Former union minister P. Chidambaram being taken to court by CBI officials | PTI
Former union minister P. Chidambaram being taken to court by CBI officials | PTI
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Like many fellow Indians, I spent much of the last evening riveted to the small screen as the drama of P. Chidambaram’s arrest by the CBI unfolded. Indeed, as his son Karti lamented, “The drama and spectacle being enacted by the agencies is to simply sensationalise and satisfy the voyeuristic pleasure of some.” It would be hard to deny the considerable voyeuristic pleasure, if not compelling attraction, of the dramatic proceedings, broadcast live on the telly.

As we know, ‘PC,’ as P. Chidambaram is popularly known, had disappeared for the last 27 hours, giving the enforcement agencies a harrowing time and keeping the media and interested onlookers on tenterhooks. When he did surface, PC did so at the AICC headquarters, at a hastily convened press conference. Of course, as it turned out, it was no press conference. PC read out a prepared statement and brooked no questions after he finished. He was flanked by the two legal luminaries-cum-leaders of the Congress party, Kapil Sibal on his left and Abhishek Manu Singhvi on his right.

PC, however, looked perfectly relaxed; his unctuous countenance barely bore a crease. Sang froid under stress? His statement was not only well-crafted, but the model of persuasion, moderation, and legal acumen. The former home minister and finance minister of India stated that he was not absconding from the law, but seeking its protection. He claimed to have spent all of the previous night working out his legal defence in consultation with his lawyers.

Moreover, he emphasised that two of the most important and cherished values of the Indian Constitution, as enshrined in Article 21, were life and liberty. He boldly stated that he preferred the latter to the former, in a manner almost reminiscent of Patrick Henry’s famous statement in 1775, ‘Give me liberty or give me death’.

Soon after, PC got into a car and departed for an unknown destination. The reporters tailing him were full of speculations. Would he, once again, give the authorities the slip? No, no such thing happened. PC was seen entering the premises of his own home, in upmarket Jor Bagh, New Delhi, accompanied by Singhvi and Sibal. All three entered through the front door and disappeared inside the house.

For a good 10-15 minutes his would-be captors, the CBI and ED, were nowhere to be seen. As the gates to his mansion closed, the reporters were agog once again with questions. Would he sneak out from the back door, once again flummoxing the authorities? Of course that would have contradicted his own statement a few minutes earlier in front of national television that he was not a fugitive from justice. Or, moreover, that the charges levelled against him were ‘lies’, the work of ‘pathological liars’.

At long last, the quite flustered CBI officials showed up at his gate. Finding it bolted from inside, several jumped over the boundary wall. With the gate being opened from inside, the posse chasing him rushed in. More reconnoitred the back entrance in the not too clean and soggy service lane. Several excruciatingly long minutes passed with all the media reporters and experts filling up the airwaves with inconsequential chatter. Then close to 10.45 at night, the nation learnt that PC was finally in custody.

The prize catch was now in the net.


Also read: Chidambaram arrest: Political drama or govt can’t risk it after Mallya, Nirav Modi flight?


As I write this column, the drama over his arrest and interrogation is still unfolding on live TV. PC has just been produced in court. The CBI is asking for a 5-day remand.

Legal experts are opining that this is normal in cases of such gravity. But as we await the outcome of the hearing, it is time to step back and reflect on the happenings of the last 18 hours.

Is Chidambaram’s arrest a turning point in Indian politics? Most certainly, yes. It is not just the optics or sonics, but the deeper ramifications of these events that should concern us. If the whispers in Lutyens’ Delhi were to be believed, PC was ‘untouchable’. Not only had the courts already granted him protection from arrest for some 15 months, but being a part of the ‘deep state’ he was thought to enjoy special legal and judicial immunity.

