Updated: May 29, 2021 9:04:39 am
The choice of Subodh Kumar Jaiswal as the chief of the Central Bureau of Investigation has given hope to those who know him that the parrot, now caged, will fly free. To the present chief justice of India goes the public’s gratitude for ensuring the right choice.
As director-general of Maharashtra’s state police, Jaiswal was respected by the rank and file as an upright, honest and principled officer who dispensed justice to all according to the truth of the matter. That he will continue to do so in his new avatar, of that I have no doubt at all.
In Mumbai, he stood his ground on postings and transfers of IPS and subordinate officers but was allegedly overruled most of the time in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government. When it became apparent to him that merit and integrity were being overlooked in crucial appointments, he decided to quit and move to Delhi to head the CISF, a para-military force of the Union home ministry. By all accounts, his role as the head of the state’s police machinery was, in effect, usurped by the state’s home minister, reducing the DGP to a figurehead.
As CBI chief, he will be under the constant scrutiny of the enlightened public. It is not an easy job. Great pressure will be put on him by those whose political fortunes fluctuate with trends in the investigation of sensitive cases. Sticking to the truth should be non-negotiable. But he has to go further at times and assuage the bruised egos of peevish politicians.
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Indira Gandhi, like Narendra Modi, was a “strong” prime minister. She, like him, did not like to be contradicted. But a director like John Lobo who presided over the CBI in the mid-seventies used his skills of gentle persuasion to make her see reason. John Lobo was the first IPS officer from my state of Maharashtra to become the CBI director. Mohan Katre, another outstanding officer a year senior to me in the service, was the second. And we now have the third after a big gap. Jaiswal will have occasion to disagree with the present purveyors of power. How he does it without ruffling too many feathers will be the measure of the man.
The CBI is often roped in by politicians in power to settle political scores. It may not be possible, even in terms of the law, to avoid getting involved. But subsequent actions of the agency’s officers should follow the path of truth and justice. For example, in the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case, it seemed that the CBI was willy nilly involved by a Central government eager to oust a state government. And that the CBI was not able to turn white into black, a suicide into a murder, and it said so to its principals.
The Supreme Court has recently frowned on the action of the CBI in arresting four TMC members, two of them ministers in the West Bengal cabinet, for accepting money in a 2014 sting operation while two others were left out of the net, allegedly just because they had crossed over to the BJP before the assembly elections. It is such patently partisan acts that Jaiswal should not allow his officers to indulge in. I am confident of his ability to deliver.
He need not fear the consequences of non-compliance with illegal or unethical demands. Once appointed, he has nothing to fear. He cannot be summarily shifted out like lesser officials. He has an assured tenure of two years from the day he assumes office. If he does not crave post-retirement sinecures like being appointed governor, for instance, no harm can come to him. Carrots are regularly dangled by those in a position to dangle them, but not every officer is smitten by the bug.
It is more important to lay down office when the time comes with a clear conscience and a good name. People will respect you and remember you long after you are retired from service if you adhere to the truth and to justice and the rule of law. His first test will come when he revisits the findings of the CBI team investigating the allegations of the former police commissioner of Mumbai against Maharashtra’s home minister. On the face of it, it seems impossible for a minister to bypass a police chief and go directly to his subordinates for money collection unless the minister knows that the chief himself is involved in some manner.
The CBI does not seem to have established how Sachin Waze, an assistant police inspector and “encounter specialist”, was reinstated in service without the participation of the state’s DGP in the proceedings. Any meaningful inquiries must start from there because it will reveal the close nexus between the politicians and the police in any scheme to enrich themselves by giving blanket permissions to law-breakers to operate.
Since Jaiswal was an actor in that drama, albeit the injured one, he will find it a trifle embarrassing to get personally involved but his personal knowledge of the actors and their known proclivities will be invaluable to unravel the case and break the notorious politician-police-criminal nexus that pervades the internal security landscape in our metropolitan cities.
This column first appeared in the print edition on May 29, 2021 under the title ‘A note for new CBI chief’. The writer, a retired IPS officer, was Mumbai police commissioner, DGP Gujarat and DGP Punjab, and is a former Indian ambassador to Romania
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