When Karti Chidambaram contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Sivaganga, the constituency his father P Chidambaram had represented for seven terms, eyebrows went up. It was seen as an admission of defeat even before the first vote was registered on the EVM.
Why would Chidambaram make his son the sacrificial lamb, when he could have asked any of his loyalists to contest instead, went the argument. The counter to that was Karti would need political cover since raids on him were imminent if the NDA came to power. The Aircel-Maxis case is one of the cases in which his name frequently crops up even though he, tongue in cheek, states that the only connection to Aircel that he has is that he holds a mobile sim card from the service provider.
The allegation against Chidambaram senior is that he permitted Malaysian firm Maxis to acquire 100 percent stake in Aircel through FDI in 2006. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy claimed it was done without following the procedure of sending the FDI proposal to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, though the total worth of the deal was more than Rs 600 crore. The Karti link is that he is alleged to have been involved in the corruption case through Advantage Strategic Consulting, that is owned by a childhood friend. Senior finance ministry bureaucrats have been talking of having a watertight case against Karti.
The Chidambarams have been on the radar for the past three years. They have powerful enemies too, Swamy being one of them. The other was Jayalalithaa, who was at her aggressive best during her public meetings in Sivaganga, exhorting the voters to reject the Chidambaram scion.
Karti, during the poll campaign, had told this writer that the electorate would reject the alphabet soup parties, his sarcastic reference to the likes of AIADMK, MDMK, PMK, DMDK, DMK. But it was the hand that came a cropper. Karti lost his deposit though he was only one of the two Congress candidates to poll more than one lakh votes.
Chidambaram's statement on Tuesday within hours of the CBI raids on multiple locations and the manner in which the Congress reacted, played to script blaming the BJP for using the agencies to silence his voice. Chidambaram alleged that the government was using the CBI and other agencies to target Karti and his friends, with the aim to silence him and stop him from writing.
Karti is a businessman-cum-politician, a combo pack that always leaves a lot of room for suspicion especially if a member of the family is in a politically influential position.
But contrary to what was initially assumed, the CBI raids at the Chidambaram residence and 14 other locations across many cities on Tuesday are not linked to the Aircel-Maxis case. These raids have taken place reportedly taking cognisance of Karti Chidambaram's alleged role in the FIPB clearance of INX Media channels in 2007-08. This group was owned then by Peter Mukherjea and Indrani Mukherjea, both of who are in prison in connection with the Sheena Bora murder case.
Incidentally, the FIR in this case was filed on Monday, listing Karti as the third accused. Also in the dock is Advantage Strategic Consulting.
The leads for this raid seem to have emanated from the investigation into the Sheena Bora murder case. The CBI has been probing into the financial transactions of the Mukherjea couple to see if there was a financial motive in committing the murder. It is being suggested by sources that from that investigation, the dots were connected to Karti Chidambaram's alleged involvement.
The FIR mentions that INX Media was in a difficult situation where the investigation wing of the Income Tax Department was pursuing into a complaint that the company had deliberately violated conditions of FIPB approval. It states that in order to wriggle out of it, "it entered into a criminal conspiracy with Karti Chidambaram'' to get the issues resolved amicably. Subsequently, the "illegal approval" was granted by the finance ministry and it charges that payment of Rs 3.5 crore was made to Karti indirectly through a web of front companies.
Part of the ammunition also comes from Swamy's seven-page letter he wrote to the prime minister alleging that the Chidambarams bought property in the United Kingdom in 2008, with the money he allegedly received as kickbacks from companies for FIPB clearance. Chidambaram's defence is that when there is no allegation against him or the five secretaries to the Government of India who constitute the FIPB, his son is only being targeted deliberately.
The case is in some senses similar to the one against YS Jaganmohan Reddy, where he as the businessman son of the then Andhra chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy, was charged with receiving kickback from companies as quid pro quo for getting contracts from the state government. The problem with establishing that the decision was indeed flawed and the subsequent money trail is that governments can always argue that it was a collective decision - both in Chidambaram and in YSR's case - and that governments routinely give concessions to attract investment.
But at the moment, the Congress chant of a political witch hunt may not get the Chidambarams much sympathy. Their only hope will be to win the legal case where legal luminary Chidambaram may do well to trade his white veshti for the black robe.
What does it do to the Congress? It dents its image as a party offering an alternative and pushes Chidambaram, one of the fiercest and most articulate critics of the government's demonetisation move, on the backfoot.
As far as Karti, a tennis buff and administrator, is concerned, it is certainly not 'Advantage Chidambaram' at this stage of the match.
Updated Date: May 16, 2017 14:09 PM