12th JANUARY 2019

A) Disquieting decision: on CBI tussle

The Unseemly Tussle In The CBI’s Top Echelons Reaches An Unsatisfactory End

The removal of Alok Verma as Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation is a disconcerting denouement to an unseemly episode. The controversy that began with a public tussle between Mr. Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana has ended with the former’s removal, although it is couched as a transfer. It was obvious from the beginning that the government did not want him to continue, although it sought to give the impression that it was being even-handed in asking both Mr. Verma and Mr. Asthana to proceed on leave. Mr. Verma’s transfer has exposed an uncomfortable truth — that the legal protection for the CBI Director from external interference is not as strong as some had believed. The Supreme Court’s judgment makes it clear that as long as such transfers follow a set procedure, the incumbent may be replaced. Though the court declared that no authority, other than the high-powered selection committee, could transfer him, itsreinstatement of Mr. Verma was not unconditional. It asked the committee — comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India, and the leader of the largest Opposition party — to decide on whether he should be divested of his powers. The government quickly convened a meeting, which was attended by Justice A.K. Sikri, as the nominee of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.Despite a dissenting note by Mallikarjun Kharge, the majority, that is, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Justice Sikri, ordered Mr. Verma’s transfer.

Questions have been raised about the committee refusing Mr. Verma a personal hearing. The panel apparently chose not to hear him on the ground that the Central Vigilance Commissioner, who held an inquiry on the Supreme Court’s earlier orders, had heard him in the presence of the retired judge, Justice A.K. Patnaik, a supervisor appointed by the court, and that the prima faciefindings against Mr. Verma were enough to conclude that he should not remain in that office. As he was neither suspended nor transferred, but only given a post of equal rank, there was no need for a hearing. Even if this position is not strictly untenable from a legal standpoint, it has seriousimplications for the CBI’s independence. Future regimes may use this precedent to get such an adverse report against an inconvenient director and unseat him. Mr. Kharge’s demand for getting Mr. Verma’s response should have been considered. Mr. Verma has claimed that the CVC report was based only on the complainant’s charges against him, and did not represent the CVC’s ‘findings’. An important learning from the entire episode is that the bipartisan appointment process for the post with the presence of a high judicial functionary as envisaged by the 2003 amendments may not be enough to thwart political stratagems. Far from resolving the institutional crisis in the agency, the outcome may have deeply politicised it.

B) Wall of shame: on Mexico border wall

The Shutdown Over The Mexico Wall Demand Will Long Define Donald Trump’s Presidency

It began as a populist campaign promise that brought President Donald Trump’s supporters cheering to their feet and paved the way for his election. Now, the border wall with Mexico has become a morass of partisan bickering that has stalemated the U.S. federal government into a three-week-long shutdown, leaving nearly 800,000 public sector workers furloughed without pay. At the heart of this political crisis is the increasingly bitter polarisation of public opinion over immigration. On the one hand, Mr. Trump has steadily contributed to the strident and crude anti-migrant rhetoric, characterising prospective migrants from Latin America as drug-dealers, rapists and violent criminals and shutting down the U.S. border to travellers from certain Muslim-majority countries. On the other, his insistence that he will not sign any appropriations bill to break the funding logjam in Congress and end what could soon become the longest shutdown in U.S. history, unless that bill includes $5.7 billion in financing for a border wall, has gone down badly with Democrats, who control the House. Matters took a darker turn as Mr. Trump doubled down on his refusal to negotiate over funding for the wall and said he may declare a state of national emergency over this uncomfortable status quo.

There are disquieting questions about the veracity of some of Mr. Trump’s claims: migrantborder crossings have been in decline for the best part of two decades; it is through legal ports of entry and not unauthorised crossing points that hard drugs such as heroin enter the U.S.; and even the State Department has admitted that no terror operatives have entered the U.S. through Mexico.Then there is the more blatantly flawed reasoning touted by the President that “Mexico will pay” for the wall. Now it appears that even Mr. Trump is backing down on his claim, arguing that Mexico would only “indirectly” fund it through trade deals. It is well-known that only corporations pay tariffs under these deals, not governments, and hence no such payment will come from Mexico. Even as the acerbic back-and-forth between Mr. Trump and Congressional Democrats continues, the deeper malaise is a profound disagreement among Americans on what their nation’s very soul stands for. Is the U.S. truly a melting pot, a country built on the prowessof entrepreneurship and technology, in large part driven by immigrants seeking the “American dream”? Or is it a declining world power that has squandered too much to other nations and peoples and is readying itself for an uncompromising battle to claw back what it reckons it has lost? If it is the latter, then we could expect Mr. Trump’s vision to succeed, but if not, a course correction is in order.