CBI INSIDER SPEAKS – Author and reviewer wish that one day CBI would be ‘really’ autonomous

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CBI INSIDER SPEAKS : Birlas to Sheila Dikshit by Shantonu Sen. Manas Publications, Delhi, 2015 – A book review .

FISH in water, it is difficult to say whether it is swimming or drinking’, so remarked Chanakya, comparing the corrupt with fish. The episode of Akbar’s courtier making illegal gains, even while on the ‘condemned’ job of counting the waves of the Yamuna is also well known. No doubt, corruption has been prevalent through the ages. Yet, religion-imbued ethics and values, and strong punishment, more often than not deterred people from such deviancy, and consequently most corruption remained clandestine. But now, religion is only a ritual, ethics and values are a rare thing, and opportunism and greed have become the order of the day. Corruption has become not only rampant, it is brazen, hurting anyone who still has a conscience. More so if she has been a conscious law enforcer for decades, and that too in a premier agency, the primary mission of which is to help reduce corruption.

The revelations of Shantonu Sen in his fascinating book, CBI Insider Speaks, go beyond a mere outpouring of the ‘explosive’ facts he has long been privy to because of his long career in the CBI. They provide an insight into the unknown of the ‘caged parrot’, open the eyes of the lay reader to the realities of governance and have the potential to help professional policemen with useful tips on the nuances of investigation. Every episode recalled not only ‘exposes’ the professionalism of CBI but also the limitations under which committed officers are forced to work. In the few cases discussed, Sen amply exemplifies the vitals of investigation – hard work, alertness of mind and a nose in search for vital clues, all accompanied by a doggedness of purpose – to establish the truth.

In his mellifluous, yet candid and caustic style, Sen discusses several cases in which he played a key role in the investigations. How, when charged with tax fraud, the mighty Birlas managed to get their ‘top’ man off the hook, indefinitely delay the start of the trial against the others, and finally, succeed in persuading the government to withdraw the case; The intriguing power play and machinations in the genesis and nemesis of the Rs 133 crore urea scam; How the unethical use of political power scuttled both the investigation and subsequently the trial in Syed Modi’s murder case; How an ‘avoidable’ faux pas in the Jain Hawala investigations resulted in the Hawala Diaries being declared as inadmissible evidence by the court. ‘The result of transgressions is that the diaries have now sunk without trace, leaving the guilty unscathed for reasons that are shameful and sordid.’

Be it the high and mighty, the bosses in CBI, or the lumpen elements in the judiciary, Shantonu Sen has not spared anyone who tried to scuttle and sabotage impartial probes. His message to every investigating officer is to be truthful to the facts and evidence. ‘The Lakshman rekha is evidence and proof must sustain the charge-sheet.’ While unhesitatingly exposing the burial of fairness in some cases and the inherent weaknesses of the CBI, Sen nevertheless stoutly stands by the institution when good work was done.

He recalls how in the case of the Golden Temple/Blue Star Operation, the even-headed CBI managed to save over a thousand innocent pilgrims who had been arrested by the Army along with militants from the vagaries of prosecution – cases which, if pursued, may well have resulted in death-penalty for the ‘accused’. The chapter also provides a live account of Operation Blue Star and rare photographs that makes it more interesting reading. Writing about the investigation, arrest and prosecution of General Vaidya’s killers, the author reveals how meaningful co-operation between agencies produces fruitful results. The IB, CBI, and the Pune police acted in tandem and the killers were finally hanged after conviction. Equally fascinating is the story of the Ludhiana Bank dacoity. Solving this case helped break the back of a well-knit terrorist network operating in several places in the country.

Overall, Shantonu Sen maintains that the CBI, despite its many weaknesses, is still an institution enjoying a modicum of credibility in an all-pervading ethos of corruption and compromise. For the investigators, his practical advice is: ‘The weak are good fodder for prosecution; the powerful seldom. This is the increasing raucus refrain of the Indian criminal justice system. It is within these restrictive parameters that the CBI must perform.’

Apart from narrating his experiences as a serving officer in the CBI, Shantonu Sen has also meticulously documented the efforts made by the LG’s office in Delhi to improve the functioning of the Delhi Police. The bullet point instructions meant for Delhi Police tell us the efforts made by the LG of Delhi and Sen as his OSD to guide the police on a range of aspects of policing.

The reader of ‘CBI Insider Speaks’ will certainly perceive that the author was not carried away by the bouquets or brick-bats he earned in the course of his duty. Instead, as a professional, he tried to be true to his conscience and negotiate the muddy waters with dignity, wishing all the while for an autonomous CBI. The reviewer, a former policeman, too joins him in his wish that one day CBI would be ‘really’ autonomous , in the sense that it would be free of the clutches of the government in order to deliver true justice and no longer be a ‘caged parrot’.

N. Dilip Kumar

IPS (retd.), Delhi

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