October 27, 2018 @ 2:00 am

27 OCTOBER 2018

Defusing tensions

The Supreme Court’s interim order paves the way for a quick resolution of the CBI crisis

The Supreme Court has taken hold of the situation. It has done well to order a time-bound and supervised inquiry into the charges against the sidelined CBI Director, Alok Verma. The government had suggested that it took the first step earlier this week to defuse tensions arising from the feud between the two top officers of the agency when it asked Mr. Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana to go on leave, and appointed M. Nageswara Rao as its interim chief. This followed an order by the Central Vigilance Commission, accusing Mr. Verma of non-cooperation and divesting him of his powers and functions. However, these measures only deepened the suspicion that the government was interfering in the CBI Director’s functioning. The court, while entertaining a writ petition from Mr. Verma questioning the legality of the order divesting him of his powers, has asked the CVC for a quick probe within two weeks into allegations against him contained in a letter sent by the Cabinet Secretary on August 24. Former Supreme Court judge A.K. Patnaik is to supervise the CVC probe. Responding to the government’s reservations about such external supervision of the work of a statutory authority, whose primary responsibility is superintendence over the CBI in anti-corruption investigations, the court clarified that it is a one-time exception given the peculiar facts of this case. The court has addressed the possibility that the crisis could be compounded if the interim Director makes any far-reaching decisions on his own. It has asked him to confine himself to routine tasks to keep the agency’s work going. A review of Mr. Rao’s early decisions transferring key officers is possible: the court has sought the details in a sealed cover.

The court’s interim order thus goes beyond calming the air; it works as a safeguard against any further damage to the institution’s reputation and credibility during the pendency of the case, and is a means to a quick resolution. It also preserves the legal questions arising from the government’s action based on the CVC’s order against him. Notice has been issued to the government in both Mr. Verma’s petition and another by the NGO ‘Common Cause’ challenging the order against Mr. Verma. Questions such as whether the CVC’s power of superintendence extends to recommending stripping a Director of his powers and functions and whether such a step requires the approval of the committee that appoints the Director are still open for adjudication. Judicial intervention often serves to quieten the mood in a surcharged atmosphere. This is of particular importance here. Reports that four men from the IB were caught by Mr. Verma’s security staff on suspicion of mounting surveillance on him cause unease. This is no time for distrust and mutual recrimination.

Touching base

PM Modi’s visit to Japan should clarify the shared reading of a changing world order

Ever since they institutionalised annual summit-level meetings in 2006, India and Japan have held a closely aligned world-view. Prime Minister Narendra Modi now heads to Japan for meetings with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, and they are expected to take stock of all the challenges they face, notably with regard to the U.S. and China. President Donald Trump’s recent actions on trade tariffs, sanctions against Iran and Russia, as well as the U.S.’s exit from several multilateral and security regimes are impacting both countries in different ways. For India, the impact is more direct, as the economy has been hurt by new American tariffs, review of its GSP (trading) status, and restrictions on visas for professionals. Moreover, possible U.S. sanctions over Indian engagement with Iran as well as defence purchases from Russia pose a looming challenge. For Japan too, U.S. trade tariffs are a concern and Washington’s exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership is corralling Southeast Asian countries into a free trade regime under Chinese domination. In addition, the U.S.’s on-again, off-again nuclear negotiations with North Korea are keeping Tokyo on tenterhooks. India and Japan must closely cooperate on how to manage these challenges from the U.S. while maintaining their growing security ties with Washington, as members of the trilateral and quadrilateral formations in the Indo-Pacific. The other common concern is managing an increasingly influential China. Mr. Abe will meet Mr. Modi a day after he returns from a visit to Beijing, the first by a Japanese Prime Minister in seven years. Mr. Modi has re-engaged Beijing through multiple meetings with President Xi Jinping this year. The Prime Ministers are bound to compare notes on the way forward with their common neighbour, especially on building and financing alternatives to China’s Belt and Road projects for countries along the “Asia-Africa growth corridor”.

On the bilateral front, there are several loose ends that Mr. Modi and Mr. Abe will work to tie up. The Shinkansen bullet train project has gathered speed, with the Japan International Cooperation Agency releasing the first tranche of ?5,500 crore recently. But it could still run into delays over land acquisition issues. India and Japan have stepped up military exchanges, and will begin negotiations on a landmark acquisition and cross-servicing logistics agreement. However, there has been little movement on the pending purchase of ShinMaywa US-2 amphibian aircraft. And while Japanese investment has grown several-fold in India, trade figures are lower than levels five years ago. None of these issues is insurmountable, and the larger concerns of how to navigate uncharted and stormy geopolitical terrain, while maintaining strong positions on the international rules-based order, are likely to dominate Mr. Modi’s visit.

Leave a comment