EVEN as Kapil Sibal pleaded before the Delhi High Court for the summons against his client—Narasimha Rao—to be quashed, the nation watched spellbound the CBI's turnaround from Rao's lapdog to rottweiler.
Just two weeks ago, the CBI was claiming there was "no case" against Rao in the $100,000 Lakhubhai Pathak cheating case because the former prime minister's name was not in the Pickle King's original complaint of 1987.
It even objected to Pathak raising Rao's name before Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Prem Kumar, prompting critics to wonder if the agency was shielding Rao. But, in the interim came the CBI'S somersault. Witness this statement of a Bureau spokesman: "We won't comment on the evidence but we have to defend the lower court's order."
When Rao's plea against the CMM's summons came up at the High Court, CBI counsel Gopal Subrahmanyam's response was cryptic: "We're going to oppose the petition." Result: Rao's future hung by a thread over the weekend. The CBI's new stand—despite Rao's nominee K. Vijaya Rama Rao being at the helm—is a clear sign that the Gowda regime doesn't want to appear to be shielding Rao, though its future depends on that party's support.
While slapping section 420 on Rao and issuing the summons for July 24, the CMM had observed that the CBI probe, which had been going on for years "without any tangible results", had taken off in earnest only at the apex court's behest. The CMM left little to imagination: "Rao was at the helm of affairs. The question of...the CBI doing anything in the matter could not have arisen as it was directly under his charge." But with the CBI chief's tenure winding up by the month-end, the agency acquired that elusive bite in next to no time. Which is why Sibal made a desperate appeal: "The moment (he) appears before the CMM, (he) will be arrested because it's a cognisable offence."
In Tihar Jail, unmindful of the verdict, they were already making arrangements...