Due process of law must be followed

P Chidambaram, former Union Finance Minister, speaking at an intelligent conversations and his book Undaunted Saving the idea of India, programme at st Xavier auditorium in Bengaluru. (Photo by S K Dinesh)

The five-day remand of former finance minister P Chidambaram granted to the CBI by a special court in Delhi in the INX media case does not set at rest all the questions raised by the unprecedented and dramatic manner in which he was arrested from his residence in Delhi on Wednesday. The CBI personnel scaled the wall of Chidambaram’s house in the night to take him into custody even after he had made it clear that he had no plan to run away from the law. The need for the hurry and urgency that the CBI showed in effecting the arrest is not clear even after the remand decision. Remand requests are rarely rejected by courts. Chidambaram had gone to the Supreme Court after the Delhi high court turned down his plea for anticipatory bail. The CBI has said that the case involved corruption of “monumental magnitude’’, but could it not have waited for two days, until the Supreme Court decided on his plea? 

The rejection of Chidambaram’s bail plea was itself questionable. The well-accepted principle of jurisprudence is that ‘bail is the norm and jail is the exception’. Chidambaram was not an absconder, he was not in a position to tamper with the evidence which the CBI said was already in its possession, and he could not be charged with non-cooperation in the investigation. So, the denial of bail amounted to violation of the presumption of innocence, which is the basis of the rule of law. The judge who denied bail exceeded his brief also by going into the merit of the charges and even pronouncing Chidambaram guilty and calling him the ‘kingpin’ of the conspiracy in the case. The plausible explanation for the CBI’s hurry is that it was vendetta politics at work and the government wanted to show an important leader of the Opposition as corrupt. But it raises the question why the fight against corruption is selective and those who belong to the BJP or parties allied with it are spared of action by the CBI or the Enforcement Directorate. 

Chidambaram may be guilty. The circumstances of the case and the details and the information that have come out are such that he cannot be given a clean chit now. The country has to tackle corruption and no leader should be above the law. But the due process of law should be followed scrupulously, and the legal rights of a citizen should not be denied to any person accused of an offence. The treatment of Chidambaram on Wednesday raises legitimate concerns in this respect, though the subsequent procedure may only have been legal and laid down in the rule book. 

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