By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, August 25, 2019: Corruption in India is rampant because of discretionary powers vested with the bureaucrats and politicians. Former finance minister P Chidambaram apparently had used his discretionary power to benefit the INX Media, which took help of his son Karti.

To-day, the 73-year-old lawyer-politician Palaniappan Chidambaram is facing the toughest crisis of his life even as the Supreme Court on Friday granted him interim protection from arrest till Monday in connection with INX Media case probed by Enforcement Directorate (ED). However, the former finance minister will continue to be in CBI custody till then.

Undoubtedly, Monday will be crucial in determining the Congress leader’s fate as a special court will decide on extension of Chidambaram’s CBI custody. At the same time, the Supreme Court will hear his petition against the special court’s order granting CBI Chidambaram’s custody and the second petition regarding an anticipatory bail from ED’s arrest.

CBI has accused Chidambaram of using his influence in the FIPB clearance granted to the media group for receiving overseas funds of Rs 305 crore in 2007 when he was finance minister.

“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Over the centuries, this famous saying voiced by Lord Action has been analyzed and dissected numerous times by historians and philosophers. Some say that power does not corrupt, it only attracts the corruptible.

However, to judge fairly, past and current events in India accurately depict the ideology that power corrupts absolutely. The dramatic arrest of Chidambaram on Wednesday over charges of money laundering and corruption in the INX Media case only reinforces Lord Action’s famous saying.

The INX Media had sought the FIPB clearance on March 13, 2007, for permission to issue, by way of preferential allotment, up to 14.98 lakh equity shares and 31.22 lakh convertible non-cumulative redeemable preference shares to three non-resident entities — Dunearn, NSR PE and New Veron Pvt Equity Ltd.

CBI had registered an FIR on May 15, 2017 alleging irregularities. The money laundering case was lodged in 2018.

The CBI has alleged that for the services rendered by Karti through his company Chess Management Services consideration in the form of payment were received against invoice raised on the INX Media by Advantage Strategic Consulting (P) Limited (ASCPL), according to an FIR.

The FIR filed on source information alleged that Karti was indirectly handling ASCPL. Invoices for approximately Rs 3.5 crore were also raised in favour of the INX group in the name of other companies in which Karti was having “substantial interests” directly or indirectly, the agency alleged in the FIR.

Chidambaram and his son were named by INX co-founders Peter and Indrani Mukerjea, who are currently in jail in connection with the murder of Indrani Mukerjea’s daughter Sheena Bora. Indrani Mukerjea, who turned approver in the case, has reportedly given details of her meetings with the Chidambarams. Chidambaram, however, has denied any wrongdoing.

While rejecting the senior leader’s anticipatory bail on August 20, the Delhi high court had said Chidambaram seems to be the “kingpin” and “key conspirator” in the INX media case of money laundering and he needs to be interrogated in custody for the investigation to be effective.

The Congress leader sought to build his defence around the fact that the CBI FIR in the INX Media case doesn’t name him and yet he is being accused of economic offences. But while dismissing his anticipatory bail plea, the Delhi high court had termed this very detail “inconsequential”.

Chidambaram did not get any relief on Thursday when a special court sent him to CBI custody for five days, saying it was “justified” and the “enormity of the alleged money” required an in-depth probe.

Chidambaram’s main defence is that six secretaries to the government took the decision in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB). The courts will take a call on the merits of the allegations by the CBI and ED, a final decision can take decades since the case will, eventually, be heard by the Supreme Court.

Government restrictions or what is euphemistically known as ‘license raj’ lead to most corruption. Had the government permitted foreign investment without a cap, the government permissions via the FIPB would not have required at all and there would have been no need to bribe any bureaucrat or minister. In the past, there were several allegations of favouritism when the government restricted the amount of FDI that could come into telecom, but they simply disappeared after the government lifted all restrictions are removed.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised that those who had looted India would have to return each rupee, he will only win the war against graft when he eliminates the discretionary power the government has. During one of his public events in March, Modi addressed a town hall in New Delhi and said that “whoever looted the country will have to pay the price for it”

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA)’s tenure from 2004-2014 was infamous for the series of scams unleashed on the country – the 2010 Commonwealth Games scam, the multi-billion dollar AgustaWestland scam, the coal allocation scam, the 2G spectrum allocation scam. The grand Old Party of the country – the Congress was at the centre of all corruption cases for the decade it was in power.

The Central agencies have been remarkably smart in pursuing all kinds of cases against political leaders opposed to the ruling BJP. The CBI successfully used a two-day window afforded by the Supreme Court’s listing for Friday of an anticipatory bail plea to arrest Chidambaram, scaling the wall to enter the premises of his house.

Modi will go down in the history as true champion of corruption free India if he ensures the same diligence by these agencies in pursuing cases against those members of the BJP or its allies against whom charges of corruption have been leveled.

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