Ironical as it was, sleuths of the Central Bureau of Investigation, or CBI, raided offices located in their own headquarters in New Delhi at midnight on October 24. The turf war between CBI director Alok Verma and his deputy, special director Rakesh Asthana, which had been brewing since July, was now in the public domain in all its ugliness.
The Narendra Modi government sent Verma and Asthana on leave and transferred nearly a dozen officers. It appointed M Nageswara Rao as the agency’s interim chief. CBI directors get a fixed two-year term. Verma, whose term was to run until February, knocked at the doors of the Supreme Court. “They were fighting like Kilkenny cats,” Attorney General K K Venugopal told the Supreme Court in one of the hearings to defend the Centre’s decision to intervene.
Verma and Asthana have accused each other of corruption and money laundering. The Opposition alleged that the government sent Verma on leave to prevent him from ordering an investigation into the Rafale jet deal.
This internal turmoil takes place at a time when CBI is investigating several high-profile cases, which have a bearing on the country's political landscape ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. These cases include the irregularities in a railway catering subsidiary in which Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad and his family members are named.
Others cases include those related to alleged corruption in land deals of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra and Agusta-Westland helicopter deal in which the Bharatiya Janata Party has alleged involvement of the Congress leadership.
The CBI is also investigating Aircel-Maxis that has senior Congress leader P Chidambaram and son Karti as accused; the Vijay Mallya loan default; and the Punjab National Bank fraud where Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi, who the Congress says have proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are named. Other politically sensitive case relates to Saradha and Rose Valley Ponzi schemes, where the CBI is investigating the role of some Trinamool Congress leaders.