Corruption takes centre stage in national politics
Centre, opposition spar over PNB fraud, Karti Chidambaram as second half of budget session begins
New Delhi: The first day of the second half of the budget session on Monday witnessed fresh disruption after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and opposition parties levelled charges of corruption against each other.
Consequently, both the Houses were adjourned after repeated slogan shouting by opposition parties over the Rs12,636 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud allegedly involving jewellers Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi.
Even as the Congress-led opposition tried to corner the centre on the PNB fraud, treasury bench members sought a detailed discussion on the alleged role of Karti Chidambaram, son of former union minister P. Chidambaram, in the INX Media case.
In Lok Sabha, opposition parties including the Congress, Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) demanded a discussion on various banking frauds. Opposition MPs entered the well of the house demanding a reply from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Separately, leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said the government and the PM had “failed” and banks are without money while the likes of Nirav Modi were absconding.
“So many bank scams have happened, the government should on its own or PM Modi should come to Parliament and issue a statement on how one after another bank scams of hundreds of crores (of rupees) are taking place in the country,” Azad told reporters later.
While the Congress party accused the NDA of indulging in vendetta politics against Chidambaram and his son Karti, the government claimed the fraud took place during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and that the non-performing assets (NPA) or bad loans were an inherited legacy.
“I will only make one observation. When such issues are raised, what is important is that the nature of evidence available against the offender must speak for itself and not the alibi of vendetta. The law is taking its course,” said union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad while talking to media.
The political blame game is likely to escalate over the next few days, especially with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) set to produce Karti Chidambaram before the special CBI court in New Delhi on Tuesday.
“Karti Chidambaram has been stonewalling and has not cooperated in the least with the CBI investigators and the investigation process. We are now waiting to see what turn the court proceedings take tomorrow (Tuesday),” said a senior official familiar with the matter.
At the same time, the Enforcement Director (ED) on Monday was granted a day’s custody of former INX Media director Peter Mukerjea to question him.
Karti Chidambaram moved the Supreme Court on Monday seeking quashing of summons issued against him by the ED in relation to the INX Media case. A bench headed by chief justice Dipak Misra said the matter would be taken up for hearing on Tuesday.
Analysts linked the anti-corruption protests with rising political temperatures in the run-up to the general election due next year.
“What you see in Parliament right now is the beginning of the election pitch for 2019 specifically on the anti-corruption plank. That is one space the BJP will not want to give up on. In a sense, the turning point in this narrative has come with the bank fraud allegations and the opposition would want to create a perception amongst people that the defrauding of public money has taken place,” said Manisha Priyam, a New Delhi-based political analyst.
“Plus, it is no coincidence that the regional parties are raising their pitch right now and are calling for a political understanding. Both INC and BJP are going to trade charges around corruption,” she added.
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