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Congress targets CBI offices across country, Rahul arrested

New Delhi: Congress workers and party leaders on Friday launched protests outside CBI offices across the country but nowhere were the scenes as chaotic as outside the CBI headquarters in the capital where party president Rahul Gandhi led the ‘CBI Gherao.’ As pandemonium erupted, Rahul and several fellow leaders were arrested even as they alleged that the central government is bringing down democratic institutions.

The protests have been organised to question the decision to send CBI chief Alok Verma on leave. Congress has levelled the charge that it is because Verma had begun asking questions about the Rafale deal that he was removed. And although CBI has clarified that Verma is still the chief and only temporarily asked to go on leave pending probe into allegations of misconduct against him, Congress remained defiant in its demand for his reinstatement.

Congress workers attempted to break barricades set up outside CBI headquarters while slogans were raised against BJP and the central government. There were also slogans against Prime Minister-led Appointments Committee of the Cabinet which had issued the orders with Rahul saying PM Modi was dismantling democratic institutions. Many of his fellow protestors were detained while Rahul himself courted arrest.

Meanwhile, Delhi Traffic Police said vehicular movement on Lodhi Road, CGO Complex, Bhishma Pitamah Marg, Sai Baba Chowk and near Dayal Singh College had been affected due to the large assembly of Congress workers.

Elsewhere, protests were organised near CBI headquarters in Lucknow, Bengaluru and Patna. Water cannons were used against Congress workers in Chandigarh.

BJP – which had earlier said the decision to send Verma on leave was to maintain the integrity of CBI – countered Friday’s protests by saying that the Congress has lost sight of real issues. “Congress doesn’t have any people’s issues to raise that is why they are taking up these non-issues. We should wait for the investigation report,” said Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Finance minister Arun Jaitley too justified the action taken and slammed the protests against it. “The government has no intention of targeting anyone or any institution.

The government only wants CBI to maintain its integrity and professionalism,” he said. “Recent developments had eroded CBI credibility.

SC even further strengthened criteria of fairness.”

Interestingly, the protests carried on well after a CJI-led Supreme Court panel said that the probe against Verma – and CBI No. 2 Rakesh Asthana – will be monitored by retired SC judge AK Patnaik. The apex court also said that the report must be submitted in two weeks and that the interim head of CBI – M Nageshwar Rao – will not take any policy decisions. It also issued notices to CVC and the Centre – asking for their replies – after Verma had filed a petition against the decision to send him on leave.

Verma and Asthana have accused each other on a number of levels including corruption, official misconduct and/or creating hurdles within CBI. The premier investigative agency has been left red-faced and a probe has been launched into the allegations and counter-allegations.

The opposition is also asking the PM what the urgency of packing up Verma at 2 am on October 24 was. “This has never happened in India. You send a CBI chief on leave in the early hours and then seal his office. Why?” asked Congress leader Anand Sharma.

Congress leader in the selection panel of CBI chief Mallikarjun Kharge said the Government had violated not just the statute but also the SC judgment of 1997 in the Vineet Narain case where the top court had ruled that the CBI chief must get a fixed two-year tenure to preserve the institution’s integrity.

The judgment says notwithstanding the age of superannuation of the CBI chief he will remain in the job for two years. The judgment also says that the selection committee will be kept in the loop even in matters of transfer of the CBI chief.

The Congress is holding a protest across India in the state capitals against the CBI changes and alleging that the PM is corrupt and acted in order to stop a probe into the Rafale scam.

Present at the Delhi protest on Friday were CPI leader D Raja, senior opposition leader Sharad Yadav and Congress veterans Ashwani Kumar, Kumari Selja and Pramod Tewari.

Former law minister Kumar had to resign from the post after reports that he had vetted a CBI affidavit in the coal scam matter the SC was hearing.

As Rahul Gandhi led the protests on the CBI shake-up and was stopped from going near the CBI headquarters, he said the Congress and the entire opposition would ensure that the PM didn’t get away with corruption.

“We won’t let the watchman steal,” Gandhi said as party workers hailed his speech and chanted the ‘Chowkidar chor hai’ slogans.