Kharge’s blow-by-blow account of meetings in which Alok Verma was removed as CBI chief

In an interview to National Herald, Mallikarjun Kharge says the PM was in a tearing hurry to remove the CBI Director Alok Verma and appeared uncomfortable with the idea of him continuing as CBI chief

NH Photo by Pramod Pushkarna
NH Photo by Pramod Pushkarna

Ashlin Mathew

There are certain things that must remain confidential, he says firmly even as he recalls what happened in the two meetings of the High Powered Committee when the fate of former CBI director Alok Verma was sealed. Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the largest Opposition party in Parliament, spoke to Ashlin Mathew on the meetings, the PM and Parliament

On the first day when you met, did you get the feeling that the PM and Justice Sikri had both made up their minds to remove Alok Verma asdirector of CBI?

I can say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made up his mind. I can’t say Justice Sikri had also made up his mind at that point of time. For some reason, the Prime Minister wanted him (Verma) out. That is why the meeting of the High-Powered Committee was called hurriedly at the PM’s residence. They did not even supply us with the basic material – the CVCreport. When we insisted on seeing the CVC report first, the meeting was postponed after Justice Sikri also said that this was a fair and reasonable request. A copy of the report was handed over late at night on January 9.Thereafter, we met again at 4 pm the next day.

Were the three of you alone at the meeting or were there others also from the CVC or the CBI?

Secretaries and support staff are always there. This time the Prime Minister had his Principal Secretary Nripendra Mishra and another secretary who were briefing him. There was also Jitendra Singh, the MOS attached to the PMO. They clearly wanted to remove Verma somehow and restore the earlier man. This was on their minds but they did not disclose the name. Verma was retiring in three weeks and in view of the Supreme Court’s order, there was no option but to restore Verma to his position. He had lost 77 days of his tenure and logically, that too should have been restored to him. But they did not want to do it. And the Prime Minister did not seem to take the Supreme Court judgment seriously.

Did you have access to Justice (Rtd) AK Patnaik’s supervision note and Alok Verma’s written submission?

Right at the beginning of the meeting, we wanted to know how Alok Verma had responded to the charges, what were his arguments. We also wanted the ‘real’ report of Justice Patnaik since the CVC appeared to be an interested party. The CVC’s recommendation had also been turned down by the Supreme Court and was a one-sided report. But they did not agree to share anything. Modi said, “He has committed a mistake, so he should go’.

What was Justice Sikri’s stand?

Justice Sikri felt that when there are allegations against Alok Verma, he shouldn’t continue. He spoke about what he thought should be done from a legal point of view.

I responded by pointing out that nothing had been proved against him and everything was still under enquiry. Even the CVC had stated that some of the charges were not substantiated. So, when the report was notclear, why are you relying only on this report? Why were other reports not put on the table? The Supreme Court itself had asked for the supervision note and Verma had also made his submission. All that should have been considered. You have to ensure natural justice and not punish a man after hearing only one side.

Did you have your note of dissent ready when you went to the meeting on the second day?

Based on the CVC report that was given, a note was prepared.If during the meeting, a satisfactory answer would have been given by the PM,then the note would have been changed.

Why were the other two members reluctant to give Alok Verma a hearing?

The Prime Minister said that the Supreme Court had already heard Alok Verma and passed a judgment, so there was no need to hear him.

Why do you think the government was so adamant to remove Alok Verma?

I think PM Modi was apprehensive. There must been some fear. When I saw his mood, I saw that he wanted to remove Alok Verma in one hour on the same day that he was reinstated. This is what I sensed. They must have thought that if Alok Verma was not ready to remove remarks against Asthana, then he might not listen to the PMO on the Rafale deal or other cases pending with the CBI. That must have been on his mind and he wanted to remove him as quickly as possible.

Would you say it has something to do with the complaint submitted to the CBI to investigate the Rafale deal?

It’s possible that there are other incriminating cases but the Rafale deal has been haunting him. All I say is that if he is not comfortable, it means that there must be some reason. If we are to go by reports in the public domain, he has definitely committed a mistake in the Rafale deal besides mistakes in other deals. One by one they will come out. The manner in which the CBI director was removed in less than 48 hours after he was reinstated by the Supreme Court…it was done in such haste and without discussing the matter judiciously. He had taken the call and the others except me fell in line.

What do you think of the role of CVC in the ouster of Alok Verma?

Unfortunately, the CVC appears to have acted hastily and under the influence of the PMO. Moreover, it now seems that Alok Verma had submitted in writing that the Central Vigilance Commissioner KV Chowdary had called on him and pleaded that the adverse remarks in the ACR of special director Rakesh Asthana be withdrawn. Apparently, Chowdary had stated that if a clean chit was given to Asthana, then there would be no problem. This means that the CVC himself was interested in protecting Asthana. How can one say then that the CVC’s report was reliable and prepared without any prejudice? This is why I insisted that Verma be given a hearing. But they did not agree, which shows that the PMO, particularly the PM, was prejudiced and wanted to remove him.

A petition has now been filed in the Supreme Court against the appointment of the interim CBI chief Nageshwar Rao...

This is another blunder committed by the Prime Minister. If he wanted to install an interim director, he should have taken the consent of the High-Powered Committee. Justice Sikri was present and so was I. But the Prime Minister didn’t raise the issue at all. All that he wanted to do was remove Alok Verma. Supreme Court said that the Modi government had not followed‘due procedure’ to remove him, therefore the meeting was convened to complete

that procedure. For the appointment of the interim director also, the same procedure should have been followed. But they are committing one mistake after another.

We want decisions to be taken according to law and notaccording to the whims and fancies of a particular individual. You may dislike him, I may dislike him, but if the rule won’t permit you to take such drastic actions, then it should not be done, whether you like it or not.

What are the developments in the Lokpal Act?

The Prime Minister has not bothered to implement the Lokpal Act though it was passed by Parliament six years ago. He is not even making a small amendment to it that the leader of the largest party be included. It means that your intention is not good. If they were serious, they would not have put it in cold storage for five years. It suits him. Nobody can approach the Lokpal and he can say that he is honest and his rivals are all corrupt!

Should the CBI report to Parliament?

People who want to misuse the agencies will misuse them anyway. Narendra Modi is using them as a weapon against opponents and is destroying institutions. Anyone who takes a fair stand will be removed.Institutions such as the CBI, ED and CVC have been compromised. Suppose, they are made to report to Parliament. What will be the difference? People who lie outside can lie in Parliament. For example, in the Rafale case, they gave an affidavit in the Supreme Court that the CAG had gone into the pricing of the Rafale, had prepared a report and submitted it to Parliament, where the PAC had examined it. But they lied. No such report was ever prepared. They have filed a correction in the Supreme Court.

Are you happy with the Modi government’s functioning in Parliament?

There is no government that is functioning; it is a one-man government. This is an autocratic government. This is not the parliamentary system of government, because he won’t discuss anything in Parliament. Even policy matters, he announces them outside and not in Parliament. When Parliament is in session, it is his duty to give a statement to the elected representatives and then make it available to the public. Here, he won’t give any statement to the public representatives. He is afraid of parliamentary democracy. Directly, or indirectly, they are controlling the Parliament questions also. If there are embarrassing questions, either they are treated as unstarred or they  don’t get a proper response.

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Published: 17 Jan 2019, 3:35 PM