Crying vendetta and witch-hunt is standard for our corrupt politicians when the long arm of the law once in a long while catches up with them. So, it came as no surprise when Karti Chidambaram, triumphantly walking into the court house as if he was being hauled up for some heroic deed which the rulers were too dumb to appreciate, mouthed political witch-hunt and predicted that he would soon be vindicated.
Remember even that Italian crook, the late Ottavio Quattrocchi, had shouted political vendetta, arguing that his proximity to the Gandhi family was the reason for his being dragged into the Bofors scam. The truth was that Quattrocchi had not only swung the deal the Bofors way, but had also pocketed the largest amount in commission—in all probability to be shared with those who had helped him clinch the deal in the first place.
Well, given how the 2G scamster A. Raja had walked away a free man, despite there being a cast-iron case against him and the other accused, we cannot bet on the competence and impartiality of the prosecutorial and judicial agencies. Yet, Karti Chidambaram’s Strategic Advantage Consultancy—a Freudian slip, that?—seems to have landed him and his father Palaniappan Chidamabaram in a right royal mess. Whatever details have emerged thus far speak of a systemic abuse of his father’s ministerial position to rake in big bucks, both in Indian and foreign currency. Ostensibly, he was some sort of a consultant, though the charge is that that was a smokescreen for his being a facilitator for clearances and suppressions in his father’s ministry for hefty commissions.
Now, those familiar with the immediate post-liberalisation period would know that the Foreign Investment Promotion Board was the first port of call for anyone keen to set up shop in India. Indeed, that notorious crook, Deepak Talwar, rose from being a minor fixer to an enormously wealthy go-to man in New Delhi for a vast number of iconic multinational companies. When seeking the FIPB clearance, they were gently told that if they wanted it, they had to hire Talwar’s services. And most of them did. Talwar himself made no bones about his proximity to A.N. Verma, the principal secretary to Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. Later, in the UPA regime, he teamed up with another key minister, calling shots in the civil aviation sector.
The point is that in the socialist era, the ministers of the realm parcelled out all manner of natural resources to their favourite entrepreneurs for a song, helping themselves to big sums in baksheesh in return. In the post-liberalisation period, the opportunities to make big money grew manifold. But so did the discretion of the ministers to pick and choose from various contenders for exploiting the newly-opened market of a billion-plus people. A Deepak Talwar in the Narasimha Rao regime and a Karti Chidambaram in the UPA decade eased the way of doing business for a hefty commission, er, sorry, consultancy.
That Chidambaram senior is an exceedingly clever man is beyond doubt. He has inherited wealth, boasts of a first-rate education and has a huge legal practice. Why would such a man inevitably find himself at the centre of some controversy or the other every time he is a minister? Clearly, greed is caste and class agnostic. His wife, Nalini Chidambaram found herself as a lawyer of one of the tax boards when he was the Finance Minister. Also, she got paid Rs 1 crore in cash by a Kolkatta lottery scamster and when the said payment was revealed upon the arrest of the lottery king, she belatedly claimed that she had declared it in her income tax return. Why would she accept Rs 1 crore in cash in the first place?
Meanwhile, the second half of the Budget session of Parliament can be already written off as a wash-out. The boycott of the Lokpal Selection Committee by Mallikarjun Kharge on the flimsy excuse that he was called as a special invitee and not as a full-fledged Leader of the Opposition, which, incidentally, he is not, exposed the hollowness of the Congress claim to fight against corruption. Its cussedness trumped the need to put an anti-corruption watchdog in place. The ruling party and the Opposition are set to indulge in another ear-piercing round of holier-than-thou charade—meri kameez teri kameez sey jayada safed hain.
The truth is that having embraced a prong of the ruling party’s Hindutva platform, albeit a softer version of it, Rahul Gandhi was keen to appropriate another plank of the BJP’s electoral strategy. But when it comes to selling the anti-corruption theme, the Congress will eternally remain on a weak wicket. Over the years, corruption and Congress having become synonymous, the newly-minted Congress boss will find it hard to beat Narendra Modi on the anti-corruption plank. Whether you like it or not, Modi’s integrity is beyond reproach. He is widely, and rightly, seen to be incorruptible.
On the other hand, the seven-star life-style of the Gandhis for generations, without their having any ostensible source of great income, lends itself easily to the charge that they are the original parasites of Indian politics, who live it up in great luxury at other peoples’ expense. An MP’s salary, or, for that matter, even that of a Prime Minister’s, does not afford you the freedom to jet off in luxury class at mere whim to one or another part of the globe. And to own and maintain multiple mansions in plains and hills. The Gandhis did not inherit old money, nor did they earn new money by dint of any professional merit. Politics has been their only calling. That does not yield anyone honest income beyond a moderate sum, mind you, the emphasis is on honest.
In other words, if it is Rahul’s strategy to beat the corruption drum against the BJP, he is wrongly-advised. The bank fraud fugitives were a systemic failure. The political executive was helpless—and did not realise that the banks were hollowed out by the crooks long before May 2014. Besides, the judiciary would not okay wholesale seizure of passports of whoever was likely to emerge next as a bank defaulter. Why, even on the success of its soft Hindutva plank, we have our doubts. The somewhat higher tally of the Congress in the recent Assembly poll in Gujarat in all probability resulted from the intensive grassroots mobilisation by Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani. The Congress should find a new strategy, a new platform, to make itself relevant again.
Finally, the tax noose tightens
A little bird tells us that a controversial media group which was being investigated for tax fraud and money-laundering since sometime in 2011-12, has been slapped with a penalty of over Rs 400 crore and an equal amount in tax demand. The promoters of the group are the loudest in crying “attack on press freedom”, and promptly line up all the usual secularist-liberal suspects in the media, whose visceral hatred of the Modi government is widely known, whenever the authorities pursue investigations rather too aggressively. Hiding behind a polished exterior, they apparently resorted to the same financial skulduggery, that is, if you trust the income tax authorities, which is the standard trademark of most unscrupulous businessmen who freely game the system.