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25 August, 2019 00:00 00 AM
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A déjà vu moment

The Congress is currently leaving no stone unturned to bail out their erstwhile minister
KUMKUM CHADHA
A déjà vu moment

Things seem to have come full circle for former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram. His arrest when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-hand man Amit Shah is the country’s Home Minister is kind of deja’ vu. More than the facts of the case or whether the arrest was right or wrong, fingers are being pointed at Shah for settling a score and doing to Chidambaram what was done to him nearly a decade ago.

Amit Shah was arrested in Sohrabuddin encounter case in 2010. P. Chidambaram was the home minister when CBI arrested Shah and got him externed from Gujarat. BJP had then accused Chidambaram of misusing CBI: a charge Congress is levelling now.

Calling it “political vendetta”, against  Chidambaram, the Congress is currently leaving no stone unturned to bail out their erstwhile minister who during the UPA regime was very powerful. During the 10 years of UPA rule, he held important  portfolios of Home and Finance among others.  

Rewind to when Amit Shah , then a minister in the state of Gujarat, was being investigated in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case. Sohrabuddin was a wanted criminal with around 60 pending cases when he was allegedly killed in police custody in 2005.

Allegations were levelled that the encounter was staged after getting the nod from Amit Shah, who was the state’s home minister. The case, on the direction of the Supreme Court, was transferred to the CBI in January 2010. P Chidambaram was the Union home minister at the time.

Within six months, Shah was arrested by the CBI in the Sohrabuddin encounter case and slapped with charges of murder, extortion and kidnapping. When he applied for bail, the CBI opposed the move in the Gujarat High Court arguing that Amit Shah might use his political influence to tamper with the evidence or threaten witnesses: a kind of replay of what the law enforcing agencies are saying now for Chidambaram.

When Shah managed to get bail from the Gujarat High Court after three months, the CBI approached the Supreme Court which externed Amit Shah from Gujarat: his home state. Amit Shah was barred from entering Gujarat for two years -- 2010 to 2012.

Amit Shah had then accused Chidambaram and the Congress of misusing the CBI to target political opponents. It was only in 2014, after the Modi government came to power that Shah got a clean chit. The BJP had gone to town over Shah’s innocence and alleged harassment by the Congress led government.

The shoe is on the other foot now with Congress saying now what the BJP had said then. It is but an irony that Chidambaram was arrested when Shah is Union Home Minister and Shah was behind bars when Chidambaram was heading the Home Ministry.  

The CBI functions under the Home Ministry and despite its claims of autonomy can and often does take orders from the Home Ministry.

So what is the case against Chidambaram?

Chidambaram is being probed by two investigating agencies for alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearances to a media group for getting overseas funds amounting to around Rs 305 crore. This was when he was the finance minister in the UPA-I government.

The INX Media case relates to investment of foreign funds in the company to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007. This investment was done in violation of the conditions set by the foreign investment promotion board (FIPB).

The Enforcement Directorate or ED in May 2017 had lodged a report against Chidambaram's son Karti Chidambaram, INX Media and its directors, Peter and Indrani Mukerjea, along with a couple of others under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). Incidentally Indrani Mukerjea is in jail on charges of murdering her daughter. She has since turned approver. Mukerjea had prayed for pardon in the case in exchange of full and true disclosure.

Based on the information provided by the ED, the CBI subsequently filed an FIR against the accused, alleging irregularities in the FIPB clearance granted to INX Media in 2007 for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs 305 crore when Chidambaram was the finance minister.

In March 2007, INX Media had approached Chairman of FIPB, seeking permission for issuing equity shares to three non-resident investors based in Mauritius through the foreign direct investment (FDI) route. This money, according to the FIR, was sought for creating and operating a number of television channels. The application to the FIPB also mentioned its intention to "make a downstream financial investment to the extent of 26 per cent of the issued and outstanding equity share capital of INX News Private Limited".

A few months later, the FIPB board approved INX's proposal, specifically an FDI/NRI inflow of Rs 4.62 crore, but did not approve the proposed downstream investment. So the FIR primarily alleged that "INX Media deliberately and in violations of the conditions and approval" went ahead with the downstream investment and generated FDI exceeding Rs 305 crore in the company "by issuing shares to foreign investors at a premium of more than Rs 800 per share" between August 2007 and May 2008.

When the Income Tax Department sought clarification on the above in February 2008, INX Media allegedly sought to wriggle out of the mess by offering kickbacks to Karti to leverage on his family name to scuttle the probe.

Indrani Mukerjea and her husband Peter Mukerjea, who co-founded INX Media in 2007, had been charged with entering into a criminal conspiracy with the Chidambarams to get foreign investments and evade punitive measures for not having the necessary approvals from the

FIPB.

Indrani Mukerjea had in a statement told the CBI that a deal of $1 million was struck between Karti Chidambaram and the Mukerjeas to secure approval from the FIPB in favour of INX Media.

Troubles mounted for the former Union minister early this week  after the Delhi High Court refused to give him protection from arrest in INX Media case. He was arrested amid high drama and sent to custody till August 26.

The Supreme Court however  granted him interim protection  from arrest by the Enforcement Directorate till Monday. Mr Chidambaram is already in CBI custody till then in the INX Media case.

While it is no one’s case that the guilty should not be booked or the Government should go soft on defaulters, the issue here is that the charge of political vendetta seems to have overtaken the facts and made it a me versus youbattle.

 Comparisons are also being drawn between the vendetta politics of the Janata regime when Charan Singh, then Union Home minister, was hell bent on sending Indira Gandhi who had lost power post Emergency, to jail. This, it was believed, was  to settle scores because Charan Singh was jailed during the Emergency by Indira Gandhi. So when his turn came, Singh did not want to let it pass. Ofcourse the move got sympathy for Indira Gandhi and the politics of vendetta unleashed by the Janata Government worked to her advantage: she became a martyr overnight.

History is unlikely to repeat itself in this case: times have changed and Chidambaram is not Indira Gandhi. Yet the BJP government needs to tread with caution and be sure footed.

Investigations where ever necessary are in order; if the law has been violated, then it must take its course, criminals must be brought to book and the guilty punished. But hastening an arrest and indiscriminately throwing people behind bars may raise questions about the correctness of the decision.  It is in this context that the Modi government can take lessons and learn from the past and not let allegations of political vendetta besmear it.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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