New Delhi: A day after the arrest of former union minister P. Chidambaram, the Congress party continued to put up a united face even as it mulled options ahead of it to take on the situation politically. Chidambaram on Thursday was sent to CBI custody for four days and his case listed for hearing in the Supreme Court on Friday.
The allegations of corruption against the Congress and some of its key leaders have come back to haunt the party more than two months after it was drubbed in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the second consecutive time that it was defeated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by a big margin.
“In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi came to power with a massive mandate but he never used powers to build an atmosphere of fear among people, attack freedom and liberty of people and he never used that power to destroy institutions or put principles of democracy in danger," Congress chief Sonia Gandhi said while addressing a gathering on the 75th birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the national capital on Thursday.
These are the first public remarks of Sonia Gandhi after the arrest of Chidambaram even though she did not make any direct reference.
The former Union minister was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on late Wednesday night. While Congress has got support from select opposition parties, the ruling BJP has rejected the claim that the arrest is an instance of political vendetta.
Among the key political options in front of Congress is to look towards regional leaders and other opposition parties for support against the actions of the investigative agency.
“Almost all senior leaders have come out in support of P. Chidambaram because the Union government is engaging in a deliberate strategy to malign the image of Chidambaram and the Congress. The support for Chidambaram is not just to show that Congress is united against the BJP’s plan to malign the party but also to send a message to party workers that they should not worry," a senior leader of Congress said.
Support for the senior Congress leader started trickling in a day after his arrest. The first to speak against the actions of the CBI was West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
While the Trinamool Congress chief did not question the legality of the issue but questioned the process followed to arrest the former union minister.
“P Chidambaram is an economist, and a former home minister and finance minister. The manner in which he has been arrested is depressing...The democratic system of our country is crying, yet the judiciary is not coming to its aid," she said in a statement on Thursday.
Support for the former finance minister also came from his home state, Tamil Nadu, where Congress’ ally Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) backed him by describing the arrest as political vendetta.
“I too saw how CBI jumped the wall and arrested him, it’s a matter of shame for India, it is political vendetta. Chidambaram had asked for anticipatory bail but he was arrested, it’s condemnable," said DMK president M.K. Stalin in Chennai.
Apart from outreach to opposition parties, Congress top leadership is also mulling options of taking up the issue in states where it has substantial presence to make the people aware that BJP government at the Centre was targeting political opponents.
This will include the challenge of putting up a narrative to defend itself during the state election campaign later this year. With a change of guard in Congress as Sonia Gandhi took over as chief earlier this month, party leaders are hopeful of a robust strategy in place to take on the BJP.
“The Congress is working with a negative mindset. They have converted corruption into a revolution. This is for the first time that corruption is becoming a revolution. Till now, revolution was against corruption, now revolution is being carried out in favour of corruption," minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told Press Trust of India.
“Law enforcement agencies will do their work and courts will do their own work. But, the Congress party and its leadership is trying to convert corruption into a revolution," he added.