It’s civil war in CBI, credibility crisis deepens

Whether you have in your hands an empire, a tribe, a family, or a servant, you deploy your talent as a tyrant, glorious or absurd: a whole world or a single person obeys your orders. Thus is established the series of calamities which rise from the need, the thirst to excel…We jostle none but satraps: each of us – according to his means – seeks out a host of slaves or is content with just one.

E M Cioran / A Short History of Decay

The Romanian philosopher E M Cioran, known for his philosophical pessimism, never had CBI in mind when he wrote his analysis on humankind’s decadence in 1949. But the agency, which has its birth in 1941 and assumed the latest name on 1 April, 1963 through a Ministry of Home Affairs resolution, went through a “series of calamities” since its inception as the political masters, or those “tyrants” in the South Block where the Prime Minister’s Office is located, deployed those “single person” who obeys their orders from time to time. Ironically, public put a lot of weight behind this “caged parrot that speaks in master’s voice”, as Supreme Court put it in March 2013, from time to time.

It’s nothing new that the CBI is in the midst of controversies, allegations and counter-allegations but agency watchers may be surprised at how it stooped to this nadir so fast. The last ten years or so had seen so many downs in its history. The past couple of years witnessed the CBI even challenging the speed of light in its descent. It saw two of its former Directors A P Shah and Ranjit Sinha, both appointed during Congress-led UPA era, facing FIRs filed by the agency and its current top-two – Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana – nose-dived into leading a factional fight that has further eroded the already fragile credibility of the country’s premier investigating agency.

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If Singh and Sinha face cases of corruption and fixing investigations after their retirement, it is curious to note that both Verma and Asthana accuse each other of bribery to settle cases while in office itself. Asthana faces a CBI FIR while Verma is now facing a probe by Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) on a complaint filed by the former. Interestingly, the common thread in all these cases is controversial meat exporter Moin Qureshi, who faces multiple probes by investigating agencies like CBI, Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax Department. Incidentally, a perception is gaining ground that the government has put its weight behind Asthana, whom Verma says is being investigated in at least half-a-dozen cases.

The government faces serious questions of inaction and silence as it looked the other way when the top officers fought each other. It need to be known what the government or the CVC did convincingly about Verma’s allegations on Asthana. Despite being the No 2 officer in the premier investigating agency, the government did not find it fit to remove the clouds over Asthana. The public has the right to know whether Verma was right or wrong on Asthana. Had it investigated Verma’s motives in case these allegations were motivated? The government failed in controlling the officers and landed the CBI in an insurmountable situation. It is interesting to note that Verma has taken on Asthana fully knowing he has the backing of the political leadership.

The latest episode of high drama within CBI has its seeds in the succession drama after Anil Sinha retired as CBI boss on 2 December, 2016. The NDA government wanted Asthana, a 1984-batch IPS officer of Gujarat cadre considered a blue-eyed boy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, as the CBI chief. It shunted out Asthana’s senior and potential candidate R K Dutta, who later became Director General of Police in Karnataka, to Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and appointed him as acting CBI Director. This was was immediately challenged in Supreme Court by an NGO Common Cause on the ground that the high-powered Selection Committee of the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and Chief Justice of India was not convened to select the new boss. It also raised allegations of corruption against him.

Government sources then indicated that this was part of the strategy to elevate Asthana and blunt any opposition to his appointment. The irony was that Anil Sinha’s retirement was not an out-of-the-blue event but the government chose not to convene the meeting before his super-annuation. As pressure mounted on the government, it changed its plan and announced the appointment of the then Delhi Police Commissioner Alok Verma as CBI chief. Government insiders claimed that Verma was chosen as he was non-controversial and that they felt he will not rock the boat. They also felt Asthana could run the show with the backing of the Prime Minister’s Office. Incidentally, Congress’ Leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge had opposed Verma’s appointment in the Selection Committee citing his inexperience in CBI.

However, the so-far silent Verma felt the heat soon after he joined the agency as Asthana is said to have blocked elevation of some officers as Joint Directors. Verma did not lie low and immediately gave Joint Director A K Verma, another Gujarat cadre officer who is at logger heads with Asthana, the charge of policy division, a crucial unit in CBI. The seeds for the future battles have already been sown. Both sides were looking for opportunities to target each other. Verma’s supporters said Asthana never left any opportunity to belittle his chief. As the battle raged, Verma replugged the allegations against him Asthana. An opportunity was waiting for Verma as the issue of promotions came up before the CVC. Asthana was a contender for the Special Director post, the virtual number 2 in the agency. But Verma has other plans. He submitted a “secret note” to the CVC about the allegations against Asthana, including surfacing of his name in a diary recovered during an investigation which recorded payments made to people. However, the CVC did not find any merit in this and promoted Asthana. Verma had lost this round of battle in October 2017.

