NEW DELHI —The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)'s controversial Special Director Rakesh Asthana began his career as an assistant to RB Sreekumar, who eventually retired as Gujarat's Director General of Police.
Prior to joining the CBI, Asthana was best known for investigating the Godhra train fire of 2002, which led to the Gujarat communal riots later that year.
Both Asthana and CBI Director Alok Verma were placed on administrative leave from the CBI late Tuesday night, after days of bickering in which both the officials accused each other of corruption.
In this interview over the phone from Gandhinagar, Sreekumar—who is also the author of Gujarat: Behind the Curtain, a tell-all book on the Gujarat riots—spoke of his brief association with Asthana, and the latest scandal to hit the country's premier investigative agency.
When you were a serving IPS officer in Gujarat, what did you know about IPS Rakesh Asthana?
Asthana, as a probationer, was attached to me as an assistant when I was Superintendent of Police of Kutch from 1985 August to 1986 June or July. For one year. I have worked as an SP in seven districts and this was my last district (as SP) when he came.
Then he was a very conscientious officer. Very regular in the assigned duties. Very bright and had a good handwriting. There we did not used to get a proper PA (personal assistant), stenos (stenographers) as they are called, so he used to write down my replies to higher-ups in long hand. I found him to be very conscientious, diligent officer. Subsequently, he went on long deputation... Sometime in August 2000, I was promoted and posted as additional DGP (armed unit) of Gujarat. I was in charge of 14-15 armed battalions. After some time, I don't know what prompted them but I was posted as additional DGP (intelligence) on April 9 2002...
Initially, it (the Godhra train burning incident) was investigated by the local police but after 14-15 days only Asthana was asked to take over the investigation so then only the conspiracy theory came up in a prominent manner.
Another interesting thing is that, this is also written in my book, honourable Modi saahab [Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then chief minister of Gujarat] announced in the Assembly that it (Godhra train burning) is part of a conspiracy. (LK) Advani, then Union home minister, he also announced that day evening or the next day morning that it is a conspiracy. Here, interesting thing is that VHP men or any private person can say anything, but a person part of the establishment as home minister (Advani) and chief minister (Modi) they cannot give an opinion about the incident unless there is something found out by their own investigating officers. They are the political executive. After 14 days of the investigation, nothing to indicate a conspiracy has come up. With this gentleman coming, conspiracy theory has been built up.
This is the first controversy we heard about Asthana being very close to the chief minister and about (him) doing an investigation in tune with the policy and approach of the ruling party. In our (IPS) circles, he came to be known as a consummate careerist.
But this is just one instance and that, too, it is your accusation. So how can that be enough to characterise him as a careerist? Could you also explain why you have mentioned him in a chapter in your book?
Because subsequently, if you see his career graph, despite being a junior-level officer, he has been promoted to the Vadodara commissioner's post or the Surat commissioner's post. Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodara commissioner's posts are generally given to senior-level officers, not on just promotion.
My book contains a chapter on collaborators of rioters and those who were enforcers of the rule of law. [Asthana is named in this chapter]. That itself will prove that people (bureaucrats) who have helped in the implementation of the anti-minority agenda, all of them have been given good postings and post-retirement assignments.
What do you make of Asthana's appointment in the CBI? Why do you claim that Prime Minister Narendra Modi helped his career?
Soon after Modi saahab's election, it was well known that he (Asthana) will be inducted in the CBI. When he was posted, he was given the charge of (interim) CBI Director and if I remember correctly, somebody approached court and requested it to direct the government to appoint a regular director of the CBI. On court instructions only they appointed a regular director.
I have mentioned it in my book also that he is likely to be inducted in the CBI. Having inducted (Asthana), the government ensured that he will hold charge (as Director) by avoiding posting of a regular incumbent. All these inductions also have a political flavour to them.
Reports state that venues for Asthana's daughter's wedding were availed on a "complimentary" basis by the Asthana family. Is it part of a common culture or practice in Gujarat's IPS circles?
Yes, that depends upon to what extent you can indulge in corruption... if you can stoop to that level. In India, unfortunately, we are having a collaboration between mafiocracy and plutocracy and mobocracy. In all professions, there will be some officers who will remain close to politicians and mafias. This can happen. It is against conduct rules. You are not expected to accept any complimentary things from anyone unless that person is a relative. It is a clear violation of the conduct rules and All India Service Rules. Departmental proceedings can immediately be taken against him, but that depends upon the government. The competent authority is the government, the Central Vigilance Commission and Ministry of Home Affairs.
What does this controversy within CBI show about the state of what was thought to be India's premier investigation agency as well as the Indian Police Service? Do you think both are beyond repair?
Well, definitely. Primarily because of two factors. This unscrupulous careerism plus the approach of the political (executive) to get illegal things done through the CBI. CBI itself is used, during Congress time it was not different, for arm-twisting politicians. For example, Mayawati and company. They are going against the government interest; then there are cases against her. This is happening because these careerist bureaucrats are dancing to their tunes. Why they are dancing to their tunes is not only because they are aiming for the high position in their department (Director) but afterwards (post-retirement) many people want to become governors. You make a list of who got the position of governors, etc. Rarely do regular DGPs from the states have become governors whereas the actual hard work, professional hazards, are being taken by the regular DGPs. People working in the CBI never have to face any crowd or stand-off situation.
The structural cohesion (of CBI) has broken down by No. 1 and No. 2 fighting with each other. Solution lies in removing both of them and having a new set up (of officers). The politician should, principally and intrinsically, keep away from these investigating agencies. Incidentally, an investigating agency is working under the CrPC [Code of Criminal Procedure] and CrPC never recognises anybody beyond the senior-most police officer.
For example, in the state of Gujarat, CrPC recognises only SHO, that may be PSI, Inspector; DySP to DGP. Beyond DGP, even Home Secretary does not have any legal powers as far as the investigations is concerned. He has administrative powers to transfer.