” said a home ministry official, pointing to the glass-fronted CBI headquarters on Lodhi Road.

A Central Vigilance Commission official added: “Prime Minister Modi always speaks of eradicating corruption, but now two of the senior-most officers of the premier anti-corruption federal agency are facing bribery allegations.”

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