Rakesh Asthana, a 1984-batch Indian Police Service officer of the Gujarat cadre and now Special Director in the Central Bureau of Investigation, was divested of all duties by the Ministry of Personnel on October 23 following a feud with his boss, CBI Director Alok Verma. Mr. Verma has also been sent on leave on a recommendation by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).
How did he land the job?
Mr. Asthana was hand-picked by the Prime Minister’s Office to lead the premier anti-corruption body as the interim chief from December 2016-January 2017 when there was a delay in appointing a full-time director. He was serving in the CBI as an Additional Director, promoted three days before the retirement of the then CBI chief, Anil Sinha, on December 2. Originally from Jharkhand, Mr. Asthana pursued higher education at Jawaharlal Nehru University before clearing the civil services examination in the first attempt. A four-year-old video, shot by an NGO, comparing him to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose did the rounds recently on social media.
What is the cause of the feud?
The whisper campaign of his feud with the CBI chief took a serious turn on October 15 when a case of corruption and bribery was registered against Mr. Asthana by the CBI. He was booked for allegedly receiving over ₹3 crore from a middleman in a case involving meat exporter Moin Qureshi. Mr. Asthana moved the Delhi High Court against any coercive action and got relief till October 29. Earlier, the CBI had said he was being probed in six other cases.
What was he handling?
Mr. Asthana, referred to by Congress president Rahul Gandhi as the “blue-eyed boy” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was representing the agency in London where a court is hearing a plea to extradite businessman Vijay Mallya. He was also heading the probe in the AgustaWestland case, the INX media case and the one against Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad. In a plea in the Supreme Court, Mr. Verma blamed the No. 2 in the CBI for thwarting decisions in “very sensitive cases.”
What about his previous stint?
Mr. Asthana headed the Special Investigation Team of the Gujarat Police that probed the 2002 Godhra train massacre. He also probed the 2008 serial bomb blasts in Gujarat. In 1996, during his previous stint in the CBI, he arrested Mr. Lalu Prasad for his involvement in the fodder scam. Known for his proximity to BJP leader L.K. Advani in the early days, Mr. Asthana came into the good books of Mr. Modi and BJP president Amit Shah during his Gujarat stint. As soon as the NDA came to power in 2014, he was brought to Delhi and posted in CBI.
What went wrong?
In September, the CBI issued a statement against Mr. Asthana that his complaint to the CVC against Mr. Verma was malicious. The agency said the officer was being probed in six cases of criminal misconduct and the complaint to the CVC was made with an intention to damage Mr. Verma’s reputation. But the CVC order on October 23, on the basis of which Mr. Verma was sent on leave, mentioned a July 31 letter sent by the Cabinet Secretary containing allegations against senior CBI functionaries — the order didn’t say the complaint was sent by Mr. Asthana. The CVC said the verification of contents was more important than the identity of the complainant and served notice on Mr. Verma.
The CBI has said the investigation in the case against Mr. Asthana will go on. The officer has moved the Delhi High Court against the FIR and gone to the Supreme Court against the decision to divest him of all duties.