THE unfolding saga of corruption and extortion in the Central Bureau of Investigation is one that comes extremely close to the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi. Modi was helped to power by a powerful anti-corruption sentiment in the country, and his famous promise of ‘Na khaunga na khane doonga’ (I will neither be corrupt nor let anyone else be corrupt). A few months ahead of the next parliamentary elections, Modi faces a situation where the desperate attempts to contain the rising tide of scandals and scams is failing - and the scams are implicating the Prime Minister’s closest associates and his own Office.
The Prime Minister was already implicated in the decision to take the Rafale deal away from the PSU HAL and hand it over to an inexperienced company owned by his crony Anil Ambani. The latest and most damning instance, however, involves the attempts to subvert the CBI and suppress investigations into an extortion racket as well as other ongoing investigations.
Not long ago, the Modi government made an attempt at a midnight coup within the CBI, trying to replace the CBI Director Alok Verma after he had sought to prosecute ‘special director’ Rakesh Asthana, an officer handpicked by Modi who had been part of Modi’s and Amit Shah’s trusted coterie since his Gujarat days, in a case of extortion and bribery. Verma had reportedly incurred the wrath of the PMO when he received a memorandum from Prashant Bhushan, Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha detailing the numerous irregularities in the Rafale deal and demanding action against PM Modi himself under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Verma challenged his removal in the Supreme Court, leading to the Modi Government rolling back his removal in an attempt to stave off scrutiny by the Supreme Court. But during the coup, Verma’s team of investigators - who were in charge of crucial cases including the PNB loan scam involving Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi (Gujarat businessmen known to be close to Modi) as well as the extortion case in which Asthana was implicated – were transferred. The transfers remained and the investigations remain jeopardised.
The Supreme Court put the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) enquiry into the allegations levelled by Asthana and Verma against each other, under the supervision of a former SC judge. Verma has alleged in a response to queries from the CVC that Asthana worked together with the Bihar Deputy CM Sushil Modi and the PMO to book RJD Chief Lalu Yadav on charges of an IRCTC scam. It is also believed that Asthana has played a pivotal role in scuttling investigations in the massive Srijan scam in Bihar in which Sushil Modi is a key accused.
In a submission to the Supreme Court, the Joint Director of the CBI Manish Kumar Sinha who had been in charge of the Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi cases as well as part of the team investigating the FIR against Asthana, has alleged that members of the Modi Cabinet, the PMO as well as National Security Advisor Ajit Doval were meddling in ongoing investigations. He alleged that his transfer was “arbitrary, motivated and mala fide” in order to protect various individuals who were under investigation on his watch.
Sinha, in his written submission to the Supreme Court, has stated the testimony of a Hyderabad-based businessman Satish Sana, from whom Asthana is accused of extorting money, that several crores were paid as a bribe to a Central Minister Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhury, who tried to pressurise senior CBI officers through a Minister for State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension Jitendra Singh. Jitendra Singh is directly answerable to Narendra Modi who heads the Ministry for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension. Moreover, Chaudhury is an MP from Banaskantha in Gujarat (from where Nirav Modi and Choksi also hail) who was handpicked by Modi for his Cabinet and is now Minister of State for Coal and Mines.
Sinha also alleged that the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval hindered the CBI investigation into the Asthana FIR by preventing the CBI from seizing Asthana’s phone. Sinha furthered alleged that a middleman Manoj Prasad, when arrested by the CBI in the context of the Satish Sana extortion case, boasted that his father was a close friend of Doval’s and warned the CBI officers of adverse consequences. Doval is known to be one of the most powerful persons in the Modi ecosystem, exerting extra-judicial influence over various sensitive investigations, internal security matters and even foreign policy. Manoj Prasad’s threats did seem to have substance, since soon after, the CBI officers investigating the Sana/Asthana case and other cases were summarily transferred!
Sinha also alleged that the Union Law Secretary Suresh Chandra tried to influence the Court-monitored CVC proceedings by contacting Sana through an IAS officer Rekha Rani, who in turn told Sana on behalf of Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha that the Union Government would protect him if he were to withdraw his allegations against Asthana. Sana also claimed that his team had access to tapes of a conversation in which RAW official Samant Goel claimed that the PMO had managed the CBI mess, soon after which the midnight coup took place.
Sinha also alleged that the CVC KV Chowdhary had met with Sana at his (the CVC’s) own residence along with a relative of the CVC’s who was also implicated in the matter.
Meanwhile, in the ongoing hearing in a CBI Court involving the Sohrabuddin fake encounter, Amitabh Thakur, former Superintendent of Police in the CBI, Gandhinagar, and chief investigating officer in Sohrabuddin case, deposed that then Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah had benefited politically and monetarily from the case, and had received Rs 70 lakh which had been extorted by Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram Prajapati from builders under threat to their lives. He also alleged that a senior police officer DG Vanzara had received Rs 60 lakh to carry out the custodial killing of Sohrabuddin. Sohrabuddin’s wife Kauser Bi was also killed, and later Prajapati who also witnessed Sohrabuddin’s killing, was also killed. Another former CBI officer Sandeep Tamgadge, who was the chief investigating officer in the 2006 Tulsiram Prajapati fake encounter case, has said that Amit Shah and IPS officers D.G. Vanzara, Dinesh M.N. and Rajkumar Pandiyan were the “principal conspirators” who had Prajapati, Sohrabuddin and Kauser Bi killed. He has linked Shah to a “criminal-politician-police nexus” and said that “Shah and Gulab Chand Kataria (who is now the Rajasthan home minister) were the politicians who gained from the nexus.”
The entire can of worms spilled by senior CBI officers in the Supreme Court and the CBI Court points to how the Modi Government and Modi’s key men are mired in corruption, extortion, and even more serious crimes like murder right at the top. The needle of suspicion is now pointing to the PM himself, with members of his handpicked team directly implicated in criminal conspiracies.
The BJP tries to battle the corruption charges by pointing to Mr Modi’s lack of motive for corruption since he does not have a family. The lure of personal enrichment or acquisition of wealth for one’s progeny is hardly the main source of mega corruption. Corruption thrives through crony capitalism and coterie rule, and the Modi government is an epitome of both.
The utterly conspiratorial and arbitrary mode of functioning of this government is aimed at undermining the entire system of checks and balances built into the framework of parliamentary democracy and protect the corrupt from any kind of scrutiny and granting total impunity to people in power. It is a dangerous cocktail of corruption and crime and the skeletons tumbling out of the CBI cupboard before the Supreme Court constitute a shocking glimpse of this thorough travesty of governance. This arrogant abuse of power must be brought to a decisive end.