The war was simmering and once again in July, Verma wrote to the CVC informing it that Asthana cannot represent the Director in his absence during meetings called to deliberate on induction of officers into the CBI. Sources said one of Verma’s contention was that Asthana was facing allegations and he could not be part of the deliberations on appointments. Verma also took on the CVC for not giving the CBI not enough time to do due diligence checks on officers being proposed for induction.

Asthana was furious. The very next month, he filed a detailed complaint against Verma levelling several serious charges – from taking a Rs two crore bribe from one Satish Sana who is allegedly linked to controversial meat exporter Moin Qureshi to attempting to stall a raid against RJD chief Lalu Prasad. The CBI issued an unprecedented press release rebutting the charges and made public that Asthana was facing investigation in at least half-a-dozen cases. Verma retaliated on October 15 by giving nod to register an FIR on charges of forging the statement of Sana. Asthana’s team member DySP Devender Kumar was arrested with the CBI telling a court that extortion is being done at the behest of investigations.

As the ‘civil war’ in CBI spilled over to public domain, the government was at a loss on how to control the situation. Last Tuesday as things were going out of hand, the CVC first met to consider the developments and recommended sending Verma and Asthana on leave. The government machinery went on an overdrive late evening, issuing orders to that effect and appointing an interim chief M Nageshwar Rao, who took over the office in the dead of night and immediately sealing the officers of his superiors and transferring officials probing Asthana. Reports suggested that National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was in the thick of things. While appointing Rao, the government chose to ignore A K Sharma, who has supposedly aligned with Verma. Soon after his appointment was made public, allegations of misuse of office and corruption surfaced against Rao, who is considered close to a senior RSS functionary and a votary of Hindutva politics.

The drama did not end with Verma and Asthana later approaching the Supreme Court. The CVC has also lost a bit of sheen as the Supreme Court has now asked it to complete the probe against Verma within ten days under the supervision of a former Supreme Court judge. The latest incident of Intelligence Bureau officials being picked up by Verma’s Personal Security Officers and claims of snooping have not added to the image of the government or the agencies. The optics are too bad for the government and the CBI.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald’s Spotlight on Oct 28, 2018)

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‘Recruiting preachers in Army turns money minting machine for some’

Recruiting religious teachers in Army has turned a money minting machine for some Army officials but they landed in trouble following an inquiry into anonymous complaints.

It all made easy for the internal investigators in the Army to pin point the suspects as most of the transactions took place through the banking channels. A bribe of at least Rs 15.55 lakh were paid by nine persons, who managed to get the Army job in 2013.

A CBI investigation is on after the agency registered a case on the basis of a complaint from General Office Commanding (Hyderabad) N Srinivas Rao and 12 Armymen, including nine who were recruited as religious teachers, and five private persons are in the dock. Religious teachers are inducted into the Army for spiritual activities in the unit and also to deliver spiritual motivation to the troops.

The CBI said that the Army approached them with a complaint only last Thursday “due to conduct of in-house inquiry which involved summoning civilian witnesses and getting details of bank accounts of all the accused from various parts of the country”.

The recruitment process was dogged with trouble from the beginning after Subedar M N Tripathi, a religious teacher in the Army, was removed from the interview panel after his name cropped up in an input on him indulging in “unfair practices by approaching candidates”.

In his place, another religious teacher Satya Prakash was appointed. However, the complaint that makes part of the FIR claimed, Tripathi did not let the opportunity go by managing to rope in Prakash and another religious teacher MK Pandey to influence the process.

Tripathi is claimed to have given Prakash a list of 20 candidates to be favoured during the recruitment “by asking simple questions and giving maximum marks”.

According to the CBI, Tripathi used the bank accounts of his five neighbours in Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur to collect bribe amount. Pandey used the help of Tripathi to reach out to prospective candidates while the internal Army inquiry is claimed to have found that Prakash collected Rs 14 lakh in his bank account.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Apr 27, 2018)

‘Politicians leadership sometimes prod police to commit excesses’

In a scathing indictment on political interference, a senior police official in Uttar Pradesh has said that political leadership sometimes prod police forces “to commit excesses” to bring serious law and order problems under control for “their own interests and agendas”.

Deepika Tiwari, a Superintendent of Police, also finds that criminalisation of politics is hindering the pace of police reforms.

