The CBI raids at 16 places related to former finance minister P Chidambaram and his son Karti are indications that Narendra Modi government at the Centre has begun a massive crackdown on corruption cases against individuals of all hues — no matter how high and mighty they may have been in the preceding years. This action is likely to have sent a chill down the spines of political leaders and other individuals against whom serious corruption charges are being probed.
The Tuesday morning raids in Chennai and elsewhere sent out a clear message that there are no holy cows.
Conventional wisdom suggests that the CBI would not embark on such a massive early morning raids at the homes of the senior Congress leader, Rajya Sabha MP, noted lawyer and the man who ruled at the finance and home ministries of the country for 10 years, unless the investigative agencies had gathered substantive evidence against him. It should also be noted that no matter how much the CBI and government may claim that the law was taking its own course and the investigative agency was acting on its own, the fact remains that the investigative agency would not proceed with an act of this nature against a person as high as Chidambaram unless it had secured clearances from the political leadership in the government.
The political leadership in turn would have scrutinised all the documents against the former finance minister. The Modi government can’t afford to set off on raids at multiple locations owned by the former finance minister on the basis of a half-baked case, unless it was pursuing the cases with a malafide intent, commonly called a political vendetta.
Chidambaram, on his part, has been crying foul for a long time. The Congress has been accusing the Modi government of “political witch hunting”, not just in this case but all other cases of alleged corruption concerning its top party leaders — these include the National Herald cases involving Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi where they are out on bail and the dubious land deals of Robert Vadra.
The Congress’ political witch hunting charge has not been sustainable in the National Herald case and Vadra land deal cases because the volume of evidence in the public domain is so substantive that no one who has gone through even parts of this evidence would be inclined to consider the innocence of the Nehru-Gandhi family members.
The problem for Chidambaram is even worse than the one faced by the Gandhis. The charges of wrongdoing against him are not of the NDA government’s creation. He and his son have been in the eye of suspicion for their alleged roles in the Aircel-Maxis deal, FIPB clearance for INX Media and other such cases even when the UPA government was in power. It is anybody’s guess how the investigation process will proceed if the charges were made against the boss of the home and finance ministries.
The timing of the CBI raids at Chidambaram’s homes is such that he will have to fight his own battle, without much support from the Congress. As it stands, the Congress top brass is busy protecting Sonia and Rahul in the National Herald case, in which besides the main case of cheating and misappropriation of public money, acquiring real estate worth Rs 2,000 crore that belonged to the defunct print media outlet, the Income Tax Department is now allowed by the high court ask to scrutinise party books.
It’s not yet certain as to what the CBI has secured from Chidambaram’s homes and elsewhere. The CBI may or may not make that public. It depends on how much the CBI wants to reveal in the public domain. But the former finance minister must have seen it coming. There have been so many reports, so many notices and also searches by various central investigative agencies to firms purportedly linked to Karti.
Last month, the Enforcement Directorate had issued a statement saying that “a show cause notice has been issued to Advantage Strategic Consulting Private Limited, its directors and also to Karti P Chidambaram who appears to be the controller and ultimate beneficiary in these transactions.”
This notice was for an alleged Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) violation to the tune of Rs 45 crore. The firm Advantage Strategic Consulting Private Limited had come under the ED’s lens over money laundering charges in the Aircel-Maxis deal.A similar notice had also been issued in the case to Chennai-based M/s Vasan Health Care Private Limited for alleged forex violation of Rs 2,262 crore. Earlier, the ED had carried out searches in the premises of Advantage Strategic Consultants Private Limited and others.
Interestingly, no Congress leader was seen on television channels defending Chidambaram, at least by around 10 am, but the support for him ironically came from the Samajwadi Party. It’s an open question as to why the Samajwadi Party began defending charges against a senior Congress leader since morning, even before the facts of the case were available.
The Samajwadi Party perhaps was concerned about the fate of its own leaders. Lalu Prasad Yadav, his sons (deputy Chief minister Tejwashwi and minister Tej Pratap) and daughter (Rajya Sabha MP Misa Bharti) have a lot to explain about shell companies, alleged fraudulent transactions, land-grabbing and so on. Mayawati has not come up with any valid explanation for her former Number Two Nasimuddin Siddiqui’s money extortion charge against her. Siddiqui’s tapes are a fit case to be probed by investigative agencies. Mamata has own share of problems in Sharada and Narada cases. Arvind Kejriwal has been put on mute mode by Kapil Mishra, former Delhi government minister. Kejriwal faces serious charges of corruption, nepotism, cronyism and favouritism.
Unfortunately for the Congress and its potential UPA-3 allies, the charges against them are flowing thick and fast at a time when Sonia was trying to stitch together Opposition unity for presidential and vice-presidential elections. Under the circumstances, what credibility Opposition unity and the combined Opposition presidential candidate will have in the public eye is easy to guess.
This also comes at a time when BJP is preparing to celebrate the Modi government’s completion of three years in power at the Centre. This surely will be one of the main talking points — “war against corruption” — by the BJP. Three years ago, in the run-up to parliamentary elections, Modi used to sarcastically call Chidamabaram a “recounting minister”. Will there now be a new nomenclature for the former finance minister by the BJP?