The manner and timing of Karti Chidambaram's arrest are such that the CBI has made it easy for the Congress to claim a witch-hunt and political vendetta against one of its top leaders and former finance minister P Chidambaram.
Consider the timing. The Budget Session of Parliament resumes on Monday and the Opposition has its knives sharpened and ready to attack the Narendra Modi government on diamond billionaire Nirav Modi's flight from India.
Then, there's the Rafale fighter deal on which the Congress has demanded answers to a set of six questions on pricing and other details of the agreement that have remained shrouded in secrecy.
The government's defence on both has been fumbling and unconvincing. Worried that it was fast losing the perception battle, it needed a quick fix issue to ward off the impending storm in Parliament.
Now, consider the manner. Karti had gone to the United Kingdom for business with permission from the Madras High Court. He returned on the assigned date. It can be argued that instead of coming back, he could have taken a leaf out of Nirav's book and disappeared somewhere in Europe.
Karti has already gone through two rounds of intensive interrogation by the CBI. There was no further summons from the agency since last August. Does he look like a risky proposition as the CBI has claimed? Yet, investigators swooped down on him as he landed at Chennai airport and whisked him away, alleging non-cooperation and attempts to influence the probe.
Join the dots and the picture that emerges suggests that Karti's arrest has more to do with politics than the actual case against him. In their haste to shore up the government's defences before Parliament begins, the CBI's keystone cops may have ended up giving the Congress more ammunition than it deserves to fire at the Modi government at a time when the latter is already on the backfoot on the economy and rising social tensions.
Questions abound about Karti's activities during his father P Chidambaram's reign as the UPA government's finance minister. In fact, BJP MP Subramanium Swamy has been at the forefront of the attack against the father-son duo on issues ranging from influencing FIPB approvals for Aircel-Maxis and INX Media to amassing properties abroad. Only a thorough probe can establish whether these allegations are true or false.
It defies belief that a government that rode to power on a wave of public disgust against scams associated with ten years of UPA rule chose to drag its feet on investigating those scandals. It has taken four years to arrest Karti. Not only does the evidence against him look pretty thin at the moment, the INX Media case, on which the CBI picked him up, is small change compared to the other charges against the Chidambarams.
The "bribe" that was supposed to have been paid to Karti by the then owners of INX Media, Peter and Indrani Mukerjea, was less than Rs four crore. And the CBI has been able to establish a money trail for just Rs 10 lakh. The amount is almost laughable considering we're looking at sums running into thousands of crores in the PNB scam involving Nirav, who managed to slip away from under this very government's nose.
And let's not forget that the Mukerjeas are in jail, facing trial for the murder of Indrani's daughter Sheena Bora and for money-laundering and fraud during their years at INX Media. The court will have to establish the credibility of the statements they have made, implicating the Chidambarams.
But why just Karti? In four years, there has been no action against Robert Vadra whose land deals were a major pillar of the BJP’s campaign against the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Nor has the government dared to initiate action against the Gandhis despite hurling corruption charges at them almost on a daily basis.
Even in the National Herald case, the prosecution did not oppose the court's decision to grant the Gandhi mother and son bail.
There is just one year left for the next General Election in which the Modi government will be on trial, not the Congress as in 2014 despite the BJP's desperate efforts to rake up old history and forgotten sins. While it is true that no corruption scandal has hit the present regime in four years, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the government to live down queries about the disappearance of Lalit Modi, Vijay Mallya, Nirav and Mehrul Choksi under its watch.
Unless the government is able to show some decisive action against those who have scammed taxpayers' money, its anti-corruption plank will not hold up much longer. Karti's arrest, with all its loose ends, looks more and more like a last-ditch move by a defensive government to restore dwindling public faith in its image as an anti-corruption crusader.
Updated Date: Mar 01, 2018 19:32 PM