She has made these remarks in an article she has written in the recently released ‘The Indian Police Journal’, published by government think-tank Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD).

In her article ‘Strengthening Civil Police for Efficient and Humane Policing’, the 2007-batch IPS officer insists that political will is what defines the implementation of police reforms. She argues that until and unless governments feel the need for reforms “not much can be done” and reforms would remain “piecemeal”.

“Criminalisation of politics is a key factor in slowing the pace of police reforms. It leads to undermining the leadership and discipline of the police force. There are several instances where political leaderships across states have used police forces for their own interests and agendas,” Tiwari said.

She then goes on to make an observation about how politicians use certain situations to their advantage at the cost of policing. “It is also seen that police have sometimes been given tacit permission to commit excesses in dealing with serious law and order problems such as terrorism, communal riots, rising crime graph, etc by the political leadership in order to bring the situation under control. The political leadership will have to exercise restraint in its use of police force,” Tiwari said.

While giving a historic perspective of policing in the country, she also mentioned that it was during the Emergency during 1975-77 when the “ills of the police system became obvious” for the first time.

The police excesses during this time sparked a lot of criticism and debate, she said. After the Emergency, she said there have been several instances where police excesses were committed and cited the anti-Sikh riots, Punjab terrorism, Kashmir insurgency, Gujarat riots where police excesses were highlighted.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Apr 23, 2018)

Govt may claim all is well in Kashmir but official stats tell another story

The Narendra Modi government has been maintaining that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir has improved but a latest official report tells a different story.

The terror incidents have risen by 6.21% in 2017 compared to the previous year while the civilian casualty has risen by a whopping 166.66% during the same period. Similarly, the infiltration attempts have also grown.

However, there is something to cheer for the security establishment as the situation in the north-east, which “remained complex for quite some time”, improved “substantially” last year to record the lowest number of insurgency incidents since 1997. The insurgency related incidents in the region decreased by 36% (308 incidents) compared to 2016 (484).

According to the Annual Report 2017-18 of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) released on Wednesday, the year 2017 “witnessed an increase” in incidents of terrorist violence and casualties of civilians though there was a slight decrease in casualties among security personnel.

The official statistics showed that 40 civilians were killed in 2017 and it is the highest figure since 2013. While in 2016, 15 were killed and it more than doubled to to 40 last year. Only in 2014, the number was beyond 20 when 28 civilians were killed. In 2013, there were 15 deaths from civilian side while it was 17 in 2015.

The terrorist incidents also rose from 322 in 2016 to 342 last year, the highest in the past five years. While there were 170 incidents in 2013, it rose to 222 the next year to fall to 208 in 2015 only to drastically rise in next year.

On several occasions last year, Home Minister Rajnath Singh has claimed that the situation in Kashmir has improved despite Pakistan’s efforts.

However, the security establishment seek to find solace in the fact that there was a 2.44% decrease in death of security personnel while it recorded 42% rise in the killing of terrorists. Last year, 80 security personnel were killed as against 82 in the previous year. IN 2017, 213 terrorists were killed compared to 150 earlier.

“Since the advent of militancy in J&K (in 1990), 13,976 civilians and 5,123 security force personnel have lost their lives (as on 31.12.2017),” the report said.

The report noted that the ongoing militancy in the Kashmir is “intrinsically linked” with infiltration of terrorists from across the border both from the International Border as well as the Line of Control in the state.

“There has been a spurt in infiltration attempts during the year from the Pakistan side,” it said. As against 371 in 2016, there were 406 attempts last year, again the highest in past five years.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Apr 19, 2018)

‘Unrestrained’ remarks, ‘talk of revenge’ creating trouble in JK

Amid recent escalation in violence in Kashmir, a high-profile citizen’s group on Tuesday called for dialogue at the appropriate political level to find a solution to the present crisis in the state while blaming “unrestrained” statements by leaders and “talk of revenge” for the present situation.

In a statement, the Concerned Citizen’s Group led by senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said recent escalation in violence in Kashmir has led to “avoidable loss” of civilian lives as well as that of security force personnel. It said what is worse is that the violence shows no signs of abating.

“In fact, it is being stoked further by unrestrained public statements by various actors and the talk of revenge. It is also evident that despite being aware of the futility of picking up arms, an increasing number of desperate youngsters are joining the ranks of militants,” the statement said.

Besides Sinha, those who signed the statement were activist-academician Rajmohan Gandhi, former Delhi High Court Chief Justice A P Shah, former National Commission for Minorities Chairman Wajahat Habibullah, former bureaucrat Vappala Balachandran, former Air Vice Maeshal Kapil Kak, diplomar K C Singh, senior journalist Bharat Bhushan and Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation Executive Secretary Sushobha Barve.

