The government’s decision on Wednesday to divest CBI director Alok Verma of all powers came in for harsh criticism from almost all opposition parties, with Congress president Rahul Gandhi alleging that Prime Minister Narendra Modi “removed the CBI director to stop him from investigating Rafale”.
The Congress also demanded the sacking of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC). Senior leader Anand Sharma said the CVC is “blatantly partisan”, is a “collaborator” in the government’s “illegal acts” and “therefore he should be sacked.” He said the CVC has no authority to do what he did.
Sources in Congress said the idea of taking the matter to Supreme Court was discussed but a final call has not been taken.
The party argued that the decision to place Verma on leave was “illegal, unconstitutional and illegitimate coup d’état” and violates the spirit of the law that governs CBI and the appointment of its director.
Sources said the Congress leadership sought the opinion of in-house legal experts on moving court. They added that that lawyers in the party such as Abhishek Singhvi are against the party joining the legal battle and have conveyed that to the leadership.
Rahul tweeted, “Mr 56 broke the law when he bypassed CJI & LOP. Mr Modi, Rafale is a deadly aircraft with a superb radar. You can run, but you can’t hide from I.”
In another tweet in Hindi, he stated, “The Prime Minister’s message is clear: whoever comes near Rafale (issue) will be removed, wiped out.”
Addressing the media, Singhvi said Modi is experiencing ‘Rafale-o-phobia’. Questioning the BJP government’s arguments one by one, he said the CVC has no power to interfere in “removal, appointment, and re-appointment” of the CBI chief. Quoting provisions of Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, Singhvi said the government cannot remove, or even transfer, the CBI director without consent of the committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha.
Mallikarjun Kharge, who as Congress leader of Lok Sabha is member of the selection committee, reached Delhi from Maharashtra on Wednesday night, and will write to Modi on “illegality” of the move, it is learnt. Sources in the party said the Congress will lay siege to CBI offices across the country on Friday to take the issue to the people.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted, “CBI has now become so called BBI (BJP Bureau of Investigation) — very unfortunate!”
Arguing that the Supreme Court had granted protection to the CBI director from “whims and fancies” of the government by giving him a two-year tenure, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury asked, “What is the Modi government trying to hide by its panic move? A midnight coup by Modi in CBI to protect himself and conceal his mega corruption in the Rafale deal. Modi government’s corrupt deals and cronyism are indefensible.”
Yechury argued that the “illegal removal of CBI chief by Modi government to protect their own handpicked officer, against whom serious charges of corruption are being investigated, points to attempts at a serious cover-up to protect his direct links to BJP’s top political leadership.”
In Chennai, DMK chief M K Stalin condemned the midnight action. Criticising the government appointing M Nageshwar Rao as the interim CBI director, Stalin said Rao is a “corrupt officer” and claimed Verma was removed to derail the agency’s probe on “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Rafale Scam, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s multi-crore tender scam, Gutkha scam involving Tamil Nadu health minister C Vijayabaskar and many such high profile corruption cases.”
Stalin also said, “The CBI is being destroyed because the agency has received complaints on Rafale scam. It is saddening that PM Modi’s government has imposed an undeclared emergency in India by such acts.”
BSP chief Mayawati said “More than the officials, it is the Central government which is responsible for problems in CBI. The Centre’s vindictive, casteist and communal policies and working have put not only CBI, but also other high-level agencies and constitutional institutions under similar threat.” Mayawati welcomed the fact that the issue has reached the Supreme Court.
Senior leader Sharad Yadav termed the government action “constitutionally, politically and morally wrong”, and that it is tantamount to an interference in the working of an independent body.
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