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Did Chidambaram rescue a former client?

December 26, 2011 13:59 IST

The fact that S P Gupta was a former client of P Chidambaram is not germane to the controversy. The withdrawal of the criminal cases in itself was scandalous.

Not one of the three cases against Gupta impinge on the wider public interest, says Virendra Kapoor.

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has done it again. Despite his legal acumen, Chidambaram seems to have a knack for being at the centre of controversies.

All through his ministerial career, he has invariably landed in trouble for taking seemingly questionable decisions. He may well have survived, but each scandal has diminished his public standing and made him further vulnerable. His ingrained sense of superiority and aloofness further renders him friendless in the ruling coalition.

So, when the Opposition demanded his dismissal for having gone out of the way to favour one of his clients when he was practicing law, there was hardly any sympathy for him within the political class.

The Congress might have offered lip sympathy, but there was no denying that the party was embarrassed by the home minister's conduct.

And the prime minister, wiser after his clean chit to both A Raja and Chidambaram in the 2G spectrum scam, only quoted the minister in the eye of the public storm to the effect that he, that is, Chidambaram has said that he has done no wrong.

Significantly, Manmohan Singh did not say that he was convinced that Chidambaram had done no wrong. The prime minister's failure to certify the bona fides of his beleaguered colleague only added to the Opposition's case.

Notwithstanding the pro forma claim by Union Home Secretary R K Singh that his boss was not in the loop, Chidambaram was duly and most convincingly nailed by the letter a director-level officer wrote to the Delhi government. The letter specifically said that the decision to withdraw criminal cases pending against hotelier S P Gupta had the home minister's approval.

It is, therefore, wrong to claim, as R K Singh did, that the officer wrongly mentioned he had the minister's approval. Given that Chidambaram is a hands-on minister who insists on personally approving all such decisions, a director-level officer would not dare mention his name without his prior approval.

No amount of obfuscation and denials would cover the home minister's complicity in seeking to bail out one of his former clients.

Even if one concedes that Gupta had earlier petitioned Chidambaram's predecessor, Shivraj Patil, and the latter had taken no action on it, why was it that a favourable decision was taken only when Chidambaram became home minister?

Actually, the home ministry had no locus standi in the matter. It was for the law ministry to pronounce whether or not the cases against Gupta should be withdrawn.

Indeed, why was Gupta's application for withdrawal considered at all given that these were criminal charges of alleged fraud and conspiracy? No public interest was at stake.

Once the law ministry refused to recommend the withdrawal of the cases, that should have been the end of the matter. The home ministry had no further role to play. It ought to have rejected the petition.

In fact, Gupta being a former client of Chidambaram is not germane to the controversy. The withdrawal of the criminal cases in itself was scandalous. Not one of the three cases against Gupta impinge on the wider public interest.

By their very nature, the charges pertained to fraud, forgery and other financial skullduggery. The alleged theft of a file from the offices of the Company Affairs Department of the Government of India was no small matter either.

Above all, the Delhi high court and Supreme Court had turned down Gupta's plea for the withdrawal of the very same cases. So what Gupta could not achieve through the legal process, he very nearly achieved through the extra-legal process, thanks to Chidambaram's misplaced generosity.

Delhi being a Union Territory, the Delhi police and other law and order agencies are directly under the Union home ministry's control. Such misplaced sympathy for a man charged with allged criminal fraud does show Chidambaram in rather poor light, doesn't it?

However, once it became a public scandal and the Opposition sought Chidambaram's removal, the alacrity with which Delhi Lieutenant Governor Tejinder Khanna reversed the order further confirmed that the home minister was indeed vulnerable.

If there was nothing wrong or objectionable in the Union home ministry's original order to withdraw the cases against Gupta, why should Khanna reverse it post-haste?

By hurriedly reversing those orders, the lieutenant governor fully established the home minister's culpability.

Virendra Kapoor in New Delhi