The opposition parties stepped up their offensive against the government for forcing the CBI director to go on leave with Congress chief Rahul Gandhi dubbing the action as "illegal" and a "panic reaction" to cover up Rafale deal evidence while the BJP hit back saying Gandhi was "hallucinating" and "manufacturing lies" every day on the jet deal.
As the verbal duel intensified, the Congress asserted the government action was "illegal" and an "insult" to the Constitution, the Chief Justice of India and the leader of the opposition, while the ruling party retorted that the party which "misused" the CBI in the past is now levelling allegations against the government.
A late-night government order on Tuesday divested Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana, who were at loggerheads, of their powers and sent them on indefinite leave. Verma is to retire on January 31, 2019, while Asthana's tenure is till March 2021.
Significantly, the CBI said Verma will remain its Director and the agency's number two Asthana will continue as the Special Director, while M Nageshwar Rao has been given interim charge of the agency. The official statement from the investigative agency came a day before the Supreme Court is to hear Verma's plea against the government action.
The government has strongly defended its decision, saying it was "absolutely essential" to maintain the CBI's institutional integrity and the move was based on recommendations by the Central Vigilance Commissioner.
Continuing to target the government on the issue, the Congress said it will hold protests outside all CBI offices across the country on Friday, demanding reinstatement of Verma and an apology from Prime Minister Narendra Modi for allegedly "destroying the image of the premier investigating agency".
Reiterating that there was a link between the government action and the Rafale deal, Gandhi said, "The entire country knows that the CBI was about to begin investigation into the role of the prime minister in the Rafale scam. That is why the CBI director was removed at 2 am in the morning. The prime minister was scared that once a CBI investigation into the case starts, he would be finished. In this sense, the PM's reaction was in panic."
Gandhi was asked about BJP's charge on how he knew about Verma's plan to order a probe into the deal.
At a press conference, union minister Prakash Javadekar accused Gandhi of "manufacturing lies" and said his linking of the government's decision on the CBI with the Rafale deal was "hallucination".
Claiming that the country has never seen such "childish politics", the minister said the Congress chief has crossed all limits of decency by using "abuses" for Modi.
Expressing concern over developments at the CBI, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor called for an independent probe into the alleged Rafale fighter aircraft scam.
Taking a swipe at the government, RJD national president Lalu Prasad tweeted that "a game is being played with the Constitution in the dense darkness of night at the ungodly hour of 2 A.M. Those who have cast an evil eye on the Constitution written by Baba Saheb will not be spared by the people."
Prasad also shared a post by his younger son and former Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav who came up with a number of imaginative full forms for the acronym CBI.
"Central BJP Intruders (CBI) have virtually taken over Caged Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to save Corrupt Brokers of India (CBI) through it's Criminal Barter Interrogation (CBI) by its Crooked Bureaucrats of Incompetence (CBI). #CBIVsCBI," Yadav tweeted.
Joining the chorus against the government, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) alleged the recent turn of events in the investigating agency proves that it is being controlled by the saffron party to serve its political purpose.
"We have been witnessing a series of events that have taken place in the CBI in the last few days. It seems like the BJP, which itself is a corrupt political party, is trying to stop corruption in the CBI. This is ridiculous," TMC secretary general Partha Chatterjee said.
Describing the allegations as "baseless", BJP West Bengal state president Dilip Ghosh said, "Why are they so concerned about what is happening in the CBI? They should be more concerned about the corruption cases of Narada and Saradha chit fund scam."
BJP MP Subramanian Swamy, who was in Ahmedabad for an event, said Verma is an "upright officer" who was doing a "good job" to check corruption and urged Prime Minister Modi to reconsider action taken against him.
Swamy said he has full faith in the prime minister but claimed that those "around him" are trying to "harm the interests" of Modi as well as the BJP.