At around 5 pm on Tuesday, P Chidambaram smiled as he walked out of the Supreme Court premises. His swagger was such that to an ordinary onlooker, it would have seemed that he had just won a major case for himself or his client, and was happily going away to attend to his next engagement. But the situation couldn't be more different: The apex court had just denied an urgent hearing of his plea to restrict the CBI and Enforcement Directorate from arresting him, and an hour prior, the Delhi High Court had called him the "kingpin or key conspirator" in the INX Media case.
Since then, the former finance and home minister has gone missing.
It's difficult to speculate what made him smile under these circumstances. But given previous experience, one may think that it reflected the arrogance of a man who for for 10 years — 2004 to 2014 in the UPA regime — believed that his command was law and made investigative agencies sing to his tune. He also sought to portray himself and the Manmohan Singh government as secular saviours of the country. He didn't mind rubbing the likes of Digvijaya Singh — the one-time political guru of Rahul Gandhi — the wrong way and earning the title of "intellectually arrogant" from him.
He had been chairman of multiple groups of ministers, his intellect, his acumen and his articulation was admired and trusted by the Congress' first family. By the time he became finance minister in July 2012 after Pranab Mukherjee moved from the finance ministry to Rashtrapati Bhawan, Chidambaram's authority on all issues relating to government was supreme. His ministerial colleagues were eager to look for his guidance, approval and support. Off-the-record stories were told about his son Karti and possibly his complicity, but his stature and aura was such that everything remained brushed under the carpet.
For a long time, Chidambaram has avoided arrest by seeking and securing bail from court, but Tuesday was a different day for him. The Delhi High Court made observations against him and tore his political vendetta defence to pieces: "Preposterous to say case is politically motivated and an act of vendetta… Economic crimes of such mammoth scale are planned and executed… gravity of charges demands denial of pre-arrest bail to him... Facts prima facie reveal petitioner is kingpin or key conspirator."
The court also said this was a classic case of money laundering and the grant of bail would send a wrong message in society and while he was under the protective cover of the court (from arrest), he was evasive in his replies to investigative agencies.
The future course of action will depend on how the Supreme Court takes up this matter, but the implications of Tuesday's development will leave their imprint on the Congress, on the Narendra Modi government's war against corruption and most importantly, the fallibility of the high and mighty for their alleged involvement in corruption. Chidambaram's fall may trigger panic among the elites of the political and social ecosystem, where some believed in perpetual immunity against the law, no matter how grave their offence, economic or otherwise.
This will also hurting the Congress' first family — Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Rahul has gone on record and on many occasions publicly said how when he needed sage advice or needed to learn something more meaningful he turned to Chidambaram. After demonetisation, the first person Rahul called was him, for instance. The other problem for the Gandhi family is that if Chidambaram can fall from grace, there could be real signs of worry for Robert Vadra, Sonia's son-in-law.
Updated Date: Aug 21, 2019 10:29:25 IST