Former minister Ram Jethmalani has announced his “break up” with Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the naming of KV Chowdary as the chief vigilance commissioner (CVC), with the veteran jurist threatening to challenge the appointment in the Supreme Court.
Chowdary on Monday became the first non-IAS officer to be appointed the chief of the anti-corruption watchdog since it was formed in 1964. However, both Jethmalani and activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan have questioned his credentials for the job.
The former Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer is working as an adviser in the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team to check black money. He retired as chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) last October.
Soon after the 61-year-old was named the CVC, Jethmalani tweeted about his “break up with the Prime Minister” and posted a letter he had written to Modi which said: “Now we shall fight (it) out in the Supreme Court and the court of the people of India. My diminishing respect for you ends today.”
Jethmalani’s remarks reflect a dramatic turnaround because he had strongly endorsed Modi as the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate before last year’s general election.
He said in his missive that he had provided what he said was “clinching evidence” about Chowdary’s “total unfitness for the job” in another letter sent to Modi on June 6.
Earlier, Jethmalani has opposed the recommendation of a high-powered committee to appoint Chowdary as the CVC, alleging he was under a cloud in the "stock guru" scam.
The 91-year-old Supreme Court lawyer has also written to President Pranab Mukherjee to reject Chowdary. In his brief letter to the President, Jethmalani said he was "opposed" to Chowdary’s appointment and was writing to "warn" the government against taking such an "unfortunate" step.
"For the nation's sake, call for the entire record of this officer’s involvement in criminal activities from which he has managed to get out with the help of corrupt and anti-national elements…," wrote Jethmalani.
Bhushan, too, had come out against Chowdary’s appointment by calling it a "bipartisan consensus on corruption."
Bhushan alleged that Chowdary, an IRS officer of the 1978 batch, was the director general of income tax when the Niira Radia tapes were intercepted but did not initiate action despite possessing evidence in the case.
It was only on the intervention of the Supreme Court that the CBI and ED took up the investigation, Bhushan said.
According to reports, Chowdary, during his tenure as member (investigation) in the Income Tax department, had ordered raids on the firms of BJP leader Nitin Gadkari in 2013 that led to him stepping down as president of the party.
It was while monitoring an income tax investigation against meat exporter Moin Qureshi for tax evasion and his association with then CBI director Ranjit Sinha that Chowdary reportedly impressed the NDA government.
The NDA government was criticised for delaying the appointment of the CVC. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi had attacked Modi over the delay in the appointments of chiefs of the CIC, CVC and Lokpal, saying the government feared transparency.
Referring to Chowdary’s appointment, a retired secretary, who did not want to be named, told Hindustan Times: "It’s a bad precedent set by the government. The post of CVC has always been held by a retired secretary of the government of India because the secretary has understanding of the multiple functions and roles in the government. In the case of Chowdary, he never worked outside the income tax department.”
A senior IAS officer serving in the Central government said: "Vigilance clearance is a must for any appointment in the government of India. Chowdary, whose past tenures have been controversial, will now give vigilance clearance to others. This could have been avoided by the government."