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Rakesh Asthana’s “reward” dents Modi image. Further.

| Updated: July 28, 2021 23:55

The “political loyalty” reward to Gujarat cadre IPS officer Rakesh Asthana by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government in the Centre has come under harsh criticism. At least six IPS officers that Vibes of India spoke to also criticised the appointment saying,”we had much hope in PM Modi that he rewards meritocracy. But that seems to be the past”.

Asthana, a 1984 cadre officer has been appointed the Delhi Police Commissioner. He was due to retire in 96 hours but the BJP government reportedly rewarded him for his “political loyalty” towards the BJP.

The BJP government has maintained that it has appointed Rakesh Asthana as the Delhi Police Commissioner äs a special case in public interest”.

Unlike most States, Delhi police is not run or ruled by the State Government. Delhi Police comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. The sanctioned strength of Delhi Police is 90,000 plus personnel, making it one of the largest metropolitan police forces in the world.

Congress has come out openly in this regard against the appointment of Rakesh Asthana.

Senior Congress leader and party spokesperson Pawan Khera has said that Asthana’s appointment is “not just is it an issue of inter-cadre appointment; the issue expands to another instance of blatant disregard towards the Supreme Court of India and the laws of the land”.

Mr. Khera highlighted a few key points. They are as below:

  1. Rakesh Asthana was due to retire in four days, Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah wanted their favourite IPS Officer to stay in their proximity, therefore, in stark violation of the guidelines mentioned in the Prakash Singh case which mandates that a six-month residuary service period must be available.
  2. Was the opinion of the UPSC taken prior to confirming the appointment of Mr. Rakesh Asthana?
  3. Rakesh Asthana had six criminal cases against him that were being investigated in September 2018, with the exit of CBI Director Alok Verma, in an orchestrated midnight coup in October 2018. Within 10 days of Mr. Verma’s removal, the CBI in response to an RTI said, there was just one case against Mr. Asthana.
  4. The Civil Services in India has cadres that are state / region-specific. Likewise, vacancies in Delhi are filled from the AGMUT (Arunachal Pradesh – Goa – Mizoram and Union Territory) Cadre. The fact that Mr. Rakesh Asthana, a Gujarat Cadre officer had to be brought in, warrants a critical question – Could the Government not find any efficient officer within the AGMUT cadre.

Supreme Court Judgment in the Prakash Singh case: In the landmark matter of Prakash Singh and Ors v Union of India and Ors., the Supreme Court categorically made few observations and passed a landmark order:

·  “...The Police Acts enacted also do not contemplate any fixed residual tenure for an officer to be recommended for appointment as the Director-General of Police of a State. In the above conspectus the object in issuing the directions in Prakash Singh (supra), in our considered view, can best be achieved if the residual tenure of an officer i.e., the remaining period of service till normal retirement, is fixed on a reasonable basis, which, in our considered view, should be a period of six months.”

·  “We, therefore, clarify the order of this Court dated 3rd July 2018 passed in I.A. No.25307 of 2018 in Writ Petition No.310 of 1996 to mean that recommendation for appointment to the post of Director General of Police by the Union Public Service Commission and preparation of panel should be purely on the basis of merit from officers who have a minimum residual tenure of six months i.e. officers who have at least six months of service prior to the retirement.”  - with just four days left before the retirement of Mr Rakesh Asthana, this notification by the Modi Government-issued under the seal of approval by Amit Shah is downright illegal and in direct contravention of the judgment of the Honourable Supreme Court of India.

Prakash Singh Judgment and Appointment of CBI Director

The Chief Justice of India, Justice N V Ramana while expressing reservations to the candidature of YC Modi and Rakesh Asthana, reminded the Prime Minister of the Prakash Singh judgment of 2019. As both the officers had less than six months for retirement, based on the observations of the CJI, their names were dropped despite being the two senior-most IPS Officers in the fray to become the Director, CBI. 

Despite being apprised of this, yet again, this Government deemed it fit to arbitrarily proceed with the appointment of Mr Rakes Asthana as the Delhi Police Commissioner. 

Mr Khera said this is not the first instance of Modi government indulging in favouritism over merit, precisely what the Supreme Court intended to avoid while passing the Prakash Singh judgment.

Emphasising that this is not the first time this Modi-Shah regime has appointed their favourites to plum positions of Governance, he said, In  September 2017 when the Government of India appointed one more of its favourites, allegedly involved in the Rafale Scam as he was the serving Finance Secretary at the time, Rajiv Mehrishi as the 13th Comptroller and Auditor General of India. He was appointed at a time when there were questions raised with regards to the Rafale Scam. Ironically, the CAG Report on the Rafale deal was prepared by Mr Mehrishi, against whom allegations were there on the Rafale Scam, for the Government, who has orchestrated the entire scam. Despite demands by the Congress Party demanding he recuse himself from the Audit, he chose to proceed knowing full well there was a conflict of interest.

But again, these two incidents aren’t to be read in isolation: CBI Director Alok Verma was removed in a midnight decision by the Government of India just because he had begun investigating Rakesh Asthana.

He illustrated yet another case of the Election Commissioner 

Mr Khera said Ashok Lavasa was all set to succeed as the next Chief Election Commissioner of India in 2019 but when he dissented with the CEC and another EC on them letting off the PM and Amit Shah for alleged violation of the Model Code. Thereafter, he was put in a situation to voluntarily accept an offer to work with Asian Development Bank in Manila; this was after Investigative agencies pounced on him and accused his son’s company of violating foreign exchange regulations and his wife of tax evasion and making sure that both of them were out of work immediately after he dissented as to the Election Commissioner.

