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CBI As Handmaiden

CBI As Handmaiden

With only six months left for the Narendra Modi government to complete its term of five years, questions are increasingly asked about the damages it has already caused to various institutions under its control.

We all know how Himalayan the blunder of demonetisation was, though the Prime Minister’s apologists like Finance Minister Arun Jaitley continue to assert in public that it was a great success while his own party men prefer to forget the episode.

There are millions of people who continue to suffer from the midnight madness that cut at the roots of businesses and transactions built upon on trust and cash. Modi sought to promote PayTM-like companies whose own backgrounds continue to remain a jigsaw puzzle.

As if that was not sufficient, an effort is on to undermine the autonomy of the Reserve Bank and to facilitate large-scale government spending as in the construction of the vainglorious Unity Statue that set the state poorer by Rs 3000 crore.

At the root of all the problems plaguing the country is the rise and rise of a three-member cabal in whose hands, alas, power is concentrated. And they use it with no restraint, for they do not believe in democratic and constitutional values.

Whether it is demonetisation or Rafael or Kashmir, the ministers concerned were never taken into confidence and it was Modi, party chief Amit Shah, and his close confidante Ajit Kumar Doval who took all the decisions.

The quick-disbursal-of-bank-loan-scheme that Modi announced with great fanfare has turned out to be an attempt to help a little known Gujarat-based company, that had as low a turnover as Rs 15,000 just a year ago, to amass billions of rupees.

Even more worrisome has been the attempt to reduce the Central Bureau of Investigation into a handmaiden of the triumvirates who control the government and the party. Never before in the history of the premier investigating agency had two senior director-level officers fought a turf war, forcing the government to intervene and, in the process, earning the displeasure of the apex court.

The disclosures made by a senior officer of the CBI Manish Kumar Sinha, who was investigating a serious charge against CBI’s own Special Director Rakesh Asthana, in a sworn affidavit filed in the Supreme Court show how Doval was interfering in the CBI affairs.

When read with the disclosures made by CBI Director Alok Verma before the Central Vigilance Commission, what is clear is that the CBI has become an instrument in the hands of the government to fix those whom it does not like, like Laloo Yadav in Bihar. What is forgotten is that, in the process, the CBI has been losing its credibility and the public’s confidence in its impartiality.

There was a time when the people who were not satisfied with an inquiry by the state police demanded that such cases be handed over to the CBI. Now some states like Andhra Pradesh have shown their disinclination to entrust it with any cases. How did the interference begin, in the first place?

Under the parliamentary system of government in vogue in India, the Prime Minister is considered as the first among equals. All the power rests with the Cabinet and the PM’s job is to provide purposive leadership. It is the Cabinet Secretary at the Centre and the Chief Secretary in the states, who coordinates the functioning of the Cabinet and who ensures that the decisions taken collectively are properly implemented.

Alas, Narendra Modi did not feel comfortable with this time-tested, some say Anglo-Saxon, arrangement. He began to consider himself as a taller and greater figure who could not subordinate himself to the collective wisdom of the Cabinet.

The idea that he was a superior person was engendered in him by the half-baked truth that the BJP was able to win the last election only because of his spirited campaign, making full use of a private aircraft made available to him by industrialist Gautam Adani. True, he was the leader of the party but it was not because of him alone that the party won.

One of his first steps as Prime Minister was to hold a meeting of senior bureaucrats to which the ministers were not invited. What’s more, he asked them to report to him in case they had any difficulty in implementing the government’s decisions. It gave the impression that Modi had turned Presidential, rather than Prime Ministerial.

That India should have a Presidential system of government is what the BJP had at one time demanded. It is a different matter that the protagonist of the presidential system, LK Advani, is today sulking on the sidelines of the party while Modi is lording it over in both the party and the government. Does the US President enjoy the kind of power Modi has?

Recently, American President Donald Trump appointed Brett Kavanaugh as a judge of the Supreme Court, against whom a MeToo-type of allegation was made by an old classmate. The candidate concerned had to face several grueling sessions at the US Congress and an inquiry before his appointment was finally cleared and he became a Supreme Court judge.

Now take the case of Ajit Kumar Doval. A Wikipedia entry on him says, “In October 2018, he was appointed as the Chairman of the Strategic Policy Group (SPG), which is the first tier of a three-tier structure at the National Security Council and forms the nucleus of its decision-making apparatus”. What is this SPG and who are its members? Before that, a word about the National Security Advisor.

India has an order of precedence under which the President of India is at the top, followed by the Vice-President and the Prime Minister. At the 26th position are joint secretaries to the government of India and Major-Generals of the Indian Army. There is no mention of the National Security Advisor in the long list. Of course, at the 25th position is the director of the Intelligence Bureau which is what Doval was when he retired from government service in 2005.

