CBI Tales from The Big Eye: An insider's account of agency's successes and failures

Sen's latest book is a mix of corruption, cheating and forgery impacting big probes


Can the CBI fly like a fearless eagle or has it resigned to its fate of being a caged parrot? Shantonu Sen, former joint director in CBI, is an optimistic detective. He has spent 33 long years in the bureau where he witnessed the decline in its stature courtesy the power of political influence. At the same time, he saw fairly decent investigations by sleuths coming to a naught because the bureau was wedged between the courts and the administration.

Predictably enough, his selection of a dozen tales in his latest book CBI Tales from The Big Eye, is not all about accomplishments of a professional sleuth but provides insights into what makes the system tick or stop ticking.

Sen's latest book is an explosive mix of corruption, cheating and forgery impacting big investigations, taking the agency through a cycle of successes and failures, before the eagle’s flight got limited between North Block and the courts.

Sen had eagle eyes in investigations. As an insider in the anti-corruption agency, his narration is gripping and insightful for the layman to understand how the arms of the law work and why it fails to work at times.

A small tale of an act of circumvention by the CBI is one such story with all the elements of high drama.

This was when terrorism in Punjab was at its fag end in 1987. Three years after assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi, a bloodbath had been unleashed, the repercussions of which were felt for many unfortunate years. Sen says a British citizen of Indian origin, a former member of the House of Commons and a confidante of then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, was in jail in Srinagar.

Sen and his team had found his activities were encouraging terrorist crimes in the border state. According to Sen, there was enough evidence to prosecute him under the anti-terrorist laws.

One day, then CBI director Mohan G. Katre directed him to meet the minister of internal security. When Sen met him, the issue at hand being discussed with the home secretary present in his room was how to drop the charges against the don. Between the two prime ministers, the decision to free the British subject had been taken.

Sen goes on to explain how the CBI director manoeuvred his way not to use his office to drop the charges. The catch was that the CBI could not close the case on the ground that there was no material to prosecute him.

“Clearly, the minister was not seeking any answer. He wanted a failsafe operation,” writes Sen.

Sen was put on the job. After pacing up and down in the North Block, Sen hit upon an idea. The CBI could act on the advice of the home secretary. The JK chief secretary had to be kept in loop and between the two babus the decision had to be conveyed to the CBI. The book explains how the British national was finally put on a direct flight from Delhi to Heathrow.

Sen’s book is a storehouse of many such tales explaining why the CBI has not been able to break its shackles. His earlier books—A CBI Insider Speaks and CBI and Corruption—have cited many other notable cases where investigation acumen, teamwork and fearlessness were displayed by officers of CBI. Sen is definitely one of them.

CBI Tales from The Big Eye

Author: Shantonu Sen

Publisher: Notion Press Media Pvt Ltd

Price: Rs 145

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