The Congress’s Chidambaram family could face fresh trouble with the Supreme Court (SC) directing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to complete its probe into the Aircel Maxis deal within six months, and the Union Government deciding to study then Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s 80:20 gold scheme. The family is already facing the heat in the ongoing INX Media case.
Taken together, it does appear that P Chidambaram has a long legal battle to contend with, which could impact his political fortunes in the months to come. So far, the Congress has been defending him, calling the actions against his family and him, including all those raids on the Chidambaram properties and the subsequent arrest of his son, as ‘political vendetta’. But as the noose tightens around the former Minister, it will become difficult for the party to continue with this tactic.
It is easy for the Congress to target the Modi Government for vendetta, but it cannot do much if the courts take an active interest in the matter. Whatever may have been the reasons for the delay in pursuing the Aircel Maxis deal, which once again involves P Chidambaram’s son and the former Minister himself, the matter cannot be allowed to drag on.
While directing the probe agencies to expedite matters, the SC expressed its dismay over the state of affairs and wondered, “Is there any individual hand and that is why you cannot proceed?” The agencies are studying the role of P Chidambaram and his son in the faulty Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance in 2006 in the Aircel Maxis case.
The 80:20 gold scheme was cleared by a lame duck UPA regime when Chidambaram was the Finance Minister, just hours before the result of the 2014 Lok Sabha election was out. The timing alone casts a shadow of suspicion on the decision. It does not help matters that the beneficiaries of the scheme have been just a handful of bullion traders, including the likes of Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi who are on the run after allegedly defrauding a clutch of public sector banks, and whose escape the Congress has attributed to the generosity of the incumbent Central regime. The scheme mandated that the traders export 20 percent of the gold they imported while retaining 80 percent for domestic use. The move came under the lens of the Comptroller and Auditor General which said that the then Finance Minister’s decision had led to windfall gains of around Rs 4,500 crore to a select group of businessmen.