I do not know Alok Kumar Verma. I do not believe I have ever met the twice-removed director of our Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). We do not have mutual friends or share relatives. Discussions of his integrity or any lack of it leave me cold because I expect officials to have integrity as much as they are supposed to have intelligence and if they are charged with a lack of integrity, again, I am not particularly affected. I know enough of governments’ ways to take accusations as reflecting anything more than whimsy, vendetta, malice and power games. Will he finally emerge unscathed from the ordeal of fire? I hope he does for I would like any official accused of wrongdoing to be able to show that she or he is innocent — not for the sake of her or his personal reputation but the sake of public confidence in the institutions of governance.
So this column comes from zero bias in favour of Verma or against his sackers. It comes from admiration and gratitude for his letter of January 11, 2019, addressed to the Secretary, Department of Personnel (which has been reported in the press). In that he has said, “I have served the Indian Police Service (IPS) with an unblemished record.” Now that is a highly self-confident thing to say but “unblemished record” is a standard phrase in officialise. When used by people for any particular officer, it is invariably a generous oversimplification. When used by a person about himself it is an insufferable self-indulgence. No one’s record in government service can be unblemished. It may not be blemished in terms of disciplinary proceedings initiated or punishments awarded, but is it possible for any officer who has managed large public affairs, to say he or she has done no wrong, wittingly or unwittingly, in the discharge of official duties ? Certainly not. No one is that infallible.
So it is not his claim of no-blemish that impresses me. Two things impress me. First, his pointing out that his appointment to the position of Director of CBI brought with an extended tenure overarching his normal superannuation and that now that he is no longer Director of CBI, he has to return to what his pre-CBI status would have been. He could have scowled at being moved to Fire Services and growled at the adding of salt on the injury. But being an intelligent man, he has not done that. He has asked for the one thing that any official aspires for: ending one’s career with the dignity of a well-earned pension. I forget which movie it was, but one I saw a long time ago, had a scene of a woman asking for her husband who had been sentenced to death to be given “the dignity of a firing squad”, as opposed to some miserable butchering in an unknown hovel. Verma has asked for the dignity that any official with a sense of pride in public service would want — not accommodation, not a sop, not something to save his honour, but dignity. A pension is not a favour done, it is the finial on the apex of one’s career that, post-retirement , takes the place of the flag mast that stood atop postings.
Second, Verma has talked of what removal means beyond what it does to him. He has talked of what is happening to institutions. And well he might, having headed — not just served in but headed — the IPS’s formations in Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Puducherry, Mizoram and Delhi, and been at the helm of Delhi’s prisons and, most famously, the CBI. He says in his letter that his removal is a pointer to how the CBI as an institution will be treated by governments hereafter. It is this part of his letter that should be, in my unsought view , his final salute. He has spoken, simply but powerfully, of how institutions are the most telling symbol of a democracy. Institutions can be slaughtered, they can be smothered, they can be subverted. He need say no more.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is distinguished professor of history and politics, Ashoka University
The views expressed are personal