Saturday, December 17, 2011

Chidambaram under attack again…..but must Parliament be stalled???

Two more days of Parliament wasted. The attack this time was again on Chidambaram. The attack this time was on a Conflict of Interest charge against Chidambaram. Of course, the debate on the matter was preferred to be carried out in media and not in Parliament because the BJP won’t listen to Chidambaram answers in Parliament, having decided to boycott him earlier. The question is: Should Parliament be stalled for every single charge that the opposition brings against the ruling party?

Let’s spend a moment on the charge itself. Apparently Chidambaram instructed the Delhi government to drop the FIRs against some hotelier in Delhi. This hotelier had once used Chidambaram as a “counsel” to represent him at a time when he was not a minister. In the BJP’s thinking, this was clear evidence of Chidambaram’s culpability. In a party that has so many legal luminaries as its members – including both the Leaders of Opposition in the two Houses of Parliament – it is amazing how it chooses not to understand the difference between a “counsel” and an “advocate-on-record”.

Chidambaram’s culpability is not as obvious as the BJP would like it to appear. Consider the following:

1)      The hotelier has himself gone onto a TV channel (Times Now) saying that he doesn’t even know Chidambaram. That he has never met him or spoken with him. That he is being politically involved in a battle between the BJP and the Congress.
2)      The current Home Secretary and the former Home Secretary have both gone on record to say that Chidambaram only looked at the file once and made a file noting that clearly mentioned that he favored no direction from his ministry to the Delhi government for withdrawal of the FIRs.
3)      Chidambaram has given some facts about the case. That the man has been writing to the MHA since 2004 and has written more than 5 dozen times since then asking for the charges to be dropped. He has alleged that he was being harassed. Chidambaram has been an influential minister since 2004. If he had wanted, he could have helped drop the charges anytime since 2004. He became Home Minister in 2008, but even then he didn’t step in. Why did he suddenly decide to drop the charges only in 2011 – a good seven years after the man first started appealing – if he was a client of Chidambaram?
4)      Chidambaram and Sibal – and before them Ravi Shankar Prasad and Arun Jaitley – have represented thousands of clients in their careers. These clients are not even “clients” in the strict sense of the word. I have seen senior counsels sometimes representing opposite points of views in two different but similar cases (though they don’t appear for opposite parties in the same case). Counsels are often changed during the course of a long litigation process – many times earlier counsels are “busy” and hence alternate counsels are hired. Usually, these counsels are chosen by the “advocates-on-records” – those who advise the client and those who stay on with the client over the full period of the case (usually). Senior counsels may have favored clients, but in most cases, they don’t care or remember them unless they are high profile clients. Sometimes senior counsels represent even political opponents – for eg., Arun Jaitley had represented Madhav Rao Scindia of the Congress in the past. Jaitley himself has been Minister of Law and Justice and I know of several media clients that he has or had. Likewise, Ravi Shankar Prasad is a senior counsel and must have had several clients. But did that stop both Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad from becoming Law Ministers? Strictly speaking, no lawyer should ever become Law Minister then. So how is there a conflict of interest?

On the other hand, there is definitely evidence that Chidambaram’s hands are not entirely clean. The letter written by a Director level official asking for the FIRs to be withdrawn mentioning that it had the approval of the Home Minister is certainly a serious piece of evidence and it must be examined thoroughly. While it is true that all letters are not seen by the Minister, it is unlikely that a junior official would have the audacity to write such a fact if he had not infact been instructed to do so. So by no means can Chidambaram explain himself away so easily. He is certainly not off the hook.

My point is that there has to be a better way to handle such charges. Chidambaram needs to offer an explanation, but shouldn’t an explanation in Parliament be sufficient? Shouldn’t Chidambaram be grilled in Parliament? If anyone thinks there is a lie being said by Chidambaram, surely he/she can bring a legal case against Chidambaram? In this case, I am told there is already a Conflict of Interest case being looked into by the Delhi High Court. But no….the BJP will not wait for the courts to pronounce their verdict. In the SM Krishna case, they wanted him to resign. It now appears that the Karnataka HC has given an adjournment – and in all probability, Krishna will off the hook. So should he have resigned at all? The BJP prefers to first disrupt Parliament; then go to the TV channels; and then perhaps consider legal action (actually it never takes any legal action…..its intention is not that).

There are a hundred important issues facing the country. There is an economic slowdown on the horizon; a problem of inflation; the slide of the rupee; the whole issue of food security and of course the Lokpal Bill…..and yet our Parliament gets adjourned for two days on a relatively light-weight issue like this? C’mon all ministers (in fact, all MPs) do out of turn favors to their chosen ones – but the penalty for everything cannot be sacking; and the method of protest for all issues cannot be shutting down Parliament.

The BJP’s political strategy is clear. Embarrass the government any which way. If they can force Chidambaram to resign, that would be a major political win. But even if he doesn’t resign, it doesn’t matter. Their core strategy is to stall Parliament – so that a sense of policy freeze continues and the government is shown in a poor light. If Parliament is stalled, there will be no Lokpal Bill possible – and that can only be good news for the BJP. In fact, the political strategy of the BJP is so clear; I would give them top scores for focus and clarity!

The real truth is that politics in our country has become a farce. Maybe its time we considered Shashi Tharoor’s suggestion of having a Presidential form of government. Or maybe a change the rules of Parliamentary working – I have made a few recommendations in the past on this subject. The business of governance must go on; no matter what…..

No comments:

Post a Comment