New Delhi: In fresh trouble for the embattled Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, the opposition stalled parliamentary proceedings demanding the resignation of home minister P. Chidambaram after news reports alleged he had misused his ministerial position to assist a former client in suppressing a police complaint.
Proceedings in both Houses of Parliament were disrupted as the opposition led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) parliamentarians sought the home minister’s resignation.
On Thursday, the Delhi government moved to restore the police charges, causing the opposition to say that the government was seeking to do damage control.
In spotlight: Home minister P. Chidambaram. Photo by Ramesh Pathania/Mint.
The home ministry and the Delhi government, however, backed Chidambaram saying that the ministry had acted within the law, but analysts said Chidambaram’s position in the government—reeling under a series of crises ranging from high inflation to corruption charges—was more “vulnerable” in the face of the new charges.
According to a report by CNN-IBN news channel aired Wednesday, the case concerns the Metropolitan Hotel in New Delhi, its owner S.P. Gupta and his company Sunair Hotels Ltd, whom the home minister, earlier a practising lawyer, is reported to have represented.
Gupta was reportedly involved in a series of bitter legal disputes from 1999 with VLS Finance Ltd, a company which claims to have funded the hotel project and Chidambaram, then a member of Parliament (MP), represented Sunair Hotels in the high court in one of the disputes.
Even as the civil cases were being heard in courts, VLS Finance filed three first information reports (FIRs) in several police stations in Delhi against the owners of Metropolitan Hotel for defrauding them, the CNN-IBN report said.
After Chidambaram took office as home minister in 2008 following the Mumbai terror attacks, the ministry took up a fresh representation by Sunair, requesting the withdrawal of the criminal cases, the report said. The first representation seeking withdrawal of the police complaint was filed before Chidambaram took over as finance minister.
According to the TV channel, several letters were sent by the ministry to Delhi Police seeking clarifications and status reports so that a decision on withdrawing cases against Sunair Hotels could be taken; it also allegedly wrote to the chief of Delhi police asking for the status of investigation to apprise the minister.
The fresh allegations come amid an opposition boycott of the home minister—a senior minister and key member of the Congress party which is the main constituent of the UPA—in Parliament. The opposition has been accusing Chidambaram of culpability in the 2G spectrum allocation scam that has already seen the resignation from the cabinet and arrest of former telecom minister A. Raja.
In the Lok Sabha, Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav raised the issue of Chidambaram’s alleged conflict of interest. MPs of the AIADMK joined in, shouting demands that the home minister be sacked.
With the opposition refusing to relent, the House was adjourned for the day.
In the Rajya Sabha, proceedings were disrupted briefly as the BJP MPs waved copies of The Pioneer daily newspaper carrying a report alleging that the home ministry under Chidambaram had directed withdrawal of the complaints against the owners of a Delhi-based hotel.
The House was adjourned for a brief while after which it met to transact business.
The Left Front maintained allegations against the home minister had made his position untenable. “Allegations one after another are being levelled against him and they appear to be credible,” D. Raja, leader of Communist Party of India (CPI), said. “With him remaining silent on all this, his position is increasingly becoming untenable.”
A BJP leader, who did not want to be identified, added that “if Chidambaram is forced to resign, then it will be difficult for the government to survive.”
“As I understand it, the home ministry does not have the powers to withdraw the case. The powers to withdraw the case rest with the government of Delhi,” Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said. “It really rests with the lieutenant governor who, if my understanding is correct, is advised by a standing committee in this particular regard.”
But home secretary R.K. Singh on Thursday said the draft of a letter sent by the home ministry to the Delhi government for withdrawal of the FIRs had not been shown to the home minister.
“The draft was not shown to the home minister. The file was not shown to the home secretary either. Even the concerned joint secretary also said he had not seen the draft. The home minister had no role in withdrawal of the case,” he told reporters. “The home minister had no role in this. He only said go by the law ministry’s opinion. No senior advocate ever remembers who he advised a year ago,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Delhi government, in a press release, said the decision to withdraw the cases against the hotelier was reconsidered on Thursday, based on a recommendation from the director of prosecution.
The release added that a final decision to persist with the criminal charges in the courts was affirmed by lieutenant governor Tejinder Khanna on Thursday itself.
Analysts, however, say that the new charges will be “damaging” to the ruling party.
“Ever since A. Raja’s arrest and further revelations later, Chidambaram’s position is becoming vulnerable, the high-ups in the Congress are now protecting him at any cost,” said Subrata Mukherjee, former professor at the department of political science, Delhi University. “The fresh revelations are damaging not only to Chidambaram, the Congress party but to the entire system.”
Mukherjee also added that Chidambaram should offer to resign. “There is no harm if he decides to step down. His prestige will go up and he will set a good precedence.”
Appu Esthose Suresh and Nikhil Kanekal contributed to this story.