Years of cultivating key members of the bureaucracy, judiciary, captains of business and industry, besides having access to almost unlimited financial and political clout, PC was the quintessential representative of the Congress culture. He was India’s Mr Teflon to whom no charge or scandal could stick. Even as irrepressible and ferret-like adversary as the determined Subramanian Swamy was unable to bring him to book. Some had boasted that the aforementioned three lawyer-leaders of the Congress could alone bring the Indian judicial system to a standstill – whether it was the Ayodhya or the National Herald cases.

All this has changed overnight, the new normal is nobody is above the law. The determination of the Narendra Modi government to close the dragnet on its political opponents, who are also legal offenders, has been demonstrated as never before, that too on live TV.

Will the Gandhis themselves be the next in the firing line?

Only time will tell if PC is convicted. But, in the ultimate analysis, that matters little.

A loud and clear message has been sent out that the Modi-Shah duo will not only fight to the finish, but go for the jugular. The silver lining for their opponents is that both sides appear to have faith in the Indian legal and judicial system. This the world will certainly watch and appreciate. India, a fully functioning state, is demonstrably capable of upholding the rule of law.

This is bound to increase the trust between the ruled and the rulers.


Also read: On KBC, Amitabh Bachchan asks about pressure cooker, and media puts Chidambaram in it


The author is a Professor and Director at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His views are personal. His Twitter handle is @makrandparanspe.

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31 Comments Share Your Views

31 COMMENTS

  1. Hahahaha.. you’re kidding!! What you really mean is, that everyone in the BJP is above the law.. no one else is!!

    For proof, do consider how the CBI has tackled the Unnao rape case. Or, how Reliance became an institute of eminence even without having an institute!!

  2. Author is on the defensive even before he started to write the article. He is not sure in Chidambaram will be convicted. Why? Amit Shah was saved becuase Govts changed. Why will Chidambaram be saved , Govt will anyways not change. He will not be convicted because the arrest was for Amit Shah’s voyeurism . Why did he write the article ? Like Karti Jay Shah has no skills. How does he make 540 cr in 2 years !!

  3. 1. No one knows what one’s destiny is: that is only conclusion one can arrive at after reading about money-laundering case against former Union Home ministers P Chidambaram. 2. It is obviously necessary for leaders of the Congress party, which enjoyed power for so many years, to accept bitter truth that for illegal acts of omission and commission of past, they will be questioned. 2. Hence, I am unable to understand why Smt Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal chief minister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Congress Spokesperson Randeep Surjewala are making accusations of vindictive action by the Central government against former Union Home Minister P Chidambaram. 3. It is necessary that if there is prima facie evidence to show that an individual (even if he is a former Union Home minister and currently an MP) has committed an illegal act and is apparently involved in money-laundering, he has to face scrutiny and if he is found guilty of by the Trial Courts, he will be awarded appropriate punishment for his illegal act of commission and omission. In the instant case P Chidambaram has a right to appeal and no one has taken away such a right. Then what is the fuss about?

  4. We are so used to the failure of our legal system that you are already suggesting that it doesn’t matter whether he is convicted or not. Cases take decades beset by delays, higher court interference during the trials, and incompetence. Nobody really believes that a 73 year old man will see the end of this case. So it becomes a public relations exercise. What we need are the actual details of the case. Was there a relationship between Chidambaram’s son and the Mukherjees? Under what circumstances was permission granted and the re-granted? Is this normal? What happens when you get approval for a certain amount of investment and then your needs change? How onerous are the regulations – is compliance even possible in our labyrinth of convoluted rules? As things stand, those who support Congress feel it is political while those who support BJP feel it is a crime. But nobody is looking at the details. There is no reason, why this case should not be settled by the weight of the evidence instead of political biases. An investigative media can make that evidence available now instead of waiting for 20 years in the courts.. Sadly, not one major news outlet is doing anything other than fan the flames of partisanship and that is harming governance.

  5. Absconded person won’t come back like Nirav, Mehul, Mallya etc. So let the case be taken to its logical end and if he is found guilty, PC should be punished and it dose not mean whe some one join ruling party, he should be given clean certificate. Rafael is indeed a dubious deal, the party did get money.

