25 OCTOBER 2018
The Centre, which has been dragged into the CBI mess, has a lot of explaining to do
The abrupt replacement of Alok Verma as Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, albeit as an interim measure, is the culmination of a series of murky events that must deeply embarrass the Centre. What was perceived as an unseemly internal tussle among top officers of the premier investigating agency has morphed into a full-blown conflict between the Centre and Mr. Verma. It is one thing if Mr. Verma had merely challenged the legality of his dismissal. But he more than hinted at interference in his functioning. The suggestion that the Centre’s action was meant to protect certain people has led to charges that he was removed because he was politically inconvenient. The Centre may like people to think it behaved with a measure of even-handedness by divesting both Mr. Verma and Mr. Asthana of their powers, but the action of the new acting director, M. Nageswara Rao — who has transferred many officers investigating cases against Mr. Asthana — exposes where its sympathy lies. This has raised the question whether the government is adopting strong-arm tactics against Mr. Verma, despite his tenure and independence being protected by the law.
The Central Vigilance Commission, in its order divesting him of his office, has said that since the atmosphere within the agency had become vitiated due to a factional feud, it had to intervene. It also charged Mr. Verma with not making available the records and files sought by the CVC in connection with a corruption complaint against him — an approach which it held was wilfully obstructionist. The sordid controversy has raised the important question of whether the statutory changes aimed at insulating the CBI Director’s office from political and administrative interference are adequate. Section 4B of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act assures the Director of a two-year tenure and makes it clear that he cannot be transferred except by the high-power committee — comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India — that appointed him. The Supreme Court will address the question whether the ‘interim measure’ amounts to unlawfully curtailing the Director’s tenure. It will also examine whether the CVC’s power of superintendence has been rightly invoked in the present case. But there are immediate and arguably more serious dimensions to this crisis. And it revolves around how to repair the image of a CBI riven by a nasty feud, how to protect its independence, and how to address the mess contributed by a government that should have acted much earlier to resolve the controversy rather than let it attain the ugly dimensions it did.
The long march
#CaravanaMigrante puts issues in the U.S. mid-term elections in sharp relief
The winding caravan of more than 7,000 migrants from Central America through Mexico has become such a political hot potato that it is likely to thrust the immigration issue to the forefront of the U.S. mid-term elections, barely two weeks away. Already, President Donald Trump, who has not been shy about translating his conservative views on immigration into harsh policy measures, has fuelled fears that the caravan may harbour terrorists from West Asia; he has also attacked Mexico for not stopping the “onslaught”. This, besides the usual sloganeering around “illegal immigration” that will purportedly steal American jobs and threaten the security of an otherwise peaceful American society. In truth, most members of this caravan, not by any means the first of its kind but certainly one of the largest in recent history, are either economic migrants seeking escape from grinding poverty in places like Honduras or fleeing persecution, trafficking or gang violence in the region. Unlike previous such caravans, whose members numbered in the hundreds and which dissipated along the way or upon reaching the border, this one has gathered momentum from sheer media attention and support from advocacy groups. It is not going away any time soon. This puts candidates from both the major parties in the U.S. in a tricky position. Democrats are wary of committing too much political currency to the caravan or undocumented migration as a phenomenon, given the prevailing mood in the country. And the Republican mainstream harbours concerns about the strident anti-immigrant rhetoric against the caravan, and what it stands for, emboldening far-right groups associated with racism and Islamophobia.
At the heart of the shrill debate on immigration is the weight of history. Americans can never get away from the fact that they are and will probably always be a nation of immigrants. As President, Barack Obama took a hard line on undocumented worker deportations, whose number soared through his two terms in office. But he sought to toe a moderate line when it came to delaying the deportation of childhood arrivals, and policed borders with a relatively light touch.Mr. Trump, contrarily, has made every effort to deliver on his radical campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., although he faced numerous legal setbacks in that mission, and then made even immigration hawks squirm over his decision to separate undocumented child migrants from their families. Ultimately #CaravanaMigrante will seek to cross that line in the sand which Mr. Trump and his supporters hope will one day become a high wall. Liberal-progressive Americans who hope that these asylum-seekers will not be rudely rebuffed at that point will have to regroup and focus their energies on the November campaign and use any newfound power they win in Congress to chip away at the immigration agenda of the Trump machine.