Senior Indian National Congress leader Palaniappan Chidambaram cancelled his engagements in England and returned to Delhi immediately after arriving at London’s Heathrow airport on Wednesday morning when he heard of his son Karti’s arrest by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Chennai the same morning.
Chidambaram and his former Cabinet colleague Salman Khurshid travelled together. Among his engagements was a debate at the high profile Oxford Union on the motion “This House Regrets the Partition of India” on Thursday evening. An observer described the former Indian finance minister as looking “extremely distraught”. This was soon after he came to know about Karti’s detention. He then decided he was not going to proceed with his programme and instead rushed back home on the first available flight to support his son.
The Chidambarams have been targeted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from the time the father was still a minister in the Congress-led government that preceded the current dispensation. Having succeeded in painting them as corrupt in the perception of a section of the public and thereby also portrayed the Congress as generally corrupt, the BJP intensified its pursuit of them after winning power in 2014. However, even after four years of relentlessly accosting them and kangaroo trials by media, it has so far failed to bring a charge against them.
Last week, P Chidambaram approached the Supreme Court of India seeking protection of his fundamental rights under articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, including the right to privacy, amid repeated summons to Karti and raids by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with cases related to Arcel-Maxis and INX Media. A first information report filed by the CBI in May 2017, had claimed irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board’s decision to allow INX Media to receive funds of Rs 3.05 billion in 2007 from outside India.
In his application, he sought to “defend his right to privacy and the right to live, along with members of his family, in dignity”. He argued: “The CBI and ED, as part of political vendetta, have made vexatious searches, issued repeated summons, unreasonably questioned persons long hours, unlawfully attached fixed deposits, maliciously leaked false information to the media and otherwise caused extreme harassment, anguish and humiliation to me and my son, and to other persons who are normal business and social friends of my son.” He asserted he was the “real target” of the alleged witch-hunt and sought a direction from the apex court to prohibit the CBI and ED from continuing with their “illegal” activities. However, before the case could be heard, the CBI struck.
After the rebuff in the high profile 2G spectrum award case in which an erstwhile minister belonging to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam A Raja was acquitted after the judge found there was “no evidence”, the CBI could be under considerable pressure to perform. It has sensationally produced claims by Indrani Mukerjea, who is in prison charged with murdering her daughter, to detain and question Karti Chidambaram.