  6. It’s foolish argue whether modi is right or wrong, or its politically motivated act. Truth is this this so called chidambaram is nothing but a thug working as advised by another wretched fake (gandhi) Nehru family..

  7. Only the person taking money from Modi can say going inside the house from a press conference is called as disappeared
    “All three entered through the front door and disappeared inside the house”

  8. If that indeed is the new norm under Modi – Shah, then let Mr Modi take personal initiative to restart the Rafale case from where it inexplicably went cold, to prove that even the PM is not above law. If experts in IAF were sidelined and the PMO started running parallel evaluations and decision-making, which is when Anil Ambani entered the frame, then let everyone know who was taking decisions at the PMO. Or, if Anil Ambani was recommended by the IAF evaluation committee itself, then that too should be told.

    What is being passed off as a grand-sounding line, that no one is above law, is plainly a display of political vendetta. It is very easy to say so: because each and every case is about leaders in the opposition. There is NOT EVEN ONE CASE against a BJP leader or any of its allies.

      • Yes, I checked the link. Thanks for it. Shiv Aroor the writer of the article is a heard name on TV. My few comments are, as I gleaned through the long writeup with many embedded links:
        1) for airframe, electronics, software etc services related to Indian contribution to the manufacturing of Rafale in India, there are NOT 30 BUT MORE THAN 80 NAMES. From this, it becomes difficult to ascertain what could be the meaning of the phrase, “30 offset partners”. There is no list given with such a title. Are some of those 80 odd names mere decoys?
        2) yes, there are some impressive and reassuring names there like, L&T, Mahendras, Godrej & Boyce, Triveni Turbine, etc. But if they were substantial names in the whole scheme of things, then AK Naik of L&T, or Anand Mahendra, or Ratan Tata should have been a part of Mr Modi’s entourage when he went to discuss/buy Rafale. What was Anil Ambani doing there, in all foreign trips with the PM, related to Rafale?
        3) there were persistent critiques on the subject of 30 offset partners and Anil Ambani. Government statements, and Arun Jaitley himself clearly said in the parliament that, “Anil Ambani was only one of the 30”, or some words to that effect. If the others on the list included illustrious names mentioned above, WHY WERE THEY NOT MENTIONED EVEN ONCE?
        4) Was Anil Ambani supposed to be the linchpin of the whole offset thing, subcontracting to giants like L&T, and that’s why others name were not thought to be necessary to be mentioned? If so, what was Anil Ambani’s experience and expertise to orchestrate such a high tech job?
        5) there was also a mention in those days that some company of Anil Ambani mentioned a figure of 30,000 CRORES in its balancesheet as regard to Rafale. What was that all about?

        While checking one of the embedded links, I came across this startling detail (quoted verbatim) :
        “It is clear now that arguments against the small number of aircraft opted for by India don’t fully hold. While the Indian Rafale deal doesn’t have an options clause for more aircraft…. The reason is well-known: the Indian Rafale is a strategic delivery weapon for air-delivered nuclear missiles, and therefore doesn’t really count itself in the traditional 42 fighter squadron tally. This is not to suggest that the Rafales won’t perform their roles as a conventional deterrent too (especially given the armament they’re coming with and the location of their two squadrons on the Pakistan and China frontiers), but their unique mission as part of India’s nuclear triad stands clearly defined.”

        So, the MAIN role of Rafale is, ” strategic delivery weapon for air-delivered nuclear missiles”? Is this what Mr Modi went to buy? This is outright frightening! So, we are getting something which is good at hurling atom bombs, but which, “… and therefore doesn’t really count itself in the traditional 42 fighter squadron tally.”!!!!!! How many exclamation marks you want me to put to that, Miss/ Mr. Soho? Mr Modi reduced the number of fighter jets required from 126 to 36 ARBITRARILY, and on top of it he is getting us something which can kill millions by atom bombs all right, but it is not clear if it can perform the duties of an old-fashioned fighter jet or not? Was he buying something for the nation or something for personal pleasure?