“At this critical juncture, when an entire generation of young Kashmiris finds itself at a cross-roads, we would like to urge everyone concerned to step back from the conflict. While picking up arms by the militants is bound to attract the use of force against them by the State, intensifying the confrontation can only worsen the situation,” the statement said.

“The solution to the present crisis in J&K lies in dialogue at the appropriate political level. Only by winning the hearts and minds of the people can their faith in the political process be restored,” it added.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Apr 11, 2018)

Social media used to engineer psychological manipulation of public opinion

As a war wages over cyberspace activities of parties, a key Parliamentary panel has expressed concern over social media being used to engineer “psychological manipulation” of public opinion on crucial issues affecting countries.

The comments by the Committee on Estimates led by veteran BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi comes amid worldwide condemnation of data analytics firm ‘Cambridge Analytica’ for “misusing” Facebook users data to influence voters in US Presidential elections and Brexit campaign.

In a section on cyber crimes in its report ‘Central Armed Police Forces and Internal Security Challenges: Evaluation and Response Mechanism’, the committee acknowledged that social networking has emerged as a key tool used around the world to promote and aid communication.

“However, this type of technology might be doing more harm than good. Of late, use of social media has been seen as a key tool for engineering psychological manipulation of public and its opinion on issues that affect the nation and society,” the report said.

The Committee expressed its fear that the “potential for interference by one state with the affairs of another state” through the use of social media is “higher than ever”. It said, “clearly, lines have blurred between freedom of expression, privacy, law and order

Though the report does not mention any specific incidents, it appears that the Committee has in mind the allegations in the United States that Donald Trump’s election was aided by Russians. Last week, it also emerged that Cambridge Analytica, which aided Trump’s campaign, illegally harvested user data.

The Cambridge Analytica episode has also raised the political mercury in India with Congress and BJP locking horns over their suspected links to the firm. Another controversy erupted following allegations that there was data leak from Prime Minister Narendra Modi (NaMo) App. Congress is also in the eye of a storm over its now deleted App being launched from a server based in Singapore.

Like in the West, Modi had used social media vigorously in the 2014 campaign to emerge victorious. He has also asked MPs to reach out to the people through social media, especially Facebook.

In its report, the Committee said the “cocktail of social media, 24-hour television and NGOS create virtual reality, which soon has effects in the real world.” It said the probability of disruption has grown apace with the rise in number of cyber users.

These are not just law and order problems, and they are not amenable to the traditional responses that the states are accustomed to. These are serious internal security issues. We have seen technology place increasingly lethal power in the hands of non-state actors. The effects can range from the benign to the dangerous, though technology itself is value neutral,” it said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 27, 2018)

Alarm over radicalised youth returning from Syria

With Islamic State and Al-Qaeda in Indian Sub Continent “have started” posing “new challenges” to the existing security environment, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has raised an alarm over the activities of radicalised people returning from conflict areas like IS-dominated Syria.

The MHA has given a note to the Parliamentary Committee on Estimates, which is part of the report tabled in Parliament earlier this week, in which it also flagged possible threats from lone-wolf attacks inspired by radicalised outfits.

In the note that forms part of the report on ‘Central Armed Police Forces and Internal Security Challenges — Evaluation and Response Mechanism’, the MHA raised concern over the terrorists using secure internet pathways to reach out to youths.

“Radicalisation of youth by terror outfits through the misuse of internet and social media, has emerged as a big challenge in recent times. The problem is further accentuated by the fact that the terror groups have started using secure social media platforms and proxy serversetc to avoid detection by intelligence and law enforcement agencies,” the note said.

The security establishment is also worried about the activities of radicalised people coming back from conflict-ridden areas. While acknowledging it as a challenge, the MHA note also said lone-wolf attacks, which were witnessed abroad, cannot be ruled out.

“The IS and Al-Qaeda in Indian Sub Continent have started posing new challenges to the existing security environment,” the report said quoting the MHA. It said the IS is using various platforms to propagate its ideology and to attract recruits from across the world and the security agencies are keeping a close watch on those “persons/preachers” misguiding the youth.

The MHA note, part of which appears in a section ‘Global Challenges for Internal Security’, also refers to the fight against terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

It talked about receiving indications on revival of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which is not active as it was earlier. The JeM has renewed efforts to “cause harm to India,” the note to the panel headed by veteran BJP MP Murli Manohar Joshi said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 22, 2018)

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