Why Cong smells trouble in Karnataka with Praveen Sood’s posting as CBI chief

Why Cong smells trouble in Karnataka with Praveen Sood’s posting as CBI chief

It is now final that Siddaramaiah will be the new Karnataka chief minister, while DK Shivakumar will be his deputy. For neither leader can the appointment of Praveen Sood as the next CBI director be seen as good news, or for the Congress and its Karnataka government in general. Because Sood, the party believes, may have an axe to grind with Shivakumar in particular and with Siddaramaiah as well.

The 1986-batch IPS officer, currently serving as Karnataka’s Director General of Police, will assume charge as CBI director for two years on May 25, when the agency’s incumbent chief Subodh Kumar Jaiswal retires. The 59-year-old is the senior-most IPS officer in the country after Jaiswal.

Why Sood’s appointment troubles Congress

Sood’s name was among three IPS officers the selection panel considered for the post of CBI chief. The other two were Sood’s Madhya Pradesh counterpart Sudhir Saxena, and Director General of Fire Service, Civil Defence, and Home Guards, Taj Hassan.

The selection panel members were Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of the largest Opposition party (the Congress) in the Lok Sabha. Sources close to Chowdhury claim he had submitted a dissent note against Sood’s selection, citing multiple reasons.

Chowdhury reportedly cited that the service records, personal details, and integrity documents of the listed officers were not shared with him and that Sood’s name did not figure in the original shortlist of candidates. He also reportedly suggested that either a woman or a minority IPS officer should be picked for the coveted post.

However, Congress sources say what is really troubling the party is the “acrimonious history” Sood shares with Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah and the several ongoing cases the CBI is currently investigating against Karnataka’s new Deputy CM. The timing of his appointment could not have come for the party at a worse time, when it tasted a crucial victory in the southern state with a huge mandate ahead of the Lok Sabha elections next year.

Also read: Karnataka: Siddaramaiah, Shivakumar say committed to work unitedly for people

Sood’s “history” with DKS, Siddaramaiah

“Anyone the Prime Minister (Modi) backed for the post of CBI director would have been viewed by the Opposition with suspicion, given the BJP government’s brazen misuse of investigating agencies to target political rivals. But Sood’s appointment is particularly disconcerting given its timing and backdrop,” a senior Congress leader told The Federal.

“This is an officer who Shivakumar had publicly called out for political bias, and who, in 2017, during the Siddaramaiah government, was removed as Bangalore Police Commissioner and transferred. So, the CBI director-designate clearly shares an acrimonious history with two of our senior-most leaders in Karnataka, who are set to be our next chief minister and deputy chief minister,” the leader pointed out.

Also, this appointment was cleared a day after the Congress handed a humiliating defeat to the BJP in Karnataka, which the Congress cannot overlook. Insiders said the party sees in Sood’s appointment a “statement of intent” by the Centre for “intimidating our Karnataka leadership and creating instability for the government that will be sworn in soon”.

Why DKS may feel the heat

A former Congress MP from Karnataka who shares a close rapport with Shivakumar told The Federal, “More than Siddaramaiah, this appointment is a signal to Shivakumar, as he is facing multiple investigations by the CBI, Enforcement Directorate, and the Income Tax department. Many in the party are wondering if the BJP, through the CBI, wants to create pressure on Shivakumar, who has previously been jailed in a trumped-up case, to break ranks with the Congress as per a script that the BJP has used many times in the past to intimidate our leaders and force them to defect.”

Also read: Disproportionate assets case: SC defers hearing on CBI plea against DKS to July 14

Notably, even amid the Karnataka poll campaign last month, Shivakumar received a big setback from the Karnataka High Court, which rejected his petitions seeking that the sanction given to the CBI by the now-ousted BJP government to prosecute him in a case registered under the Prevention of Corruption Act be quashed.

He had argued that while the sanction was granted by the erstwhile BS Yediyurappa government without following the mandated procedure of seeking the Karnataka Assembly Speaker’s nod for the action, the FIR registered against him by the CBI was in itself based on political vendetta and -up charges. The KPCC chief won the Kanakapura constituency by a margin of over 1.22 lakh votes.

Shivakumar had famously called Sood “nalayak” in public and threatened him with action whenever a Congress government returned to the state. With such a bitter history of rivalry, the Congress believes the CBI chief could now “expedite the investigations against the Kanakapura MLA and, perhaps, indict him in more cases too”.

A Karnataka Congress functionary and a close aide of Shivakumar’s said,  “The BJP wants to ensure that the electoral momentum the Congress has got because of Shivakumar does not sustain till the Lok Sabha elections; they want to punish him for decimating the BJP and they will use CBI, ED, I-T, and every other agency to target him now.”

Also read: Congress leader DK Shivakumar gets ED summons, daughter served CBI notice

Conventions broken? 

A section of the Congress has alleged that the Prime Minister, yet again, has “broken established conventions for the appointment of the CBI Director”.

A former Union minister from the party told The Federal, “Conventionally, even the shortlist of candidates for the post of CBI chief includes only officers who have had long stints with the agency. If no candidate fits this criteria, officers who have had a good track record in their respective state police’s vigilance wing get preference.”

The former minister explained that this service record is crucial for anyone being considered for the CBI chief’s post because it comes with wide-ranging powers. “From whatever I have read in media reports about Sood’s service record, I think even though he has been a good IPS officer, he does not fulfil these criteria that the selection panel almost always followed…. I think Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury also raised this point in his dissent,” he added.

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