Another book on corruption? I had groaned, flipped through the first few pages and shut it out of my mind. I was tired of reading about corruption, writing on corruption and listening about the subject. How can someone write another book on the subject, I wondered, even if he had served the Central Bureau of Investigation for 33 years and retired as a Joint Director in 1996? In a country where corruption is a way of life, what’s the point, I cynically asked myself.
But once I began reading it, I found it hard to stop. The self-deprecating humour, no beating-around-the-bush and a writing style that made old stories look fresh, with details, context and perspective that brought them alive. It was also a pleasant surprise to find that the book dealt with not just success stories but also cases that CBI and Sen failed to crack and why. Unlike several other books written by CBI insiders, the author also names his team members, colleagues and juniors involved in the various investigations he recalls, a refreshing change from know-all insiders.
Corruption exists because society wants it, the author states right at the beginning. Without mincing his words, Sen points out that corruption benefits everyone, even Narendra Modi, the big crusader against corruption. Although Modi won the election in 2014 on an anti-corruption plank, he failed to attend a single meeting of the selection committee for the Jan Lokpal in the first 45 months of his first term. Now that the Lokpal has been constituted, and Modi has completed six years in office, the office is as lame and tame as other anti-corruption bodies.
While Modi single handedly changed the Rafale contract in 2015, choosing a two-week old company of Anil Ambani to partner Dassault in India, he would not agree to an inquiry by a Joint parliamentary committee; nor would he refer the case to the CBI— unlike Rajiv Gandhi who agreed to both an enquiry by the JPC and another by CBI into charges of corruption related to Bofors.
And while the CBI filed an appeal 12 years after the court dismissed the charge sheet on Bofors, in the Sohrabuddin Shaikh fake encounter case, in which the present Home Minister Amit Shah was the main accused, the CBI failed to file an appeal even after 96 prosecution witnesses turned hostile. The CBI, writes Sen, should have investigated how 96 witnesses turned hostile and whether they were intimidated or not.
Modi also introduced electoral bonds and changed the FCRA Act with retrospective affect, legitimizing “42 years of illicit foreign money”. The Modi Government diluted the Prevention of Corruption Act and despite two Supreme Court rulings declaring it unconstitutional, re-introduced the ‘Single Directive’, making it mandatory for the CBI to seek prior sanction from the Government before even initiating an enquiry against senior bureaucrats and before prosecution.
And of course, the Modi Government staged the midnight coup at the CBI, replacing the CBI director in the dead of night, installing in his place a relatively junior officer.
But there is little public outrage or revulsion. It is almost as if Indians want the Government to be corrupt. People rage about child rape and selectively demand the death penalty. But when it comes to corruption, there is no outrage.
There are delightful anecdotes from the insider and one of the most riveting is the one when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s signature was forged. A Railway employee dismissed for forgery had produced a letter from the PMO, signed by the Prime minister herself, recommending the appointment of this employee’s wife as a teacher in a school by Bokaro Steel Plant. A BSL officials bent over backwards to inform the PMO that the PM’s wish was being honoured. The PMO denied the existence of the letter and referred the case to the CBI. Sen cracked the case and found enough evidence to prosecute the forger.
He also recalls how he had fought with Government officials who wanted actor Sanjay Dutt to be prosecuted under TADA as a terrorist. Sen recalls he put his foot down and said that Dutt had to be prosecuted only under the Arms Act and not under TADA. He had similarly refused to humour the Indian Army following Operation Blue Star when the army top brass wanted all 1,590 people rounded up from the Golden Temple after the operation was over, to be prosecuted as terrorists.
Sen and his team spoke to each one of them separately, cross checked with police records in their home towns to establish that most of them were innocent pilgrims and devotees who got trapped in the crossfire. Fewer than four hundred were prosecuted as terrorists.
Sen also recalls two crimes of passion. One by a decorated Lt. Colonel in the Indian Army, who sent a parcel bomb to kill the lover of his estranged wife; the other one about the murder of badminton ace Syed Modi in Lucknow. Having gone through the letters that Modi’s wife Ameeta, also a bandminton player, had written to Sanjay Singh of Amethi, Sen says he never had any doubt that the two of them knew about the assassination. But the couple, who married later, were never prosecuted.
Unless the CBI is given a legal framework and made truly autonomous, supervised by the Jan Lokpal, the agency would fall short of professional expectations. The appointment of the CBI director must become more rigorous and more transparent. Anti-corruption laws need to change, he suggests while spelling out his vision about the agency.
The book is undoubtedly a valuable addition to the growing list of books on the CBI, more valuable than some of the books written by former CBI directors.