Oppn hits out at govt over removal of CBI chief; Jaitley defends decision as 'absolutely essential'
(Eds: Updating with more reactions)
New Delhi, Oct 24 (PTI) Opposition parties Wednesday launched a blistering attack against the government over CBI Director Alok Verma's removal with the Congress alleging that the decision was taken due to 'Rafale-o-phobia' as he was collecting documents relating to the Rafale jet deal.
However, the government strongly defended its decision, saying it was "absolutely essential" to maintain the CBI's institutional integrity. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley asserted the government's decision to send Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana was based on recommendations by the Central Vigilance Commissioner.
A late-night order on Tuesday from the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent Verma and Asthana, who were at loggerheads, on leave.
Leading the attack against the government on the issue, Congress president Rahul Gandhi alleged Verma was forcibly sent on leave as he was collecting documents relating to the Rafale 'scam' and the country and its Constitution were in danger under the ruling dispensation.
In a series of tweets, Gandhi also said, "The Prime Minister's message is very clear that whoever comes near Rafale (issue) will be removed, wiped out."
Jaitley dismissed as "rubbish" the allegations by the Opposition that Verma was removed because he was collecting documents on the Rafale fighter jet deal.
"I regard this charge as rubbish. The fact that opposition parties are saying we know what agency was going to do next itself casts a doubt on the fairness process. I don't believe what they are saying is true, but if they did have access to what was going on in the mind a person that itself demolishes the integrity of the person they are trying to support," he said.
Besides sending Verma and Asthana on leave, the government also transferred several CBI officials and appointed M Nageswar Rao as the interim chief of the agency.
Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi, in a press conference, claimed the government removed Verma to control the premier agency and avoid the day of reckoning arising from "Rafale-o-phobia".
"Modi government buries the 'last nail' into the independence of CBI. Systematic dismantling and denigrating of CBI is now complete. Once a premier investigating agency, PM ensures that CBI's integrity, credibility and reliability is buried and dead," Congress Chief Spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said.
A number of opposition leaders including TMC's Mamata Banerjee, CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechuri, BSP's Mayawati, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal and CPI's D Raja also attacked the government over Verma's removal.
"CBI has now become so-called BBI (BJP Bureau of Investigation) - very unfortunate!" Banerjee tweeted.
BSP leader alleged the Centre's "vindictive, casteist and communal policies" have put not only the CBI, but other agencies as well under similar problem.
DMK president M K Stalin also slammed the government for removing Verma, alleging that institutional freedom was facing serious threat under the Modi government.
"Director Alok Verma being sent on leave at a crucial time appears motivated with #RafaleScam under the scanner. The appointment of a corrupt officer as interim head of #CBI is equally questionable," he tweeted.
In his reaction, CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechuri alleged that the government removed CBI chief Verma to protect its 'handpicked' officer Asthana.
"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 the BJP's top political leadership", tweeted Yechury.
"To ensure that the CBI is not a 'caged parrot', the Supreme Court had granted protection to its chief from govt's whims and fancies by giving him a two-year tenure. What is Modi govt trying to hide by its panic move?" he asked.
Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal echoed him.
"What are the reasons for sending CBI director on leave? Under which law did the Modi govt get the authority to initiate action against the chief of an investigating agency appointed as per the Lokpal Act? What is Modi govt trying to hide?" he said on Twitter.
The Samajwadi Party (SP) too condemned the action taken by government against Verma.
SP spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary said this "episode" has not only cast aspersions over the CBI's credibility on the credibility of the CBI, but the functioning of the government has also come under suspicion.
The matter is not between the CBI chief Verma or Asthana, but about institutions, NCP leader and Rajya Sabha MP D P Tripathi said, alleging that the Modi government has destroyed the CBI and other institutions.
CPI leader D Raja described the situation in the CBI as one akin to a "coup" that has shocked the nation and demanded the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as head of the government, explain to the people the truth.
"What is happening in the CBI is like a coup that has shocked the entire nation. The CBI has been plunged into such a crisis. It's credibility stands completely destroyed. It is happening under the nose of the prime minister.
"There is speculation that it has something to do with the Rafale scam. People want to know the truth. The prime minister being the head of the government should explain to the people and the nation," Raja said.