The chickens have come home to roost and you reap what you sow. Two maxims which enunciate the steamy saga played out on the political theatre even as Congress noises of political vendetta fractured the stillness of the night. For the first time in independent India a former Union Home and Finance Minister Chidambaram is arrested in the INX Media case described as a “classic case of money laundering” with him as “kingpin and key conspirator”.
The arrest came Thursday at the end of 27 hours disappearance after the senior Congress leader’s bail plea was dismissed by the Delhi High Court Wednesday amidst 90 minutes of sheer drama in Lutyens Delhi from Congress office via his residence to CBI Headquarters, ironically a building Chidambaram had inaugurated as Home Minister.
Yawn, so predictable was the high decibel reaction of Congress leaders, “CBI and Enforcement Directorate are sensationalizing and satisfying the voyeuristic pleasure of some….this is a disgraceful misuse of power…. Modi is using the CBI to character assassinate… CBI’s entire case is based on evidence of a woman accused of murdering her daughter Sheena Bora and a case diary….shameful etc.”
Surprisingly, the rest of the Opposition is waiting to see how this plays out. Not a few BJP leaders assert, “It is payback time. The writing was on the wall. Chidambaram’s karma has come a full circle. As Home Minister during 2004-14 he left no stone unturned to harass and humiliate Modi and made sure Amit Shah went to jail in trumped up charges in the Sohrabdin murder case. Now he is being paid back in the same coin for his various sins of commission and omission.”
The INX Media case relates to alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance given to the media group for receiving foreign investment of Rs 305 crores in 2007, when Chidambaram was Finance Minister. The CBI registered a FIR report on 15 May 2017 alleging irregularities in the manner the clearance were awarded and the ED filed a money laundering case in 2018.
The INX Media co-founders Peter Mukerjea and his wife Indrani stand charged of entering into a criminal conspiracy with Chidambaram’s son Karti to get foreign investment approvals and evade punitive measures for not having the necessary approvals from FIPB.
In March 2018, Indrani who has now turned approver, told CBI that a $1million deal was struck between Karti Chidambaram and the Mukerjeas to secure approval from the FIPB in favour of INX Media. She reportedly confessed to meeting Chidambaram in his North Block office who told her to meet Karti whom she met at a New Delhi hotel and struck the deal.
Clearly the onus is on the CBI. With its poor track record of prosecuting economic offences, a recent example is the 2G spectrum scam case whereby ex Telecom Minister Raja along-with other co-accused went scot free and adopting a brazenly opportunistic policy of playing safe with Governments and willingness to serve their mai baaps interest for post retirement lollipops, the agency has its task cut out. Yet CBI’s own actions on Wednesday bordered on ineptitude. Shockingly, it was unable to trace Chidambaram as he vanished into thin air in the high-security zone for over 24-hours showing the agency in poor light.
Pertinently, the law will take its course, but what worries one is what has brought India to this sorry pass. How can the second in command to the Prime Minister be arrested? Sure we know there is something rotten in the State of Denmark and we are a corrupt and morally bankrupt nation where ghooskhori sab chalta hai. Where are the checks and balances?
Sadly, are politics has come to this sorry pass whereby charge-sheeted politicians, corrupt netas and criminals defect to the ruling Party once the law begins to close in on them. Either way they are welcomed with open arms. Why? The arrangement works on a quid-pro-quo wherein the rogues’ gallery of bandits, racketeers and murderers have filled the halls of power and fame.
One, with power translating into a number game, Parties preen over their new found power muscle which allows them to ride roughshod over their opponents, pass laws and rule the roost. Two, the corrupt and criminals get protection from the law and respectability in society.
Think. There are over a dozen Congress, Trinamool or TDP leaders like Mukul Royand Himanta Sarma who have a slew of corruption cases against them whom the BJP called criminals. But after they joined the Party the cases against them mysteriously stop being investigated. Less said the better of SP and BSP supremoes Mulayam Singh and Mayawati whose disproportionate asset cases swing between the pendulum of their political expediency for the powers that be. Why?
True, the Election Commission makes it mandatory for candidates to disclose details of their income, movable and immovable assets, liabilities, criminal background (if any) at the time of filing nominations. But instead of weeding out the corrupt and criminals it is more about disclosure rather than disqualification of the corrupt elements.
Primarily because many may have been charge-sheeted but can safely aver that they have not been convicted in a court of law. In other words, they must be presumed innocent. Besides, when it comes to corruption cases, the lines are blurred. What to speak of the marathon legal process. Our law only bars persons from running for office once they are indicted by a court, which often happens years, even decades, after an arrest. It’s even harder to dislodge someone actually holding office. What is the yardstick that can be applied to them?
In a milieu wherein our Parliamentary system has now been hijacked by the corrupt-criminal politicos the aam aadmi is naturally cynical. No one wants to vote for a corrupt person. And yet for years the corrupt have been using the electoral system to enter politics, with the janata hopelessly looking on.
What next? For the Congress Chidambaram’s arrest is a test case as many fear more leaders could be next in line. A tax assessment case linked to the National Herald case alleging misappropriation of funds is awaiting final disposal by the Supreme Court. It involves Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, Motilal Vora, Oscar Fernandes who are currently on bail, former Haryana Chief Minister Hooda and Sonia son-in-law Robert Vadra in Gurugram land deals, NCP’s Praful Patel in the Air India case et al.
Undoubtedly, the Chidabaram case presents an opportunity for the CBI to redeem its reputation by following due process and delivering justice quickly. Given due process is no abstruse concept but is at the root of nurturing rule of law in the country.
If Chidambaram is indeed guilty of accepting bribes in exchange for FIPB approvals, it is a serious crime and he must be prosecuted. But it is incumbent on enforcement agencies to prove a money link directly connecting him to FIPB approvals. In its absence intemperate actions can paralyse the bureaucracy and cripple the ease of doing business, besides attracting charges of a political witch hunt.
Clearly, for any anti-corruption drive to have a consequential chance of success, cannot afford to be selective or tool to get opposition leaders to switch sides. Nor will technical or legalistic responses suffice. The answer must lie in good, clean democratic political practice, watchdog media and vigilant public opinion that insists on raising the bar for Parties. If we do not urgently put correctives in place, today’s corrupt king-makers may be tomorrow’s kings. Time for Karmic Pay Back!