        Shiv Aroor’s article is Dated 18 March 2018. In February that year Balakot happened, and all talk about Rafale got drowned in that din. Don’t you think this Rafale deal should now be heard in the courts to figure out what the PM has done, and why?

        • Thanks for this detailed analysis, Sanjiv. Things are becoming more clear now. Yes, the nuclear aspect of these fighters is frightening.

  9. Sir, only two people fighting with corruption on earth,one is Imran khan another is Modi.
    Please provide how many bjp mla or mp is facing corruption cases. Everyone is good in bjp.

  10. New normal should also should be extended to those supporting the ruling party and inside. Also since the matter is subjiduce, any selective leaking from CBI should be taken seriously not only in this case but others as well.

  11. It is important govt the same guts to deal with many who are now inside their party. It was good fortune that the duo managed to escape law because it was human tragedy where proof is difficult to get and only victims would know. Any way if Chidambaram is proved to gulty, he has to face punishment. But selective is not good sign.

  12. This will only be true if our legal and judicial system becomes efficient , completing cases in a timebound manner. Additionally justice needs to not only be done but also seen to be done without fear or favour. No point if the legal system is only used to target opponents. If the government is serious, it needs to start with police reforms , judicial reforms and administrative reforms that will make the system more responsive.

  13. Kapil Sibal is next. He and his lawyer friends in Congress thought they could even impeach Supreme Court judges who did not toe their line.

  14. CBI, NIA need to investigate if P.
    (for Pakistani) Chidamuddin is getting funds from ISI. His language and tone lately very suspicious.

  15. I have not read this in full, but find its title and lead delusional, hypocritical and extremely disingenuous. Nobody’s above the law? Really? Except the duo themselves? What about all the horrific cases that the duo have got away with? Murder of a minister, a judge, the Rafale deal and the murder of thousands of people in a pogrom. That this sycophant is an academic is a symbolic of the shambles India’s academia is in.

      • Holywarrior007: your name says it all. Maybe you are from Afghanistan and taking some drugs? If there was a clear case of corruption it was the Rafale deal. But the duo has hypnotized everyone, including Supreme Court judges.

        You can see the real value of the BJP when you read that people in the rural areas are cutting back on Rs. 5 biscuit packets.

        What the current government will leave behind is similar to what Mao did during the cultural revolution in the 1960s: A wasteland. It took China one or two generations to recover. I don’t know now long India will take to recover.

        • Actually a better analogy to what the current regime will leave India with is Indira Gandhi, a new Hindu rate of growth of 4%.

          • I think it will be worse. Indira Gandhi made a mess of the democratic institutions. The current government is making a mess of everything.

    • Not like we didn’t try. We got defeated in the real courts and in the court of public opinion. I am saying this as a Congress supporter and Modi hater.

    • Yes. Nobody above law. Hope you remember, Amit Shah went through similar situation when PC was Home Minister and have to spend months in jail, finally acquitted without any evidence. And Modi went through multiple hours of questioning for multiple days by CBI and they could not establish anything against him. During those, law was taking it’s due course. Media were hounding them as criminals. Now it has become full circle for Chidambaram. If he is not guilty, why can’t he present himself before CBI for questioning like Modi did before. He abscond for 27 hours and surfaced in Congress head quarters only call a single communication to media and he is innocent and CBI is a pathological liar. What goes up, returns back, with a much bigger force.

    • Sadly our ‘rulers have always been above the law, not only ‘this duo’. More horrific riots have taken place under Congress ruled governments in the past, including in Gujarat, culminating in the 1984 pogrom against Sikhs in the capital of India. Was there any justice for the victims ever. To bring about a permanent change, the government needs political will of the highest order. It would take a complete overhaul of the police , legal and judicial system. Then what the title says will be true. Till then the ‘ruled’ can only hope.

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