The NSA is an idea borrowed wholly from the US where all the US Presidents since Dwight Eisenhower in the early fifties had such an official who reported directly to him. His actual designation is Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. The current NSA is John R Bolton who once served as the US Ambassador to the United Nations. He is a Republican.

When Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the Prime Minister, he found merit in the US system and appointed the late Brajesh Mishra as his National Security Advisor.

Mishra was not found good enough to be the Foreign Secretary but he was found good enough to be the NSA by Vajpayee. Mishra enjoyed more importance than a Cabinet Minister. It was he who allegedly wrote a cringing letter to the US when India detonated a bomb, triggering a nuclear test by Pakistan too. Incidentally, Mishra was the son of the former MP Chief Minister DP Mishra.

Instead of discarding the post when the Congress came to power, it appointed JN Dixit, who when asked to write a 1100-word piece would write a 3000-word piece. When he died, MK Narayanan, who was once Doval’s boss in the Intelligence Bureau, was appointed the NSA. Journalists on the diplomatic beat called him a bumbling official for he had little clue of what happened in the world. He was succeeded by Shivshankar Menon as if the post was reserved for superannuating Malayali officials.

Picking up Narayanan for the job was attributed to some favours he had done to a dynasty in power at that time. In the case of Doval, there was no such doubt, for he had been an all-out Sangh man.

Journalist Anto Akkara has done painstaking research to find out that an anti-Christian book published in the context of the killings in Kandhamal with dubious authorship was published from this gentleman’s personal premises. He had retired from service in 2005 and was running a Foundation named after Swami Vivekananda, which had nothing to do with spirituality or Indology.

He is considered a super sleuth who is believed to have organised many cloak-and-dagger operations while he was in the IB. A spy is not expected to be straight. In fact, spying as part of statecraft was propounded by Chanakya in his Arthasasthra. His techniques of creating public opinion through deceit, falsification, propaganda etc earned him the title Kautilya, which means crooked.

Every war, including the Mahabharata, was won through deceit. Doval is supposed to be a master strategist, who allegedly penetrated seemingly impenetrable walls, to come out victorious. It is a different matter that it was in his time that a Pakistani spy was officially allowed to visit Pathankot and a Union minister was forced to escort a Pakistani terrorist all the way to Kandahar.

Be that as it may, the NSA has been made the chairman of the Strategic Policy Group, which will be the principal mechanism for inter-ministerial coordination and integration of relevant inputs in the formulation of national security policies

The SPG will be chaired by the National Security Advisor and its members shall include Vice-Chairman of the Niti Aayog, the Cabinet Secretary, the Chiefs of the three Defence Services, the Governor of the RBI, the Foreign Secretary and the like.

The NSA will convene the meetings of the SPG and the Cabinet Secretary will coordinate implementation of the Group’s decisions by the Union ministries and departments and by the state governments. It is also mentioned that the SPG would assist the NSC and would undertake long-term review of strategic policy holistically including economic aspects.

The Cabinet Secretary is considered the head of the bureaucracy. He or she is at the 11th position in the Order of Precedence. But in the SPG, he will perform under the directions of a person who does not even figure in the Order of Precedence. The NSA’s is not even a constitutional post. To whom is he answerable? None at all, save Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

This devaluation of the Cabinet Secretary should have been challenged by the service organisations, political parties and even by the Cabinet ministers themselves but nothing of the sort has happened. He is a loose cannon on which no one save Modi has control. Reams of paper have been used to write about his family’s vested interests. While he runs a think-tank, his son runs another think-tank called India Foundation. The father-son’s foundations are one of the best-funded outfits in India.

Politics through other means seems to be his strategy. When the government sensed that the CBI Director might not dance to the whimsical tunes of the trimurtis, a new post was created to undermine the director’s authority. When the strategy did not work, the government made the midnight intervention to scuttle the inquiry against Asthana by transferring all the officers concerned to as far away as Andamans.

It is, of course, not the first time that the CBI has been used for political purposes. Those who have been keeping track of the goings-on in the CBI would remember how as Home Minister LK Advani would give extension after extension to a CBI officer so that he could file case after case against Laloo Yadav. It is the same strategy that Doval and Co. attempted by foisting more and more cases on Yadav, who they realised had the potential of defeating the BJP strategy in the next elections in Bihar.

The government also feared that if the CBI went ahead with its plan to inquire into the Rafale deal as it did in the telecom cases, it would expose the BJP as a corrupt party. Particularly when the Modi government failed to prove any of the charges it used to make against the UPA government when it was in the Opposition.

Hence it was in the strategic interest of the government to keep the CBI as a caged parrot which would parrot what Doval and Co. taught it to parrot. After all, a spy will remain a spy, whatever be his title.

( ajphilip@gmail.com)

(Published on 26th November 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 48)