NEW DELHI,IFTIKHAR GILANI,RITIKA JAIN : Weeks after winning a contentious floor test, Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat was grilled by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials for five hours on Tuesday in connection with a sting operation. Rawat was earlier summoned by the probe agency on May 9, but he wriggled out since he was to participate in a floor test the nest day as ordered by the Supreme Court. Rawat won the majority and was reinstated as the chief minister on May 11.
The CBI had last week rejected the Uttarakhand government’s notification withdrawing the nod for probing the case on the ground that the state government’s act was untenable. It stood firm that it cannot close the case since it was referred to it by the Centre during the President’s rule. Last week, the Uttarakhand High Court refused to intervene in the CBI probe.
On April 29, the CBI registered a Preliminary Enquiry (PE) against Rawat to investigate allegations of horse-trading based on a sting video on the state’s request, when Uttarakhand was under the President’s Rule.
The probe agency interrogated Rawat all day after which sources claim that he has failed to furnish full and complete details with respect to the case. Rawat has been summoned by officials again on June 7 to continue their investigation.
Taking note of Rawat’s alleged non-cooperation, it seems that the probe agency may be forced to seek his custodial interrogation forcing the newly re-instated chief minister to resign. This is bound to throw the already troubled state in further turmoil.
CBI’s move to direct Rawat to appear before them has raised eyebrows since it is rare that a sitting chief minister is summoned for interrogation to the headquarters, especially in the preliminary stages. Sending Rawat a questionaire to answer would have proved to be a more prudent and tactical move by the probe agency.
The Uttarakhand chief minister arrived at the CBI headquarters in the capital at 11am and was questioned by officers till four in the evening. Speaking to media persons after his interrogation, Rawat denied all charges of horsetrading and said, “The Centre has decided to constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate this matter despite knowing it will influence the ongoing investigation in the High Court and Supreme Court.”
Rawat went on to add that, “I have answered CBI’s summons and I am fully cooperating with the investigation.”
In a press statement released by the CBI, officials merely stated, “Rawat was examined today in connection with the inquiry on the alleged sting operation.”
Prior to the April 29 floor test, Umesh Kumar, chief executive officer (CEO), of Samachar Plus conducted a sting operation that showed Rawat negotiating a deal to lure nine rebel congress leaders to vote for him. The CBI has confirmed the genuineness of the sting operation and a CBI source revealed that a forensic report “confirmed” the video to be authentic.
The Centre dissolved the Uttarakhand government on April 28 and imposed the President’s rule a day before Rawat was supposed to take a floor test to prove his majority. The sting video in question was also one of the basis on which Rawat’s government was dissolved.
Since, the new chief took over in December 2014, six months after the NDA government dislodged UPA 2 at the centre, the CBI has been probing several high-profile politicians most who incidentally belong to the Congress party. In addition to Rawat, those under the CBI scanner include Himachal Pradesh CM Virbhadra Singh, former Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, and former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
The CBI is also probing Sachin Pilot, chief of Rajasthan Congress, former finance minister P Chidambaram’s businessman son Karti Chidambaram and former Union minister Vayalar Ravi’s son, Ravi Krishna, in an August 2015 case.