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Go easy on politicians, sensitive investigations, govt tells new CBI chief

George Iype in New Delhi

R C Sharma One day after Joginder Singh was shunted out of the Central Bureau of Investigation, the brief that R C Sharma, the new CBI director, received from the United Front government on Tuesday was clear: Go slow on politicians and soft-peddle investigations into sensitive cases like the fodder scam and Bofors.

CBI sources said Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral and Minister of State for Personnel S R Balasubramanian held brief meetings with Sharma and warned him not to rush to the press with half-baked reports on crucial investigations.

It clearly implied that the publicity-savvy Singh was sacked because he botched up some wellknown cases, starting with the Jain hawala scandal, which petered out when the Delhi high court refused to sanction the prosecution of politicians like L K Advani, Madhavrao Scindia and Madan Lal Khurana. The court rejected the CBI evidence saying that it was based solely on scribbles in the diaries of the Jain brothers.

But what cost Singh his high-profile job was his latest goof-up on the fodder scam -- the special court in Patna refused to take cognisance of the chargesheets filed against Bihar Chief Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav and 55 others and ordered the CBI to come up with a proper chargesheet.

However, shifting Singh out of the CBI is seen as a clever strategy by the prime minister to defuse the crisis in the Janata Dal over Laloo Yadav's involvement in the Rs 9.5 billion fodder scam.

Says one senior CBI officer: 'Singh's removal is part of Gujral's survival tactics. We fear he will resort to a witch-hunt which he had promised not to pursue when he took over as prime minister."

Sharma, the official told Rediff On The NeT, will function under Gujral's direct control and therefore the pace of investigations into many sensational cases ''will definitely slacken now.''

The Janata Dal leadership, the CBI officer claimed, was particularly peeved that the ongoing turmoil in the party was created by Singh. Many JD leaders also suspected that Singh was becoming a willing ally of former prime minister H D Deve Gowda in overzealously pursuing the fodder scam case against Laloo Yadav.

Singh, a Karnataka state Indian Police Service officer, was hand-picked by Deve Gowda to head the CBI soon after he became prime minister in June 1996. Deve Gowda is considered one of Laloo Yadav's staunch opponents.

The beleaguered Bihar chief minister, who has refused to step down despite immense pressure within his party, had set Singh's removal as a pre-condition for any amicable settlement to the JD crisis.

Political circles will now keenly watch how Sharma handles the fodder scam and the Bofors case.

Congress president Sitaram Kesri had also mounted pressure on Gujral to sack Singh from the CBI as the party was being embarrassed by the agency's probe into the Rs 640 million Bofors pay-offs case.

In May, Singh leaked the CBI's Bofors report to the press, much to the embarrassment of the Gujral government. The report named former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi as an accused in the Bofors case along with Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi and ex-Bofors agent Win Chadha and several others.

The late Congress leader was accused of hatching a conspiracy to cause wilful loss to the exchequer by allowing Quattrocchi and Chadha to strike the deal with Bofors.

The CBI -- which secured the first set of secret bank documents from Switzerland in January -- is expected to get the second set of secret papers from the Swiss authorities any time now.

Interestingly, government sources said the prime minister did not consult Home Minister Indrajit Gupta in replacing Singh at the CBI.

Gupta's office received a note from the prime minister's office on Monday evening, informing him of Singh's promotion to the home ministry as special secretary.

When the talk of replacing the CBI chief was doing the rounds, the home minister had recommended to the prime minister that D R Kartikeyan be elevated to the post. Kartikeyan -- at present special director in the CBI -- was considered a frontrunner for the post.

But government sources said Gujral ignored Gupta's recommendation as he wanted to appoint an officer who would not embarrass the UF coalition regime.

Joginder Singh goes on leave

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