A face-saver for Alok Verma

The reinstatement of the CBI Director, Alok Verma, albeit with hands tied behind his back, certainly means a setback for the government. But while reinstating Verma, the Supreme Court has denied him a free hand. He is specifically barred him from taking any policy decision during the little over a fortnight has before retirement on January 31. Effectively, the SC order provides him a face-saver. For, his official conduct was far from responsible.

He allowed his personal animus against a fellow officer to color his judgment. So much so, he had the CBI file an FIR against the said officer, Rakesh Asthana, thus dragging the premier investigating agency into the muck of a pubic scandal. This was a new low for the CBI which has already lost much of its credibility and capacity for sincere investigative work. Since Asthana, the designated number two, was handling key investigations such as the Augusta Westland helicopter deal, the Vijay Mallya and the Laloo Yadav scams, it was alleged that these became a bone of contention between the two officers.

Apparently, Verma did not want Asthana to pursue them vigorously and determinedly, even if he was doing it to keep himself in the good books of the ruling dispensation. The differences between the top two CBI bosses caused them to complain to their ministerial superiors. Even before the Central Vigilance Commissioner, the official monitoring authority for the conduct of the CBI Director, could intervene, Verma converted his personal pique against Asthana into a full-blown FIR alleging corruption and bribery.

Several lower ranked officers found themselves dragged into the dogfight between the CBI’s top two. It was at this stage when they were engaged in a public battle of charges and counter-charges that the government rightly stepped in, ordering the removal of the two from their respective posts. Predictably, the polity was divided on partisan lines, with the Opposition rooting for Verma while the ruling party members smelled a conspiracy between the sacked CBI chief and those with deep personal interest in keeping a tight lid on the UPA scams.

Because the two-year term of the CBI director is protected by an apex court fiat, Verma challenged his removal. Asthana too approached the Supreme Court seeking protection against the abuse of authority by the CBI Director who had framed corruption charges against him. Meanwhile, the CVC was entrusted by the apex court to inquire into the charges against Verma. Even on Tuesday, the court asked the CVC to furnish its inquiry report in the charges against Verma within the week so that a final view can be taken.

The CVC report will be considered by the high-powered selection committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the leader of the largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha. Given that he retires in a few days, at best, depending on the CVC report, it can given him a clean chit and, at worst, end his career with a black mark against him. Whatever the CVC finding, there is no denying that Verma at the peak of his career besmirched his record, allowing extraneous considerations to influence his judgement about official matters. A good institutional leader does not allow his personal likes and dislikes to intrude into his official conduct. Verma was motivated by sheer vendetta against his immediate junior and pushed the CBI further down in public esteem. His successor should be carefully chosen by the high-powered selection committee.

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