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Bansal, Ashwani outed and shamed

Author: Kanchan Gupta
Publication: Niticentral.com
Date: May 11, 2013
URL: http://www.niticentral.com/2013/05/11/bansal-ashwani-outed-and-shamed-76980.html

The CBI is not exactly known for being pro-active in tackling corruption in high places, more so if the people involved are even remotely linked to a ruling party politician. If that politician happens to be a Minister, and that too a Minister in the Union Cabinet, then chances are the CBI will steer clear of the misdeed. Unless, of course, it is forced, or ‘directed’, to act by those who wield greater authority or are higher in Delhi’s food chain.

It is, therefore, intriguing as to what prompted the CBI to keep a tab on Vijay Singla, nephew of Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal who has had to resign from the Union Cabinet on account of what has now come to be known as ‘Railgate’ – a massive scandal involving the ‘auctioning’ of top jobs in Indian Railways. The CBI arrested Singla collecting Rs 90 lakh as part payment by a Railway Board member, Mahesh Kumar, who was keen to be made head of the electrical department that handles big ticket contracts.

Three questions arise. First, was the CBI acting independently? It’s unlikely it was. Targeting a high profile person is a decision taken at the highest level of the investigative agency, not by local or junior officials. The CBI Director’s approval would have been secured before zeroing in on Singla and moving against him. Second, who tipped off the CBI? Or, what alerted the CBI on Singla’s activities? Ministers have nephews and nieces. Not all of them are constantly watched. Third, who ordered the tapping of telephone conversations between Singla and his ‘business’ associates.

If the CBI Director was indeed in the know, did he share the information with anybody in Government? Who alerted the CBI about Singla’s wheeling and dealing? And, most important of all, who conducted the telephone tapping – 1,000 calls were intercepted; 80 hours of conversations were taped – was it the CBI or another agency? Is it true that some of the tapes have been played back to certain individuals?

The law on telephone tapping lays down that permission has to be secured from the Union Home Secretary before any telephone is tapped and conversations are taped. If permission is not secured then the individual or organisation involved in tapping and taping telephone conversations is guilty of committing a punishable offence. Surely the CBI did not violate the law.

If we are to assume that permission to tap and tape Singla’s telephone, as also the telephones of others believed to be involved in Railgate, including an IAS officer and an IPS officer, both related to Bansal, was secured from the Home Secretary, can we then also assume that the Home Minister was taken into confidence? It is unlikely, though not impossible, that the Home Secretary would take a decision of this nature, involving those close to a Union Minister, on his own.

Now let us look at it from another angle. What if the CBI was not involved in tapping and taping telephone conversations? What if another agency, say, the IB, was involved? The IB, as we know, reports to the Home Minister, who happens to be Sushilkumar Shinde. We also know that Shinde is a Sonia Gandhi loyalist.

In brief, was there a political decision to target Bansal? Since politics is also about proximities, it would be in order to mention that Bansal is a Manmohan Singh loyalist – among the handful in the Congress and the Government who are known to align themselves with the Prime Minister and not the National Advisory Council chairperson. If there was a political decision to target Bansal, would it be unfair to suggest that there’s a message in this for the person to whom he is loyal, namely Manmohan Singh?

Consider the episode involving Ashwani Kumar, another Manmohan Singh loyalist who has had to resign from the Law Minister’s job, joint secretaries from the PMO and the Coal Ministry, and law officers “changing the heart” of the CBI’s status report on its investigation into Coalgate, the scandalous allocation of coal blocks to cronies during the time when Manmohan Singh was in charge of the Coal Ministry.

Who leaked the information about the meeting that took place in the Law Minister’s office? Or, to be more precise, who planted the story in the media? Link this question to the one I posed earlier: Who alerted and/or prompted the CBI?

Those who earn their daily bread working for newspapers and news channels know all too well where such plants come from. And why some ‘plants’ become ‘exclusive reports’. The intended consequences are not unknown to Editors and owners of media houses. As Shamshad Begum famously sang, “Kahin pe nigahen kahin pe nishana”.

There is a common thread that ties the outing, shaming and ignominious exit of Pawan Kumar Bansal and Ashwani Kumar from the Union Cabinet. There is no percentage in speculating as to whose hand controls that thread.


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