NEW DELHI: Capping a day of dramatic developments, including high drama at the Supreme Court where he failed to get relief, former finance minister P Chidambaram was arrested by the CBI on Wednesday evening from his residence even as Congress supporters raised slogans and TV crews milled around.
Chidambaram, missing since Tuesday afternoon when the Delhi high court ended his interim bail in the INX FDI case, dramatically appeared at the Congress headquarters on Wednesday evening claiming he had been planning his legal defence and is ready to face the law. After a brief statement, he reached his Jor Bagh residence where he remained ensconced till 9.45pm when he was arrested by a CBI team amid tumultuous scenes.
The CBI team and an accompanying Delhi Police force reached Chidambaram’s residence after having gone to the Congress office earlier. Congress MPs and senior lawyers Abhishek Singhvi and Kapil Sibal were seen entering the residence along with Chidambaram. A short while later, CBI officials were seen vaulting over the closed gates at the former minister’s residence.
The events brought to a close Chidambaram’s efforts to evade arrest by seeking bail, which ended when the Delhi high court rejected interim bail, observing that the former minister appeared to be “prima facie kingpin” in the alleged FDI received by INX media. Chidambaram’s son Karti, also an MP, said the action was a political witch-hunt and a drama for TV. He said absence of a chargesheet meant the case is weak.
The arrest of Chidambaram —the first Union home minister and seniormost Congress leader to have been taken into custody so far by a central agency—marks a significant point in the ever-escalating fight between the opposition party and BJP. Congress has come out strongly in favour of the former finance minister, who on Wednesday evening tried to take his troubles with investigating agencies to the larger public arena. In his pre-arrest remarks, he said, “When I was summoned by the CBI and then the ED to appear for questioning, I naturally sought interim protection against the arrest from the competent court. I was granted interim protection. I enjoyed the interim protection for the last 13-15 months.”
BJP remained unfazed by Congress’s charge of vendetta. Though the party spokespersons publicly kept a distance from the arrest, sources said CBI’s action marked the redemption of the pledge the party made— both in 2014 and 2019— to bring the corrupt to book.
The arrest has rendered Chidambaram’s bail plea in SC infructuous. The former finance minister was taken to the CBI headquarters, where a team of five doctors from RML was brought for his medical examination. His arrest memo was signed by the investigating officer around 10pm after which a body and personal search was conducted and their memos prepared as well.
Earlier in the day, Chidambaram’s options were reduced drastically when the SC posted his bail plea for Friday, leaving him with two days to evade arrest by the CBI and the ED once his lawyers’ bid to get an urgent listing of the former minister’s appeal failed.
His appeal against the Delhi high court ruling refusing him anticipatory bail in two cases of alleged irregular Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearances during his tenure as FM in UPA-1 for Aircel-Maxis deal and FDI in INX media was mentioned before a bench headed by Justice N V Ramana in the morning.
Sibal laboured to explain to Justice Ramana-led bench that the HC, which had protected the leader from arrest for more than a year and delivered a judgment on Tuesday after keeping it reserved for seven months, had surprisingly refused to extend the protection for two-three days to help Chidambaram file an appeal in the SC. “We are only seeking interim protection from arrest till the court hears the special leave petition,” he said.
Justice Ramana consulted his colleague judges on the bench — Justices M M Shantanagoudar and Ajay Rastogi — and told Sibal that he was sending the request for urgent listing of the case to CJI Ranjan Gogoi, who by then had assembled with four other judges to hear the Ayodhya dispute case. Sibal with senior advocates Vivek Tankha and Salman Khurshid rushed to the CJI’s courtroom but could not mention for urgent hearing as the court had commenced proceedings in the Ayodhya case.
With hours ticking by and media reporting that the CBI and the ED sparing no efforts to trace and arrest Chidamabaram, Sibal and his team, who were by then joined by senior advocate Indira Jaising, got themselves entrenched in the first row of seats in the court of Justice Ramana. At 2 pm, Sibal again requested for urgent listing of the ex-FM’s petition, but Justice Ramana refused to oblige. “We normally send the requests for urgent hearing by counsel to the CJI in the evening after the day’s work. But, in your case, it was sent immediately to the CJI. The registrar says there were defects in your appeal,” said the judge.
When Sibal said the defects were minor in nature and the court had many times heard pleas for protection from arrest even without an appeal being filed, Justice Ramana sent for the registrars who informed that the defects had been cured a few minutes ago. But caveats filed by the CBI and the ED required the petitioner to supply copies of the petition to the lawyer for the agencies, solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who opposed interim protection every time Sibal mentioned it before the court.
Refusing to entertain repeated requests for urgent listing, Justice Ramana said, “We can do little when the matter is not ready for listing because of defects. We cannot hear the matter without it getting listed for hearing.” Another two hours passed before Sibal accompanied by other senior advocates rushed to the CJI’s court hoping to catch his attention and make request for urgent listing.
When this did not happen, Sibal’s team of lawyers led by Ankur Chawla made frantic attempts from 4 pm till 4.45 pm for an unlikely evening hearing. Once again, the effort did not succeed with the SC Registrar, after meeting the CJI, announcing that hearing on the petition had been fixed for Friday.