The Supreme Court read the riot act to the power-obsessed Narendra Modi government, which carried out a post-midnight coup, sending the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on “forced leave”.
In the process, the three-judge bench, which included the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, also upheld the most critical feature in a democracy – the rule of law.
Ranjan Gogoi, Chief Justice of India.
In a sharp vote of no confidence of the shenanigans that the Modi government had indulged in, the court ensured that the Modi-appointed interim CBI Director, M. Nageswar Rao, could not take any policy decisions. All decisions taken by him would be under the court’s scanner.
And, sparing the Modi government no blushes, the apex court indicated it did not trust the Modi-appointed Chief Vigilance Commissioner, K V Chowdhary, to carry out a fair inquiry and ensured a timeframe of two weeks and supervision by a retired Supreme Court judge.
So how did it come to this? The smoking gun is the controversial Rafale deal, which is personally haunting Modi like a slow motion nightmare.
Alok Verma, who was appointed CBI Director by a collegium, had to pay the price for asking the Ministry of Defence for “verification” of the Rafale documents given in a complaint made to him by former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicians, Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, and lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
Alok Kumar Verma, director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, ‘sent on leave’.
Modi and his comrade-in-arms Amit Shah were angry that Verma even met the trio. The final straw was the registration of a bribery case against the duo’s blue-eyed boy Rakesh Asthana, a Gujarat cadre police official and his master’s voice in the CBI.
Interestingly, both Rao and Asthana ostensibly selected by Modi to clean up the Augean stables that is the CBI have several corruption cases against them.
Even Arun Jaitley, the Finance Minister, who speaks on all issues except his portfolio, seemed to have a bad brief to defend as he tried to spin the Supreme Court’s orders in the Verma case.
Modi, who has never in his government career met an institution that he has not wanted to take a wrecking ball to, seems jittery and afraid as the Rafale charges land at his doorstep. Modi has maintained his mute mode on the allegations repeatedly made by congress president Rahul Gandhi, who has discovered a crude but effective slogan “Chokidar chor hai” (the guard is a thief).
Modi, the self-proclaimed guard, has fielded multiple ministers to defend his government on the deal personally negotiated and changed by him. And with the midnight coup, the charges have the ring of conviction.
Security personnel detain two of the four people who were seen outside the residence of CBI director Alok Verma for questioning in New Delhi.
A clear pattern has now emerged. Modi destroyed the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) 70-year-old reputation of autonomy and prudence with the Modi-made disaster of demonetisation. Then came the unprecedented press conference by four judges of the Supreme Court, including the present chief justice of India, who bluntly said democracy is in danger. The press conference was not just a revolt against former chief justice of India Deepak Mishra, but also Modi and his ways.
Now you have the coup against the CBI. The institutional damage done by Modi is grave. Shah has practically emerged as an extra constitutional authority using the CBI as a potent weapon to threaten rivals. Modi and Shah have used the CBI to wage political vendettas against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal whose offices were raided and principal secretary arrested by the CBI.
Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Rahul and Sonia Gandhi – all have the Shah threat of the CBI dangling over them. Shah used Asthana as his weapon of political vendetta in a re-run of his tenure as Gujarat Home Minister and the author of the infamous Gujarat model.
Rakesh Asthana, a special director at the CBI, also ‘sent on leave’.
The Modi and Shah Gujarat model was characterised by an iron grip on selected officials who followed even apparently lawless orders such as the alleged encounter deaths unleashed by Shah as Home Minister.
These “Modified” officials were used to give a single window clearance from the chief minister’s office bypassing and reducing other stakeholders to ciphers. While this could work in a mid-sized state translating it via trusted Gujarat cadre officials has proved impossible.
Alok Verma tried to ensure that the allegedly corrupt Asthana did not ride roughshod over the rule of law to please the duo. The prospect of the Rafale Investigation and Asthana’s suspension recommended by Verma proved to be his nemesis.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi, joined by senior leaders of other opposition parties, on Friday turned up outside the CBI headquarters in Delhi in a massive show of force.
Modi has now finally made a serious misstep and seems to be losing the political plot. The biggest takeaway for him and Shah should be that Gujarat is not India and cannot be run like an authoritarian dictator sans any checks and balances.
Rahul Gandhi who has been dogged in his pursuit of Modi’s complicity in what he calls the “Rafale scam” seems to have finally come in to his own. Currently, he owns the political narrative with the BJP going all out to attack him by calling him a “clown prince” and “serial liar”.
After Modi’s misadventure, it seems like the clown will have the last laugh.
Swati Chaturvedi’s book “I am a Troll – Inside the BJP’s secret digital army” has received international acclaim. Her twitter handle is @bainjal.