The Terminal Agonies of the CBI – Some Random Thoughts

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I do not know the two wrestling mammoths of the CBI personally, nor even through the reports of peers and professionals but their fight has led to not only a lot of grass being trampled in the organisation, it has also sent shock waves throughout the country, much beyond the confines of the designated turf.

I have long since stopped believing in reputations created through media. One of the fighters, for instance was sometime a darling of the local and national media and during the Animal Husbandry scam his image was carved in pure awe. How much of it was due to the fact that Lalu Jee was media’s favourite bête noir? Therefore, I will refrain from offering my comments on the current crisis, but I will permit myself a few general observations.

Governments have perfected failsafe mechanisms to separate the chaff from the grain in bureaucracy, more particularly in the IAS and the IPS, and then they invariably opt for the chaff. Regardless of political persuasion, they show a remarkable congruence in their choice of incumbents for sensitive assignments: they carefully assess the risk of emergence of character in the incumbent after he gets the coveted tenure post.

Governments are now ruthless in their approach when it comes to dealing with those who do not have a talent to please. The perils of independence are unacceptable just as the rewards of collaboration are unimaginable.

In general, the idea of neutrality of civil service and police has long since been abandoned and the police officers, civil servants and political masters often show the internal cohesion of predatory gangs. Governments are increasingly being run like private companies. The media is the latest entrant to the elite club and their affiliation to one gang or the other would be evident from the news reporting of the squabbling senior officers.

How do the achievers and ‘succeeders’- if I may say- adapt to the changed priorities and preferences of governments with mutually hostile agenda? They cultivate a palimpsest identity, consisting of layers after layers of alternating political affiliations, the one suitable for the particular occasion is revealed. This is what gives them a foothold through three decades or more of their career, in the fragile ecology of power.

The hierarchy is well established, especially in uniformed services, but if the contenders draw sustenance form the political ecosystem, the laws of the harem come into operation: both are favourites but one is more of a favourite than the other. I know it at first hand; the Bihar Police suffered incalculable harm in terms of morale, organisational cohesiveness, efficiency and its image in the public eye, (such as it was) in the early years of Nitish Kumar's regime.

Post Script 1 - No reflection on the present contender but as a rule he who beats everyone else to become the Police Commissioner of Delhi and then beats the other two contenders with matching credentials, escapes the Supreme Court criterion for mandatory experience in the CBI, is acceptable to the leader of the government in office and the leader of the government in exile to bag the post of Director CBI is hardly likely to be a Cr PC, police manual wielding fanatic. But yes, Beckets and Black Swans do turn up!

Post Script 2 - Thinking about the crisis I was reminded of the famous remark of H N Brailsford, “If a Power coerces once, it may dictate for some years afterwards without requiring to repeat the lesson. (A Great Illusion or a War of Steel and Gold? Norman Angel and H N Brailsford on The Causes of International Conflict.)

Officers reared in sweet docility are rarely known to stand up suddenly and beard the lion.

Post Script 3 - I have known at least five CBI directors fairly well in the last decade or so, some of them very closely. One kept hearing on the grapevine how they bagged the post but one of them who had lost the race and then come back from the dead, like Lazarus, to clinch the job told me his own story. He did not turn out to be a great investigator, in fact, he added a chapter to the rich history of infamy of the CBI, but I could not but marvel at his brilliant understanding of the capillaries that feed the power system.

Post Script 4 - An NGO moves Supreme Court against the removal of CBI Director. Is this not the same organisation that had opposed the appointment of this Director last year?

Post Script 5 - Layers after layers of the much-vaunted capability of the CBI is being peeled off and every now and then the Supreme Court steps in to put a stitch or two. But now the frayed vestment looks a patchwork of sorts, a caricature, a scarecrow for a bird like the fabled meat exporter to do the dirt upon.


India Today magazine once referred to Manoje Nath, a 1973-batch IPS officer, as being fiercely independent, honest, and upright. Besides his numerous official reports on various issues exposing corruption in the bureaucracy in Bihar, Nath is also a writer extraordinaire expressing his thoughts on subjects ranging from science fiction to the effects of globalization. His sense of humor was evident through his extremely popular series named "Gulliver in Pataliputra" and "Modest Proposals" that were published in the local newspapers.

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