New Delhi: The late evening arrest of former union finance and home minister P. Chidambaram in the INX Media case on Wednesday by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has put the spotlight back on the corruption allegations against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, weeks ahead of the announcement of key state elections.
With the Congress leadership backing the senior leader, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is likely to up the ante and reiterate its tough anti-corruption stance. Chidambaram is the first union minister of the UPA to be arrested in the alleged scam since the BJP returned to power for a second term in May.
The allegations against Chidambaram, which date back to the days of the UPA government, can dent the political future of the Congress further. A couple of hours before his arrest, the Congress had called a press conference at the party headquarters in Delhi where Chidambaram was given the opportunity to counter the public perception that he was on the run. Surrounded by his senior party colleagues, Chidambaram said he was not running away from the law and there were no allegations of corruption against him or his family members.
Watch: Chidambaram arrested by probe agencies after high drama at residence
“In the last 24 hours, much has happened that has caused concerns to some and confusion to many. My statement today is to dispel that confusion and concerns. In the INX Media case, I have not been accused of any offence nor has anyone else, including any member of my family, have been accused of any offence." He added that “nothing could be far from the truth" with respect to the allegations being made.
With elections to four states in less than six months, Congress may find it difficult to string together a defence on this issue. Though the BJP is in power in three out of the four states—Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra—the Congress has an equally strong base. The fourth state is Delhi.
In the last two days, Chidambaram was represented by a battery of lawyers, including party stalwarts Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Kapil Sibal, Vivek Tankha and Salman Khurshid, besides Indira Jaisingh. Outside the court, the top party leadership, including Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, spoke out in his favour and blamed the BJP-led union government of political vendetta.
“This was a clear case of vendetta and intimidation. There is a deliberate attempt to build a narrative and make unwarranted allegations against the Congress party like other opposition parties as well for political gains. The arrest of Chidambaram points to the fact that opposition parties that have spoken against policies of the government are being singled out," a senior Congress leader said, requesting anonymity.
What puts the Congress in a spot is not just that Chidambaram is a former Union minister and a key voice of the party, but is also a sitting Rajya Sabha member. He has been one of the most vocal critics of the NDA’s economic policies, especially demonetization and GST—carried out in the first term of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“It is unfair for the Congress to blame the BJP or the Union government for what has transpired. The bail was denied to P. Chidambaram by the Delhi high court and it is entirely a legal matter. Fighting corruption and transparent governance had been crucial election promises by the BJP and we stand by it," said a senior BJP leader, also requesting anonymity.