Dear Prime Minister, you don’t have the power: Kharge
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, a member of the selection committee that appoints the CBI director, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday saying Alok Verma’s removal as agency head looked like a ploy to scuttle probes into corruption cases, including the Rafale deal.
“Neither you, nor the CVC (Central Vigilance Commission), enjoy the requisite authority to interfere with the terms of service vested in the director,” Kharge’s four-page letter said.
“There are no visible grounds to transfer the director. The only plausible explanation for this desperate and hasty move is an attempt to scuttle the ongoing investigations into the special director’s (Rakesh Asthana) cases and other cases that might cause significant embarrassment to your government.”
As a public feud between CBI director Verma and his deputy Asthana, said to be close to Modi, turned ugly, the Centre sent both on forced leave late on Tuesday night, saying it was acting on the CVC’s recommendation.
Kharge argued that the midnight operation looked more like a “cover-up” than the “clean-up” it was being projected to be. “There is no scope for executive discretion. The de facto transfer/ divesting of authority of the director CBI is illegal, mala fide, and points to a sinister agenda to scuttle important investigations including into the Rafale deal.”
“Is the PM trying to scare the dissenting voice of an officer and giving message of similar consequences to others? Sir, prime ministerial legacies are built by strengthening institutions. Your term, it seems more and more likely, will be remembered for the opposite.”
Ironically, before Verma was appointed in January last year, Kharge had opposed his candidacy at the selection committee meeting citing the officer’s lack of experience with the CBI. But Modi and then Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, the two other panel members, went with the seniority criterion, which favoured Verma.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi had alleged on Wednesday that the government had removed Verma because the CBI was asking questions about the Rafale deal.
Kharge wrote: “The state of disarray and arbitrariness that has characterised the functioning of key institutions such as the CVC, the CBI and, above all, your own office (PMO) is unprecedented in our nation’s history.”
He later told a news conference, “The government has been sleeping for over four years on the Lokpal bill, in which barely three words have to be changed -– from the existing ‘leader of Opposition’ to the ‘leader of the largest party’ (for membership of the Lokpal selection panel).
“I have boycotted Lokpal selection committee meetings and written four letters to the Prime Minister. But the government is sleeping. But the same government acts in the middle of the night to remove the CBI chief and orders transfer of the entire team working with him.”
He added: “Was the sleep broken by the dream of Rafale? What was the hurry to act in the middle of the night? The Prime Minister wants every institution under his control.
“The government couldn’t do anything when the Prime Minister’s friends were running away with thousands of crores (an allusion to the several bank fraud accused who have fled India). But in this case, the CVC is brought under pressure (though) he has no authority to remove the CBI chief. The CVC has a supervisory role.”