Chidambaram's case brings back memories of old arrests

Chidambaram's case brings back memories of old arrests

Congress workers shout slogans during a protest against the arrest of the party leader P Chidambaram, in Kolkata, Thursday, August 22, 2019. (PTI Photo)

Political vendetta is once again in the air as former Union minister for finance and home P Chidambaram (73) was arrested in the twilight years of his political career by the CBI on Thursday and sent to jail on Friday in the INX media case.

Any top politician getting arrested—be it the flamboyant politician from Bihar Lalu Prasad of RJD in the fodder scam in 1997 or the M Karunanidhi the stalwart of Dravidian politics in Tamil Nadu in 2001—becomes a premise for settling political scores.

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When 78-year-old Karunanidhi was arrested along with the then two central ministers Murasoli Maran and T Balu in Tamil Nadu during Chief Minister J Jayalalitha’s regime, videos of a screaming Karunanidhi resisting the arrest had gone viral.

In 1997, when CBI wanted to arrest Lalu Prasad days after the latter stepped down as chief minister and handing over the baton to his wife Rabri Devi, the then CBI joint director had decided to involve Indian Army in arresting Lalu as the state police were not cooperating.

The arrest of Chidambaram does not entail any such extreme scenario, but it had its own share of drama, starting from having gone missing for a day after his anticipatory bail petition was rejected by Delhi High Court to his dramatic appearance at a press conference at AICC headquarters and then his subsequent arrest from his residence.

Ironically, Chidambaram has been arrested by CBI at a time when BJP President Amit Shah is home minister. When Shah was arrested and sent to jail in Sohrabuddin encounter case in July 2010, Chidambaram was the home minister in Manmohan Singh-led UPA II government.

The BJP has since then maintained that Shah was jailed purely because of political vendetta, a charge that got some credence in public eyes after Shah was cleared of all charges by the judiciary in December 2014, when Narendra Modi-led NDA government was in power in Centre. Before that Shah was barred from entering Gujarat for two years between 2010 and 2012.

But it’s not just the Shah-Chidambaram juxtaposition. A look at all such cases in which high profile politicians are involved point to a similar outrage and hullabaloo surrounding their arrest, though the merits of allegations in each case may drastically vary from each other.

While the BJP has been highlighting the case against Chidambaram as a “scam of massive corruption” and castigated Congress for defending him saying Congress support for corruption is on display, the Congress party said Chidambaram’s arrest was an attempt to silence him.

Not many politicos who were arrested have been convicted. However, the conviction of RJD chief Lalu Prasad sealed his political fate and now seems to do that of his party in Bihar. 

After 17 years since Tehelka carried out a sting in 2001, former BJP president Bangaru Laxman was convicted in 2018. In UPA II, DMK leader and then telecom minister A Raja had to go to jail in 2G spectrum case in 2011. It’s a different matter that in December 2017, the CBI special court acquitted all 18 accused in 2G case including A Raja.

Interestingly A Raja, who had once voiced his anger at Chidambaram for his being named in 2G case, joined the Congress protest against Chidambaram’s arrest on Thursday.

Other prominent leaders, who had to go to jail over corruption cases are M Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi (DMK) and B S Yeddyurappa (BJP), Suresh Kalmadi, Amar Singh (then Samajwadi Party) (2011), Sukh Ram (Congress) arrested in 1996 by CBI and convicted in 2002. Yeddyurappa was exonerated of the bribery charges in 2016.