Opinion Op Ed 23 Aug 2019 Chidambaram’s ...
The writer is a Delhi-based journalist and author. His latest book is RSS: Icons Of The Indian Right.

Chidambaram’s arrest: Govt sends a clear signal, may be first of many

Published Aug 23, 2019, 8:00 am IST
Updated Aug 23, 2019, 8:00 am IST
The legality of the arrest will of course be questioned, but by then a political purpose will have been served.
Former Union home and finance minister P. Chidambaram
 Former Union home and finance minister P. Chidambaram

After eluding the CBI for ___ days, former ___ minister ___ was arrested by the probe agency in the ___ case shortly after he made a dramatic appearance at a ___ party briefing.

This is not the first time that a sentence like the one above would have been used in the Indian media to describe dramatic events as on Wednesday night, when after more than a day’s suspense, former Union home and finance minister P. Chidambaram allowed himself to be arrested. The procedures followed by the CBI and other agencies are part of the standard operating procedure of every administration of the past. Sadly, there is little indication that similar methods shall not be used in future. But this certainly shows that the BJP is no longer a “party with a difference” when it comes to political morality and ethics. The difference being just in ideology, the commitment to which remains supreme and thereby justifies every tactic deployed.

 

From the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi was declared the BJP’s PM nominee in 2013, he paid back the Congress and other parties in the same coin, calling them names mirroring tags that they previously affixed on Mr Modi. If he was “maut ka saudagar”, or merchant of death, for Sonia Gandhi in 2007, Mr Modi used a string of political expletives, most famously in the last Lok Sabha polls, branding the entire Opposition leadership as being out on bail. He said that in five years, between 2014 and 2019, he pushed them to the dehleej, or doorway, of jails. If the people gave him another tenure, he promised to throw them inside.

P. Chidambaram’s arrest shows the process has started. In the coming months one can expect the arrest of several other leaders, and their family members, on charges of alleged corruption. Perhaps even abetment to suicide, or murder! The difference between these cyclical arrests is that while there was no previous history of personal enmity between the leaders of the UPA and the NDA, the arrest of Mr Chidambaram is unambiguously retributive. Now a personal feud is being veiled with the smokescreen of public service. If bringing the corrupt to book was indeed a resolve of the Narendra Modi government, why has no action been initiated against BJP leaders like Shivraj Singh Chouhan and others and their family members against whom allegations have been levelled in the past five years? Such questions are normal for governments which are in office courtesy wafer-thin margins, but not when governments are shielded by massive mandates. So do huge mandates and stable governments undermine the democratic quotient of the nation?

Folklore evolves, adding new narratives. The “midnight knock” has proverbial character in India — describing when Indira Gandhi’s regime acted stealthily one June night in 1975. Likewise, scenes from Wednesday night, telecast live on television, will remain embossed. Given the political divide in India, the CBI officers who scaled the walls of Mr Chidambaram’s house in New Delhi’s posh Jor Bagh enclave will be painted as tinseltown characters with superhuman abilities. For others, the entire day was little more than a display of State might. Unfortunately, the judiciary too played a part in the twisted pursuit of justice. There was no justification for Justice N.V. Ramana’s refusal to issue any order on Mr Chidambaram’s petition. He left himself open to accusations of being politically motivated because on August 16 he overturned a Delhi high court order granting bail to Bhushan Steel’s former chief financial officer and director. Additionally, the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court’s registrar too listed the matter for Friday, although there is a history of urgent hearings in several cases. Mr Chidambaram’s plea certainly merited a hearing. Whenever strongarm tactics have been used by the State or its representatives, the judiciary has always been the last resort for people. But trust in the courts will be severely undermined if senior judges allow their opinion to cloud decisions.

The legality of the arrest will of course be questioned, but by then a political purpose will have been served. The intention is not to argue that there is no case against Mr Chidamabaram; political corruption in India has been a part of the Indian political system since time immemorial. The worry is that when a government denies probing accusations against members of their party and contends that only rival leaders have engaged in corruption.

Additional concerns arise when the processes of law are denied and action resembles a vendetta. No one is opposed to pursuing charges of corruption against key members and connected businesses of the previous government, but in this case at least, much of the evidence is based on the disclosures of a person who stands accused of murdering her own daughter. Without doubt, Indrani Mukerjea has a significant credibility deficiency. By banking on her testimony to “fix” Mr Chidambaram and his Lok Sabha MP son Karti, the government has done no service to Mr Modi’s commitment to Atal Behari Vajpayee — of following “rajdharma”.

In every action of this government it is important to assess three variants — the timing, purpose and process. On the first factor, the government wishes to “log major accomplishments” within the first 100 days of being in power to project the image that in its second coming, it is more combative and resolute. Mr Chidambaram’s arrest, meant to indicate the government is not shying away from pursuing corruption charges against the seniormost leaders of the Opposition, adds to the list of the legislation on triple talaq, the amendment to UAPA, scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and its separate constitution. Given the state of economy, which logic says should have been the first issue to address, it is evident that these issues are being propped up to deflect public attention from people’s real concerns.

The purpose once again is to gain further political ascendance and like always, the process, as displayed by honourable Supreme Court judges and CBI officials, was shortcircuited. The Modi government may score brownie points and provide an opportunity to its supporters to cheer, but has done little for democracy’s health and truly targeting corruption in high places.

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