The Central Bureau of Investigation, or CBI, the country's premier agency to probe corruption, has tried hard to live down its description as "a caged parrot" by the Supreme Court for its inability to stand up to its political masters. The agency may swear that it neither fears nor favours, but ironically its chief, Ranjit Sinha, finds himself in a tight spot for precisely the sins of political commission.
Sinha, 61, a 1974-batch Indian Police Service officer of the Bihar cadre, has been confronted by information that allegedly shows him meeting high-profile people, including officials of Reliance Telecom, many of whom today stand accused in the 2G spectrum allocation case. Sinha, due for retirement in December, does admit meeting these people, but says he favoured no one. His protestations, however, have not found many sympathisers in the corridors of power, or indeed, within his investigating agency. As a top bureaucrat who once worked with him bluntly says, "There is no smoke without fire. People have started taking Sinha's words with a pinch of salt."
The latest crisis for Sinha is one of the many in his career. He made news in the late 1990s during the investigation into the fodder scam in Bihar. UN Biswas, his superior officer, hauled him up for a "shoddy" probe against the then Bihar chief minister, Lalu Prasad, and removed him from the investigating team. It could be mere coincidence that when Sinha later moved to New Delhi on deputation, he was appointed officer on special duty to Rabri Devi, Prasad's wife who had taken over as chief minister. Again, in 2008, when Prasad became the railway minister, he appointed Sinha as head of the Railway Protection Force.
Sinha assumed the top post in CBI in 2012, despite the reservations of the leaders of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha then, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, respectively. Later, a senior government official, now retired, confided in journalists that he had been misled by Sinha's batchmates, including the outgoing CBI director, into recommending the Bihar officer's name for the post.
With their head drawing attention of the sort he didn't wish for - including for his insensitive remarks that since rape, like betting, couldn't be prevented it should be enjoyed - many officers do not hold Sinha in high regard. Says a senior officer on the condition of anonymity: "Look at the number of cases that have been closed in recent time. We fear that after being labelled the Congress Bureau of Investigation, we will now be called the Corporate Bureau of Investigation."
Sinha's official profile describes him as "one of the most experienced and outstanding IPS officers". The much-awarded officer does have some supporters. Some of them swear he is the victim of a smear campaign led by "some officers in a sister organisation", who are unhappy with him for having exonerated Amit Shah, the current president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case.