Monday 3 October 2011

Building one’s way to the top (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Napalat

Ashwani Kumar
n 2 August 2008 a dapper man looking the polar opposite of Silvio Berlusconi was appointed director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, the agency which is so proficient in catching scapegoats while enabling the truly powerful to escape the consequences of their actions. The lucky find was Ashwani Kumar, then Director-General of Police in Himachal Pradesh, who in his progression to the top shunted aside M.L. Sharma, his senior by a year within the IPS. Sharma had, till the final hour before the farewell dinner for outgoing chief Vijay Shankar, been told that he was to get the job. That Kumar had little experience in the sort of investigation hat the CBI is legally presumed to carry out, while Sharma was immensely proficient in such tasks, counted for as little in the decision as the embarrassment of the Prime Minister's Office, which had told him weeks before that he would be the successor to Vijay Shankar.
The media in India being house-trained to perfection, none bothered — or dared — to informally meet up with Kumar's colleagues in Himachal, who were directly aware of the officer's political clout. According to them, Kumar was a special favourite of the ruling branch of the Nehru family (that segment comprising Sonia, Rahul, Priyanka and Robert). Indeed (if they are to be believed), Kumar had spent nearly two years on a very special task, one that must certainly have been related to the law and order situation in Himachal Pradesh, although this link is opaque to all except individuals of the evolved calibre of Digvijay Singh and other frank worshippers of India's Ruling Family. This super-important job was — again if Kumar's former colleagues are correct — the supervision of the construction of Priyanka Vadra's mansion in a forest area of Himachal Pradesh (which location, fortunately for the lady, escaped the attention of Jairam Ramesh and the numerous NGOs cosseted by The Family).
Ashwani Kumar, say his friends, was a special favourite of the Nehru family. Kumar had spent nearly two years supervising the construction of Priyanka Vadra’s mansion in a forest area of Himachal Pradesh.
The ensuring of clean toilets and airy bedrooms cannot have been the only service rendered by Ashwani Kumar to the Maino branch of the Nehrus, for it by itself cannot explain the noiseless intervention by an official even closer to the Maino-Nehrus than Kumar — at literally the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute — to get the PMO and the Cabinet Secretariat to switch from Sharma to Kumar for the Director CBI post. Of course, the former was promptly given a sinecure, that of a five-year term in the Central Information Commission, presumably to reflect on the need to oblige the powerful in more active ways than he had done thus far.
Priyanka Vadra
Although Kumar — after a convenient extension in service — had finally to make way for Amar Pratap Singh on 30 November 2010, there is scant doubt that he will soon occupy a gubernatorial mansion, if not take over as National Security Advisor, both jobs where his experience in house construction will come in handy. Ironically, one of his first statements on being gifted the CBI assignment was to promise to protect the CBI against "illegal political interference". Wisely, he was silent on exactly what interference is considered to be "legal".
Given the way that its key officials are selected, is it any wonder that the CBI is less an agency to prosecute graft than it is a "Schuetz Staffeln", a protective force for the well-connected? Its gyrations before the Supreme Court over the matter of the involvement of the Union Home Minister (then the Finance Minister) in the gifting of 2G spectrum to a few players is evidence — if such be needed — of the organisation's subversion from within, to the promotion of private interest at the detriment of public interest.
But why belabour Ashwani Kumar? He is hardly alone. Months ago, the Manmohan Singh government cleared a proposal for grafting optical payloads onto a Boeing aircraft. This venerable workhorse had been purchased in advance by the foreign supplier of the optical payloads, so sure was this entity on landing the contract. This despite the National Security Advisor of the US giving his Indian counterpart (then the legendary M.K. Narayanan) murky details of the way in which Indian officials were being persuaded to give the contract to the foreign supplier. Both R.D. Pradhan as well as the present Cabinet Secretary had turned down the proposal to award the contract, convinced as they were of irregularities. Interestingly, while Secretary Seth found the contract untenable, Cabinet Secretary Seth has had a change of mind, and approved the same proposal that he had earlier rejected.
he reasons for such a change of heart may remain obscure, for the reason that crucial minutes relating to the deal have been "lost", with no one getting punished for such a lapse.
Another individual who eagerly gave the green light to a controversial proposal is the present Central Vigilance Commissioner, Pradip Kumar, who as Defence Secretary had been responsible for clearing mega-deals that involve billions of dollars without the kind of benefit to indigenous technology that China, for example, insists on. Surprisingly, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj found nothing in Kumar's record as Defence Secretary to blow the whistle about, not even his participation in numerous procurement decisions of the Defence Ministry. Of course, a Kumar is hardly the same as a Thomas.
And so the caravan moves on! If only everyone — especially some of the judges of the Supreme Court — were as understanding as Pradip Kumar and Ajit Seth about the importance of house-building in Himachal and in the Aviation Research Centre buying out of secret funds equipment never tested to Indian specifications.

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