June 27, 2020
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'I'm Used To Political Pressure'

CBI chief R.K. Raghavan finds himself in the hot seat with a long list of sensitive cases at hand

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'I'm Used To Political Pressure'
Raghava Krishnaswami Raghavan bears no grudge that it has taken him seven years to finally get to where he should have been a long time ago a plum Central posting. It was a cruel twist of fate which forced the newly anointed CBI director to wait in the wings. Along the way, Raghavan has weathered his share of storms he was first charged by the Verma Commission with failing to control access to Rajiv Gandhi, then denied promotion, refused empanelment for selection to any Central government post, and further rebuffed by not being awarded the President's Police Medal last year.

So when the government selected Raghavan of '63 vintage as the 19th CBI director from a panel comprising Andhra Pradesh police chief H.J. Dora and officiating director Trinath Mishra last fortnight, there was a feeling of disbelief. The system is cruel and wooden. But then my position has been vindicated and I harbour no rancour, he said, soon after assuming charge. But also didn't forget to mention: Some of my juniors have even bypassed me.

The Mylapore Brahmin from Madras may have been held constructively responsible for the security lapses at Sriperumbudur by Justice J.S. Verma, but his contemporaries firmly believe that he performed remarkably. Till now, the Congress has not reacted to his elevation as CBI chief.

As director of the Tamil Nadu Fire Service, Raghavan was asked to supervise security arrangements at Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991, for Rajiv Gandhi's election rally when the zonal Inspector-General went on leave. Having worked in the Intelligence Bureau and also being involved earlier in VIP security matters, I took upon the job readily, he says. But the suicide bomber, Dhanu, had other plans. When the site turned into a bloody mess by 10.30 pm, Raghavan did not know what had hit him. It was the beginning of the downslide. Many thought it would be curtains for this doctorate in police management from Karnataka University, but he has managed to breach the restrictions.

He did not panic or flee the spot. In fact, he displayed a great presence of mind under the circumstances and saw to it that nothing was moved, says D.R. Kartikeyan, former chief of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the Rajiv assassination. Crucial evidence such as the camera belonging to amateur photographer Haribabu (recovered from the site), which led the trail to key conspirator Sivarasan, was collected due to Raghavan's initiative. Sure, he was sidelined because of Sriperumbudur but the investigations into Rajiv's assassination may have not really taken off easily if it had not been for him, adds Amod Kanth, joint commissioner of Delhi Police and a former SIT member.

An intensely religious person, thanks to his upbringing, Raghavan prays five times a day he is a steadfast devotee of Lord Venkateshwara and even carries a photograph wherever he goes.

Raghavan is the first CBI director to be appointed under the procedures laid down by the Supreme Court. The court had carved out a greater and more crucial role for chief vigilance commissioner N. Vittal along with the secretaries of Home and Personnel ministries in the selection of the CBI chief. That is why I feel that the superintendence by the vigilance commission of the CBI is a novel experiment, says Raghavan. But even if it appears that the appointment was not a political decision, his future actions may bear that out after he oversees the slew of sticky political cases at hand.

So how does he feel about political interference in the CBI's functioning? I am used to handling political pressure, but it is not the only problem. We also face several hurdles created by certain people and then non-cooperation by the same people as well, says Raghavan.

SOURCES point out that a precipitating factor in the thumbs-down for his predecessor, Trinath Mishra, was perhaps his action against the Gujarat-based industrialist, Sushil Adani, for his alleged involvement with Dawood aide Romesh Sharma. A cheque favouring Adani for Rs 50 lakh was recovered from Sharma's residence. When raids were carried out on Adani's business premises in Kutch, it led to the recovery of Rs 27 lakh counterfeit currency and a huge consignment of onions, brought in from the Middle East. A vocal section of BJP MPs protested against the action, even reportedly taking its grouse to home minister L.K. Advani.

A similar fate awaited 'Tiger' Joginder Singh, who was abruptly removed when he decided to dig deeper into former Bihar chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav's involvement in the fodder scam. Then, Vijaya Rama Rao's refusal to allow his investigators to pursue former prime minister Narasimha Rao's connections in the hawala scandal cost him dear and he left under a cloud.

Before his present appointment, Raghavan was the director-general of Tamil Nadu's State Vigilance Directorate for six years, overseeing the corruption cases against AIADMK leader J. Jayalalitha. There were long hours of work and all of them were well-documented, he says. But then, the DMK government was solidly behind him and he managed to proceed without any trouble and with great haste.

In his 15-year stint with the Intelligence Bureau, he has been posted to Shillong, Delhi and Chennai. Having also worked with the Crime Branch of the cid of the Tamil Nadu Police, Raghavan was in charge of the sensational case involving the death of the film actress, Shobha, in 1980. It took me over a year to conclude that Shobha's death was a case of suicide and not otherwise. And it was a case which everyone followed very closely because of her popularity, he remarks. And as superintendent of police in Madurai, he was instrumental in putting down a spate of communal riots which engulfed the town in the late '70s.

Raghavan, also a visiting fellow at Rutgers University in the US, has the distinction of being one of the few police officers to be appointed CBI chief without any previous experience in the investigating agency. The others being Vijay Karan and Vijaya Rama Rao. But I do not think that is a disadvantage. For one, I do not come in with set ideas.

So what are his immediate priorities? The technology-savvy chief, who loves America, replies: Get the CBI website operational. A lot of work has already gone into it and I want it set up as soon as possible. These earnest intentions notwithstanding, Raghavan realises that he has to act firmly in two cases, which will come up before him shortly. And both will give him a strong feeling of deja vu.

The first relates to investigations into the $300,000 received by AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha as a foreign contribution when she was chief minister. The case was transferred to the cbi and a verdict is awaited. The second and the more important one is the multi-disciplinary monitoring agency looking into the Action Taken Report on the Jain Commission report. This politically sensitive case, not the least because it harks back to the Rajiv case, may be too hot to handle for the new CBI chief. Raghavan is one of the joint directors along with R.N. Kaul on this case and it will be interesting to find out what the agency has to say, says a PMO official. The political pressures are slowly building up. Admits a secretary in the government: This may be the acid test and his tenure in the CBI chief's office will hinge on how he conducts himself in these cases.

But the Rajiv case should not unduly bother him. After all, when MDMK supremo, Vaiko's son, Durai Valyapuri, got married in Chennai on November 29 last year, bjp leaders, including home minister Advani attended a ceremony also graced by ltte sympathisers. Besides Advani, there was Akali Dal leader Surjit Singh Barnala, defence minister George Fernandes, Lok Sabha Speaker G.C. Balayogi and, of course, LTTE sympathisers such as Kasi Anandan, the poet laureate of the rebel outfit, Velu Pillai, father of ltte chief Prabhakaran, and M.K. Eelaventhan, general secretary of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Front, a supporter of the militant outfit. But it also must be said that the ban against the LTTE was extended by another year by the BJP government last year.

Raghavan is no novice to political pressure. He knows that road well. And it is something which he will have to contend with, maybe in larger doses, in his new avatar.

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