The Indian government has an onerous task on its hands: to name new chiefs to its three premier Central agencies – Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The government is likely to announce the appointments very soon.
RAW is India’s external intelligence agency, not unlike the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), albeit the CIA has far more power, funds and personnel at its disposal. IB is India’s internal intelligence agency, while the CBI is an investigative agency. In many ways, IB and the CBI combines the responsibilities and duties of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the U.S.
The importance of these three agencies for the Indian government cannot be overstated. RAW and IB have a direct bearing on Indian national security. Their professional rivalries are legendary and they often times resisting sharing intelligence with each other. In fact, this debilitating factor was criticized at length by the Kargil Review Committee, headed by the late K Subrahmanyam, which was set after the 1999 Kargil War.
In contrast to the secrecy that pervades RAQ and IB, the CBI has been a very visible public presence. Because the CBI, unlike RAW and IB, is a prosecuting agency, it has to maintain a public profile through such activities as holding regular media briefings.
There is another important difference between the CBI on the one hand and RAW and IB on the other. The CBI is a politically-loaded agency and is often seen as a tool of government in power, much to the disdain of the opposition parties.
The CBI’s political clout has increased enormously over the years, particularly in the current tenure of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The UPA II has witnessed some high-profile scams like 2G telecom auctions, massive financial irregularities concerning the Commonwealth Games at Delhi and the coal blocks auction scam, popularly referred to in India as Coalgate. Sitting ministers, members of parliament, political leaders and corporate supports have been fingered in these scams which are investigated by the CBI.
However, recently activist Indian courts, led by the Supreme Court, have been monitoring several important cases being investigated by the CBI. This has strengthened the CBI’s autonomy from the sitting government as the agency has been directed to give regular status reports to the courts directly.
The current chiefs of RAW, IB and CBI – Sanjeev Tripathi, Nehchal Sandhu and Amar Pratap Singh respectively – are all set to retire by the end of the year. Of the three officers, IB’s Sandhu appears to be the only one who is likely to get an extension and even this will only be for three months. Sandhu’s stock is the highest among these officers. His prominence rose sharply after Saudi Arabia deported the terrorist leader, Abu Jundal, in June of this year, which gave India more leverage in dealing with Pakistan. Sandhu’s possible successors include both of the current Special Directors: Ram Niwas Gupta, an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer from Himachal Pradesh or Yashovardhan Azad, another IPS officer.
The most likely candidate to succeed the current RAW Chief is Alok Joshi. Of the three agencies which are going to see changes at the top, RAW is the only one where the succession process appears to be smooth and hassle-free. Joshi’s resume has one especially noteworthy qualification for the Manmohan Singh government—he previously served as the RAW station head in Nepal, an important country for any Indian government.
There are many individuals contending for the post of CBI Chief. These include Ranjit Sinha, currently the head of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), CBI special director VK Gupta and National Investigation Agency (NIA) chief SC Sinha. The present incumbent, AP Singh, may get a lucrative post-retirement assignment if he is called upon to head the soon-to-be-created investigation wing of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Singh’s seen as extremely qualified for this position because he has handled a large number of high-profile cases like 2G, Commonwealth Games, Coalgate and Adarsh Housing Society in Mumbai, ever since he took over as the CBI chief in November 2010. During this time he has also helped improve the CBI’s conviction rate.