Why would a decorated IPS officer, given Police Medal for Meritorious Service, and a DIG in the Central Bureau of Investigation, risk his career and take on the all-powerful National Security Advisor, Ajit Kumar Doval?
The petition filed before the Supreme Court by Manish Kumar Sinha, a Head of the Bureau at AC-III in the CBI headquarters who was unceremoniously transferred to Nagpur 1,200 kilometres away on the night of October 23, is only technically against his arbitrary transfer. The explosive details he has shared about the NSA in his petition, makes it abundantly clear that it is equally meant to expose Doval, considered an extra constitutional authority with his finger in every pie.
Consider some of Sinha’s revelations about Doval. Two days after CBI registered an FIR in which it named its Special Director Rakesh Asthana on charges of accepting bribes, Director CBI briefed Doval about the case and informed him that Asthana’s name figured in the FIR. The same evening the NSA confided to Asthana that he was in trouble. The DIG maintains that Asthana’s phone was under surveillance and the conversation between Asthana and the NSA was recorded. Asthana was heard pleading with Doval to ensure that he was not arrested.
While Sinha’s petition maintains that the transcript should be in the possession of CBI’s Special Unit, it is unlikely that either the Supreme Court or anyone else would ever see the transcript or hear the recording.
The day after Doval was briefed, the DIG maintains, telephone conversations between the Special Secretary at RAW, Samant Goel, Dubai-based businessman Somesh Prasad, Asthana and Prasad’s father, retired RAW officer Dineshwar Prasad, ceased. They had been tipped off that their phones were being tapped. But when the Investigating Officer, DSP AK Bassi, sought Director CBI’s permission to search Asthana’s office and residence and seize his mobile phones, the Director told him and Sinha that he was not getting clearance from the NSA.
For five hours after the coup, the CBI headquarters were searched by unidentified officials
On October 20, the investigating team raided the residence of Dy SP Devender Kumar, who was a part of Asthana’s SIT investigating the Moin Qureshi case. But the search operation was abruptly called off after a phone call from the Director, CBI, who told Sinha that the NSA wanted the search called off. It was again the NSA who apparently instructed that mobile phones of Devender Kumar should be returned to him because it had sensitive information ‘not related’ to the Moin Qureshi case.
“Meanwhile, in his residence, Shri Devender Kumar was adamant that the mobiles belonged to his kids/relatives and that the same should not be seized. It was this confusion which led to the situation wherein only one mobile was seized and the remaining 6 or 7 mobiles were not seized that day…however, the search continued on the insistence of the applicant (Sinha),” he mentions in his petition.
Sinha’s petition helps in joining the dots and explain why the Government hurriedly staged the midnight coup in the CBI headquarters on the night of October 23. Even as the CBI Director was presumably asleep at home, the PMO issued a notification ordering him to go on forced leave and got a Joint Director to take over as the Interim Director. N Nageswara Rao took over as Interim Director at 1.30 am and over the next few hours transferred the Additional Director AK Sharma, DIG Manish Kumar Sinha, SP SS Gurm and Dy SP AK Bassi to far off places, from Port Blair to Nagpur, ‘in public interest’. For five hours, the headquarter was searched by unidentified officials and it is believed that documents and electronic evidence were removed. While some insiders called for the court to call for CCTV footage from that night to ascertain who entered the headquarters and what happened inside, it is unlikely that the footage would ever see the light of day.
So, what was the tearing hurry for the coup? After all, Asthana had written to the Cabinet Secretary and the CVC in August, alleging corruption on the part of the Director, CBI, Alok Verma. In the next two months, the Director had the time to respond and would have done so because Asthana’s complaints were already in public domain.
Sinha’s petition provides some explanation. Dy SP Devender Kumar, search at whose residence the NSA sought to stop, was arrested by the CBI on October 22. And a formal, written request was put in for permission to raid the residence and office of the Special Director and seize his mobile phones. The Director raised the query on the need for a search.
The very next morning. Director of Prosecution at CBI informed the investigating team that Pradeep Koneru, a witness in the Moin Qureshi case, had paid ₹50 lakh to Devender Kumar to escape harassment. And the Special Unit (SU) came up with information that Somesh Prasad in Dubai and the RAW Special Secretary Samant Goel, an IPS officer of the Punjab cadre, were talking freely on the phone.
On October 23 itself, the SU came up with the revelation that someone had called Goel, who was in Chandigarh on that day, and sought his help in putting an end to the ongoing investigation. “…Goel replied that things have been managed with PMO and everything is fine.”
The midnight coup followed in the next few hours and the entire investigating team from the Additional Director to the Dy SP were summarily transferred with immediate effect and of course in public interest.
Allegations levelled by DIG Sinha may well be damned as hearsay and may be difficult to prove unless the Supreme Court decides to open another can of worms, order a court monitored investigation and call for records, intercepts and evidence which Sinha claims his team and the Special Unit had collected.
A court-monitored probe can unravel the truth about the NSA’s ‘interference’ in CBI & CVC
While a court-monitored investigation alone can unravel the truth about the NSA’s alleged interference in the working of both Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Sinha’s petition signals the collapse of the entire anti-corruption architecture built over the years.
The petition significantly raises the issue of investigation of the Moin Qureshi case, which has been going on since 2007. Although Rakesh Asthana wanted to make Hyderabad-based businessman Satish Sana an accused in the Moin Qureshi case, Director Alok Verma felt he should be listed as a witness. The Enforcement Directorate also made Sana a witness, signalling that he may not have been a key player in the Qureshi case.
“However, such open-ended investigations give ample scope to unscrupulous elements to indulge in illegal or undesirable activities. There is a pressing need to fix a timeline for investigation of such cases so that premier investigating agencies such as Central Bureau of Investigation doesn’t become ‘Centre for Bogus Investigation’ and Enforcement Directorate doesn’t become ‘Extortion Directorate’,” says the petition.
Besides his scathing indictment of the central agencies, Sinha’s petition explains why the Hyderabad-based businessman decided to file the FIR. While he was repeatedly being summoned to the CBI headquarters for interrogation, and asked the same questions, he and his family members were stopped from going abroad and turned away from the Hyderabad Airport on September 25. He was also assaulted by Devender Kumar in the CBI headquarters on October 1 and 3. The humiliation provoked him to take the drastic action.
During his interrogation by Sinha, the businessman disclosed that he had also paid a couple of crores to Minister of State Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary; that he had also spoken to the Union Law Secretary who had conveyed a message from the Cabinet Secretary that he should help in sorting out the mess and that his future problems would be taken care of.
It is too early to speculate on how this sordid affair is going to end. What is however clear is that Sinha is aware of the ‘great personal and professional risk’ that he has courted by filing the petition before the Supreme Court. It is unlikely that he would not have weighed the consequences.
What is even more likely is that Sinha has not made a full disclosure of what he knows. Being a police officer, he more than anyone else would know the value of insurance. His background and past record lend credence to his allegations and a court monitored inquiry into the allegations appears necessary and in ‘public interest’.