Jumping walls, scuffles: 90 mins of high drama before P Chidambaram’s arrest
Former finance and home minister P Chidambaram was arrested at around 9.45 pm from his residence in New Delhi’s Jor Bagh by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which whisked him away for questioning to its headquarters in the nearby Lodhi Road.
It started at 8.15pm when the former minister made a surprise appearance at a press conference at Congress HQ to declare that he hadn’t been hiding for the past 24 hours as many believed but “seeking protection of the law”. He wasn’t running away, Chidambaram said, but “engaged in the pursuit of justice”. With Chidambaram on the dais at the HQ were his lawyers and Congress leaders Abhishek Singhvi, Kapil Sibal and Salman Kurshid. Also on stage were Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, KC Venugopal, and Mallikarjun Kharge.
Watch | INX Media case: ‘Was not hiding,’ says Chidambaram at Congress HQ
Chidambaram and his lawyers may have played defence for the previous 24 hours but it was clear they were now playing offence, especially with the Supreme Court agreeing to hear the former finance minister’s plea seeking protection from arrest by CBI and the Enforcement Directorate only on Friday.
Chidambaram left the Congress HQ soon after making his statement and arrived at his residence with Singhvi and Sibal. They drove inside and the gates were shut.
A CBI team arrived around 15 minutes later, but the gates weren’t opened for it. The CBI officials scaled the wall and entered the house. They then went up to the first floor where Chidambaram and his lawyers were. Details of what transpired there aren’t available, but some CBI officials said the former minister was questioned in his house for some time and then arrested. A team from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrived a little later. As did around 100 policemen from Delhi police, armed with riot-prevention gear, who tried to keep the peace between small groups of Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) protesters who were threatening to have a go at each other. There were minor scuffles.
At around 9.45pm, Chidambaram was hustled out of his house, bundled into a car – he sat in the middle on the rear seat of an Innova, between two CBI officials -- and driven away.
CBI is expected to produce him in a special CBI court on Thursday and could ask for at least 7-10 days custody, agency officials said.
Legal experts said that now that Chidambaram has been arrested, his petition in the Supreme Court is infructuous and he will have to apply for bail in the special court.
Chidambaram’s son Karti Chidambaram took to Twitter to express his dismay at the events. “The drama and spectacle being enacted by the agencies is to simply sensationalise and satisfy the voyeuristic pleasure of some,” he wrote.
Singhvi, Chidambaram’s lawyer and Congress colleague said soon after the arrest: “It is sad and distressing to see the urgency and the eagerness of the CBI and ED to arrest P Chidambaram, a 73-year-old man, with no flight risk and no evidence of trying to tamper evidence. Irrespective of the merit of the case, arrest must be done only when there is any chance of a person trying to flee or tampering evidence. And I respect Chidambaram’s courage because despite not being required to speak to the nation he did so and held his head high.”
The Congress party closed ranks behind Chidambaram, for whom lookout notices at airports and immigration desks to prevent him from leaving the country.
“Modi’s Government is using the ED, CBI and sections of a spineless media to character assassinate Mr Chidambaram. I strongly condemn this disgraceful misuse of power,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi wrote on Twitter His sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said Chidambaram was being “shamefully hunted down”.
The party is planning to take out a protest march to the home minister’s residence on Thursday.
Earlier on Wednesday, as teams from both CBI and ED periodically visited the Jor Bagh residence of Chidambaram, a nerve-wracking day in court for Chidambaram’s legal team ended when it was told the by the court registry that the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi had slotted his anticipatory bail hearing on Friday, August 23.
After filing his petition at 10am, Chidambaram’s legal team, Sibal and Indira Jaising, first mentioned the matter at 10.30am before a bench comprising justices NV Ramana, M Shantanagoudar and Ajay Rastogi, which sent it to be placed before CJI Gogoi to decide whether it should get an urgent hearing.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta opposed Chidambaram’s plea and said it was a case of “monumental magnitude”.
Taking a chance, the lawyers at 10.45am rushed from the court of Justice Ramana to that of the CJI to catch his eye and air their grievances over the non-listing of their petition for an urgent hearing. Justice Gogoi, along with four other judges, is hearing the contentious Ayodhya title suit, and according to the rules, a case for urgent hearing cannot be mentioned before a five- judge bench.
After waiting for a while and not getting the attention of the CJI, the lawyers decided to try their luck at 2pm after the lunch break. Meanwhile, around noon, the CBI and ED filed caveats in the case, which means that no orders could be passed by the court without hearing them first.
In the meantime, Chidambaram’s legal team was informed by a registrar that their petition had not been allotted a case number and therefore could not be placed before the CJI for an urgent listing. Sibal once again went before the bench of Justice Ramana at 2pm, telling the judges they had not been left with no option but to approach the court again.
Sibal told the court that “we will give an undertaking that he [Chidambaram] will not go anywhere”. But the petition could be listed in the registry only later - after certain procedural defects in the plea were fixed, and a case number was assigned.
At 4pm, Sibal went back to Court 1 to catch the attention of the CJI. This attempt, too, proved unsuccessful as the court rose for the day without saying anything. Left with no option, the lawyers once again went to the registrar, who on instructions from the CJI informed them that the case had been ordered to be listed on Friday.
The INX Media case relates to alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance given to the media group for receiving foreign investment to the tune of R305 crore in 2007, when Chidambaram was finance minister. The CBI registered a first information report on May 15, 2017 alleging irregularities in the manner the clearance had been awarded and the ED filed a money laundering case a year later
INX Media co-founders Peter Mukerjea and his wife Indrani Mukerjea have been charged with entering into a criminal conspiracy with Karti Chidambaram to get foreign investment approvals and evade punitive measures for not having the necessary approvals from FIPB.
In March 2018, Indrani Mukerjea told CBI in a statement that a deal of $1 million was struck between Karti Chidambaram and the Mukerjeas to secure approval from the FIPB in favour of INX Media. Last month, a Delhi court allowed Indrani Mukerjea, who is a prime suspect in the murder of her daughter Sheena Bora, to turn approver in the INX Media case.
Chidambaram and Karti have consistently denied all allegations and said they were motivated by “political vendetta” by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.
(Inputs by Anvit Srivastava and Amrita Madhukalya)