Updated: August 22, 2019 2:41:13 pm
Within hours of the arrest of senior Congress leader and former Union Minister P Chidambaram, the party’s top leadership reached out Wednesday night to other Opposition parties to mount a coordinated protest against the BJP-led government. Agitated over the way Chidambaram was arrested from his residence in full media glare, the party said the objective was to humiliate him while playing to the gallery.
Referring to the manner in which the CBI team scaled walls to arrest the former minister, Congress leader Anand Sharma told The Indian Express: “These visuals will shock the democratic world that India can allow this to happen with state support. Chidambaram is a respectable law-abiding citizen which he has vindicated. But to go in this dramatic manner is a total assault on the fundamental rights and the rights to privacy. There are ways for the officers to walk in, to talk respectfully… in this case, a former Home Minister and a former Finance Minister… for that matter any citizen…”
“The larger issue today is who will protect the liberty of the citizen in our Constitutional democracy. That is the foremost question… who now will uphold that right… the way the events have unfolded in the last two days,” Sharma said.
Bail, he said, is a fundamental right. “Liberty cannot be curtailed. Denial of bail is an exception. There are umpteen judgments of the Supreme Court. What has happened is a travesty of justice. The objective is to humiliate him. It is an assault on the basic principles of our Constitution and criminal jurisprudence,” he said.
Congress sources said the party is planning the next course of action and is in touch with other Opposition parties.
Sharma said the way the CBI personnel scaled the walls of Chidambaram’s residence was like an “action movie and… the arrest of a terrorist.”
“It was most disgraceful… Those were unsavoury images in a democratic country,” he said. Party leaders said Chidambaram’s press conference at the AICC was planned and was part of the political call which was taken by the Congress.
“A narrative was sought to be built that Chidambaram was hiding and was running away from the law. It was bad optics for the party and Chidambaram himself,” a senior leader said.
Sources said top leaders including Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge and the party’s legal minds like Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Singhvi met at senior leader Ahmed Patel’s residence around 6 pm to discuss the situation. It was at that meeting that the decision that Chidambaram should address a press conference was taken.
Chidambaram, sources said, was also keen that the perception that he was absconding should be dispelled. His lawyer and senior Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi too hit out at the government.
“I was sad and distressed to see that none of the tests of imminence of arrest was satisfied in Chidambaram’s case and yet the CBI and the ED were so keen to arrest him. Here was a 75-year-old man called once by the CBI which he attended, called eight times by the ED which he attended, and not in any remote sense a flight risk with zero evidence of tampering… but while I was sad and distressed, I was also happy to see the collective support… we were all required to stand together united and we did… and Chidambaram made a statement in words of studied moderation and held his head high,” Singhvi said.
According to him, Chidambaram said he had no reason to address the press since his case was coming up for hearing Friday. “Here is a person all of you have been calling an absconder… a man who left my office at 7 pm yesterday, consulted lawyers after that, drafted and put his petition in order and spent the whole day today seeking justice at the Supreme Court and then calmly addressing the press and walking to his home… it is the greatest distortion to call him an absconder,” he said.
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