Mr Khera added some more points.

He said:

Rakesh Asthana is a Gujarat Cadre IPS officer, and by planting him as the Commissioner of Police, Delhi is this Government suggesting that the senior officers in the AGMUT Cadre are incapable of discharging the duties of the Commissioner of Police?

He continued This action of the Government, which is an extension of what Former Prime Minister (Late) Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji did by bringing in UP Cadre IPS Officer Ajay Raj Sharma.

Pawan Khera
National Spokesperson, AICC

While these questions are extremely critical, this isn’t the end of it: According to Mr Khera,

  • Balaji Srivastava,  who was given the additional charge as the Commissioner of Police, Delhi is a 1988 batch AGMUT Cadre officer who is due to retire in March 2024, he was replaced by Rakesh Asthana who was due to retire in 4 days. What explains this move?
  • Rakesh Asthana is four days away from retirement, he is not an AGMUT Cadre officer, his experiences include working with the CBI. What is the Government suggesting that it wants to convert Delhi into a CBI State?
  • What credentials of managing the Metro Policing does Rakesh Asthana possess? What “Public Interest” is being fulfilled by appointing someone with no experience in Metro Policing?
  • Rakesh Asthana’s candidature for the post of CBI Director was rejected due to his retirement date, but that law has not been applied by PM Modi while appointing him as the Police Commissioner of Delhi?
  • What has forced the Government to appoint Rakesh Asthana as the Commissioner of Police, Delhi four days before his retirement? What do they fear?
  • What does Mr Asthana have against Modi and Shah? His appointment coming after his name was revealed among the list of those snooped upon using NSO’s Pegasus begs us to ask the question: Is there some quid pro quo?

Meanwhile, a serving Gujarat cadre officer told VoI, “CM Modi was a man who was patient and often told us in meetings that merit matters more than anything else”. Another officer said, “PM Modi is a man who often talked about his humble background and how he valued meritocracy more than anything else. Mr Modi also scoffed often at then PM Manmohansingh’s age and said that youngsters should be given a chance and old people or retired people should not be promoted”. The common refrain was why has PM Modi demolished his own image of being a Common Man’s Prime Minister. Where is his promise of sticking to meritocracy and promoting only deserving people, they asked.

According to Rahul Sharma, retired IPS officer-turned lawyer, “He was due to retire in four days, July 31 and, suddenly, there is an announcement that shouts out loud Rakesh Asthana’s appointment as the next Commissioner of Police, Delhi. It is not a sign of good administration.” Rahul Sharma was posted as SP Bhavnagar during the Gujarat 2002 riots. It is said that Sharma had saved many lives, including that of children trapped in madrasas during the 2002 riots. The 1992-batch IPS officer took voluntary retirement in February 2015 following a relentless row for nearly a decade with the Gujarat government that was led until May 2016 by the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Sharma added, “Government’s move of appointing Rakesh Asthana, denotes favouritism. Such judgements also objectively affect police administration.”

Member of AAP party in Gujarat, Isudan Gadhvi, a veteran journalist-turned-political leader with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) asserts that the BJP government has broken all forms of discipline by giving cream posts to corrupt officers. “BJP is known for appointing corrupt officers at important positions. How can the government appoint Rakesh Asthana who continues to stand accused in the CBI case? He is also an officer who spent crores of rupees behind his kids’ wedding functions, making it an ala-grande affair.” Rewarding corrupt officers with prime appointments is a sign of injustice towards good officers. “This appointment is biased. He was removed from the CBI following alleged allegations. His appointment as Delhi’s top cop is a big question mark on the government’s decision-making capacity?” questioned Gadhvi.

A former journalist himself, Jignesh Mewani said that Asthana was always the blue-eyed boy of Modi. He said, “I am taking a long pause to reflect as the name (Rakesh Asthana) does not go well with me for the allegations that were levelled against him in the famous-infamous CBI controversy. Therefore, it is quite justified that he is appointed as the Commissioner of Police, Delhi,”. He further added, “He has always been in the good books of the government and, in this era of spinelessness, people who are at the helm of power always want people who can tow their lines.” 

“I know for sure that Modi’s insaaf will go for Rakesh Asthana and not for Rajneesh Rai and Rahul Sharma,” said Mewani.

“Rakesh Asthana is in harmony and in tune with what Modi and Shah have in their minds. And yet,” said Mewani, “I would be happy if Asthana proves me wrong by taking cognizance of the inflammatory communal speeches made by Kapil Mishra and other BJP leaders during the recent Delhi riots.”

“Appointment of Rakesh Asthana as Commissioner of Police in Delhi is a leaf from the Gujarat model i.e. rewarding tainted officers in powerful positions,” said senior Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia. Modhwadia added that Rakesh Asthana has always enjoyed his position in Gujarat, be it in Surat or Vadodara and later when posted in CBI. 

“Modi aimed to appoint Asthana as CBI Director. Failing to accomplish this objective, owing to objections raised by the Chief Justice, he decided to revolt and now, Rakesh Asthana is the Commissioner of Police in Delhi, which is also a prime post,” said Modhwadia.

Rakesh Asthana has always been a Modi man in Gujarat and despite serious allegations of corruption and nepotism against him, no action has been taken. Modhwadia added that Asthana, in the past, has also tried to scuttle a few cases when in CBI. And when the issue came to the fore it was settled and Asthana was protected. 

“As per the Supreme Court (SC) judgement”, Modhwadia said, “anyone who has to be appointed at this post, there has to be a minimum availability of six months before the retirement. In the case of Asthana, there were only three days, which is against the SC judgement and the law, per se.”

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