An unsavoury role in the Bihar fodder scam comes back to haunt the new CBI director, says Rana Ayyub
THE APPOINTMENT of Ranjit Sinha, Bihar cadre officer of the 1974 batch of the IPS, as the CBI director, has come with its attendant controversy. Sinha, whose previous job was that of director-general (DG) of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), succeeds AP Singh. Singh himself was lobbying for an extension, if CBI insiders are to be believed.
Sinha has had an earlier stint with the CBI, but not a happy one. His appointment has been challenged by Sushma Swaraj, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and Arun Jaitley, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. The two senior leaders of the BJP wrote to the prime minister on 23 November seeking cancellation of Sinha’s appointment. The Lokpal Bill has a provision for a collegium that involves the Opposition in the appointment of the CBI director, and they wanted this system to be instituted immediately.
Earlier, to add to the fog, on 22 November, Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar had filed a petition before the Central Administrative Tribunal challenging Sinha’s appointment as CBI director. He was protesting because his (Kumar’s) name was not on the shortlist from which the government picked Sinha. A minor complaint against Kumar was cited as the reason to keep him out.
The episode became part of factional politics within the BJP, when Ram Jethmalani accused Jaitley of playing a role in inspiring Kumar’s petition (which was later withdrawn). A senior CBI official, who too was in the running for the top post, said, “Never before has the CBI witnessed such lobbying and politicisation. It has become very uncomfortable working in the organisation, especially when most decisions are influenced by the government.” He cited the 2G case as an example.
The perception that the CBI’s politicisation is only a recent one is, of course, exaggerated. Nevertheless, Sinha’s appointment assumes great significance as several cases the agency is handling, including that of Amit Shah, the former home minister of Gujarat, implicated in an encounter killings case, are at an advanced stage. Sinha has been backed by a strong lobby from Bihar that cuts across party lines. He has found support from Lalu Yadav (RJD), Nitish Kumar (JD-U) and Shatrughan Sinha (BJP). A senior Congress politician also put in a word for him.
Sinha has a chequered past. In the 1990s, as DIG in the CBI, he was accused by UN Biswas, CBI joint director at the time, of interfering in the fodder scam to protect politicians and bureaucrats involved. Biswas created quite a furore when he told the Patna High Court that the fodder scam report submitted to the court was not the original document, but one put together by his deputy in the investigation, Sinha. The latter was accused of acting in connivance with Bihar politicians to change the report.
After Biswas’ submission, the court termed Sinha’s report “truncated and sketchy”. Sinha was accused by BJP leader Sushil Modi of being soft on Lalu and transferred out of the CBI. The fodder scam eventually cost Lalu his job as Bihar’s chief minister.
In November 2008, Sinha resurfaced as DG of the Railway Protection Force. The railway minister at the time was Lalu. Controversy and Sinha continued to go hand in hand. When Mamata Banerjee became railway minister in May 2009, Sinha was moved to the ITBP as DG. The BJP had opposed his appointment at that stage as well.
All this doesn’t seem to make Sinha the perfect choice to run the CBI. His predecessor, Singh, too has endorsed the Opposition view that the appointment of the CBI chief should be a bipartisan process. There are already hints of friction within CBI teams probing the Arushi Talwar murder case and the Gujarat fake encounter cases. That aside, the agency is looking into a series of UPA-era scandals. Sinha will be under watch.
Rana Ayyub is an Assistant Editor with Tehelka.