The recent multicity raids by the CBI on numerous properties belonging to former home and finance minister P Chidambaram and his son Karti Chidambaram aren’t really surprising given how the saga has unfolded since mid-2015. Although this latest bout of raids specifically pertains to charges of illegally granting FIPB permissions to INX Media, it’s only a continuation of sorts.
It’s equally unsurprising to those who have followed P Chidambaram’s political trajectory even with superficial interest. And it’s here that we can begin.
When we briefly recall the days when the two-term UPA government had touched the pinnacle of political power, we can’t but help notice the chequered careers and altering clout of those who wielded authority by virtue of being in Sonia Gandhi’s inner circle.
During the two terms, this inner circle resembled a musical chair of the waxing and waning political fortunes of those who inhabited it.
At one time, there were the formidable Natwar Singh, Ambika Soni, BK Hariprasad, Margaret Alva, and Oscar Fernandes among others. Some of them soon went out of favour to be replaced by Digvijaya Singh, Kapil Sibal, AK Antony, and Ghulam Nabi Azad. There was also the ubiquitous and all-powerful Ahmed Patel still considered Sonia Gandhi’s Man Friday who never went out of favour.
But it was truly P Chidambaram who stood out as a separate power centre in his own right with his deft understanding of and manoeuvring around the said inner circle and also for reasons best described by Rajeev Srinivasan in Firstpost:
The formidably intelligent P Chidambaram has always been one of the most enigmatic politicians in India. I have long felt that he is the one person nobody in India would dare to speak up against That is because he clearly exudes authority (and of course that fearsome intelligence). Whether he is in power…or out…he has an aura about him. No, you don’t cross him lightly. He has charisma, and he was by far the most powerful person in Sonia’s regime. Besides, as a Chettiar, he has inherited a millennium worth of astuteness.
It can be argued that Chidambaram’s political trajectory came of age when as finance minister in the United Front government, he announced the Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme (VDIS), which the CAG characterised as “abusive and a fraud on the genuine taxpayers of the country.”
But a brief rewind is in order before we proceed. Remember Fairgrowth Financial Services? While Chidambaram held 15,000 shares, his wife Nalini had also invested in it. When Fairgrowth prominently figured in the infamous Securities Scam of 1992, it rocked Parliament, and as the then commerce minister, he had to step down.
Back then, the contemporary phenomenon of labyrinthine shell companies was perhaps non-existent or still in its infancy, and so the phrase, "linkages by association" was used to describe the web of corporate relationships. The Janakiraman Committee’s reports of 1992-93 exposed the nexus between Andhra Bank Financial Services and Fairgrowth also noting “gross irregularities by four foreign banks and Fairgrowth.”
And in our own time, revelations that Karti Chidambaram “holds benami assets globally”, and the series of exposes unearthed by journalist and chartered accountant S Gurumurthy simply point to a continuation of the pervasive trend in Indian politics of profiting from political office.
It’s also relevant to trace the timeline and revelations of investigations into Karti Chidambaram:
• In April 2015 the Bangalore offices of Sequoia Capital were raided as part of an investigation into Vasan Healthcare, one of Karti Chidambaram’s investments.
• In August 2015, the ED interrogated the directors Advantage Strategic Consulting controlled by Karti Chidambaram in connection with the Aircel-Maxis deal.
• But it was the series of the aforementioned exposes in September-October 2015 in the New Indian Express that really escalated these investigations.
• These eventually led to the ED seizing Karti Chidambaram’s laptops, documents, and files in December 2015.
• Between February through May 2016, a slew of raids and probes were launched to uncover a series of financial irregularities ranging from benami transactions to widespread, global money laundering.
• And now the latest multicity raids involving his deals with INX Media.
At a cynical level, while it’s true that Chidambaram “may survive graft allegations”, the revelations from all these raids and investigations have shown in sickening detail the extent of the so-called "crony capitalism". To put it accurately, it is financial subversion on a national, if not global scale. Sample the cast of characters involved: Aircel Televenutres, DCB Client, Diageo Scotland Limited, ITC Centre, Carlton Trading Company, VST Tillers Tractors, Essar Steel, and INX Media among others.
And so, it appears incredible for P Chidambaram to claim on each occasion that he’s a victim of a political vendetta when he and his son have themselves apparently left behind a significant trail, which the agencies are only bringing to light. The alternative scenario question to ask is: what if P Chidambaram had returned as finance minister in a hypothetical Congress victory in 2014?
Purely at the level of politics, the raids on Chidambaram, Lalu Prasad Yadav, and a slew of similar crackdowns since 2014 might be interpreted as delivering on the promise on which Narendra Modi had campaigned: of punishing corruption during the UPA regimes.
Indeed, the strain of discourse especially where it involves scrutiny of the Nehru dynasty seems to be this: if a non-Congress government investigates the misdeeds of past Congress regimes, it’s termed as a political vendetta. If it doesn’t then the said non-Congress government is dubbed as going soft on corruption.
In this light, it appears that the Narendra Modi government seems to have learnt from the way the Morarji Desai government, in indecent haste, messed up the investigations into the excesses of the Emergency, for instance.
This isn’t just about the Modi government or political witch hunts or the like. Had it even been a non-Congress and non-Modi government, it is in the national interest for every government—as custodians and upholders of the Constitution—to uncover such wrongdoings and bring the guilty to book.
India as a nation has suffered for a whopping seventy years of dynasty patronage, regionalism, and every sort of corruption that emanates from it.
Published Date: May 17, 2017 21:22 PM | Updated Date: May 17, 2017 21:22 PM