P Chidambaram's arrest was like a soap opera

What a fall my countryman? Ever since the dismissal of the anticipatory bail petition of Mr. P Chidambaram, former Union Home and Finance Minister, we have seen a series of spectacles which have not augured well for any of the institutions involved.

In a stinging Aug 20 verdict (on the verge of his retirement by a few days after having reserved the verdict in Jan,2019) Justice Sunil Gaur christens PC as the ‘Kingpin’ in the INX Media scam.  He has colourful expressions to depict his role and even recommends to parliament to change the law relating to economic offences and making it stricter than it is today.

Taken aback, PC has a strategic session with his legal eagles' team and then leaves the court chambers' by evening. Then, he makes the disappearance act, as news filters in that CBI and Enforcement Directorate were looking for him to appear before them, as the interim protection he enjoyed till now had vanished. But PC himself chose to vanish.

Electronic media went to town saying that PC had become incommunicado, but even more in the colourful language of some newscasters become 'an absconder, a fugitive, escapee' and more.

His legal team knocks at the door of Supreme Court seeking a midnight hearing as in the Karnataka imbroglio and was rebuffed as the media suggests. Then on Aug. 21 morning, his brains trust approached Justice NV Ramana's bench for relief of interim protection that was not yielded to. The bench ‘refers the file to the Chief Justice as master of the Roster’.

Kabil Sibal's team pursues the court halls, waits for the Constitution bench hearing on Ayodhya dispute to end, for an audience with the Chief Justice. They miss it as the Chief Justice quickly retires to his chambers.

Then, news filters in that Chief Justice had fixed the hearing of the appeal to Aug 23. None other than P Chidambaram surfaces, and he addressed media from the AICC headquarters. He disputes that he had fled and says it was a vindictive witch hunt by Modi 2.0

As if on cue, movie style, CBI arrives at the AICC headquarters, after PC leaves the place. They follow him to his Jorbagh residence. Well, the Congress party was not watching from the sidelines. They got into the act and quickly assembled 'party workers', formed a chain around the premises to 'prevent the CBI officers from performing their duty by law'.

Public servants being barred this way is a serious offence, but who cares for legal niceties, in this drama enacted live and beamed into our homes.

CBI officers are not an elite agency for nothing. They scale the walls, literally jump over it, and forcibly enter PC's compound.

They take him into custody and slip away with their prized possession to CBI headquarters and proclaim he was detained on specific charges and for his failure to answer their summons despite being granted two hours time to do so. In the meanwhile, even a Look Out notice was issued, pasted in front of his residence and displayed in all airports, to avoid PC following Vjay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi route, they claimed.

All this in front of our eyes on live television. We have been witness to the ugliest spectacle, a historical low.

Not one institution has covered itself with glory.

A former Home Minister, under whose command CBI and ED functioned, should have known better and acquitted himself differently. After going ‘missing’ for over a day, to reappear after the date of hearing of his appeal was fixed, was too obvious to miss.

He was not too keen to appear before he knew when his appeal would be heard.

The least one expected that such a high dignitary, a Member of Parliament now also, and a designated Senior Advocate of immense acumen and craft, was to answer the summons of CBI/ED and confront them in accordance with law. That alone would have endeared him and rendered the ‘other side’ wobbly in their irrationally exuberant ways.

As for CBI, could they not have waited for say the wee hours of the morning. Remember recently FBI in US of A took into custody Donald Trump acolyte with extreme secrecy around 3.00 a.m. when the world was asleep.

Here, CBI did it on Prime Time, in front of international cameras. Was it meant to be enacted that way? To expose and shame the accused? Or was it a case of display of total lack of professionalism we are entitled to expect of the premier investigating agency?

Remember the M. Karunanidhi episode during the regime of Madam Jayalalithaa, where he was picked up in the dead of night and cameras were rolling, capturing it for posterity to see and feel ashamed at the conduct of our politicos of all hues. Maybe the CBI personnel carried their roles too far to display their histrionics? Surely it has not endeared them with the discerning and brought them a tador two less, when they are already carrying the tag ‘caged parrots’. What a fall.

As for the Congress party, their 'workers' were just doing the bidding of the leaders. How could they even dream of preventing public officials from performing their duties by law, however unpalatable or motivated they felt it was? Who cares? It was a spectacle and each institution acted its part in the most despicable way.

Surely, there would be fireworks in the top court on Aug 23 when the appeal would be heard. Questions would fly from the Bench where was the tearing hurry to detain the accused when the hearing was round the corner?

Could they not have waited for a day or two when they waited for all of two years from the date of FIR and in which PC was not even named?

How did it jell with the timeline when a draft charge-sheet was also said to be ready? So many questions. The law officers of the Modi 2.0 may have their hands full in Court.

One began with the thought that 24x7 media came out smelling guttural in the portrayal of an accused as a convict. And use of expressions as if it was a word lynching episode of trial.

 Then, one found PC, a former Home Minister no less, a Senior Counsel, of pre eminence, doing the disappearance act, when he ought to have stood up and confronted the ‘due process of law as it took its course’.

And then as he re-appeared, anticipated that he may well be detained as a look Out Notice was out and he was required to appear within two hours, as per notice pasted outside his residence, been ready to be taken into custody.

And then Congress party assembling 'workers' at the drop of a hat to prevent public officials was doing their duty. Above all, CBI officers jumping over the walls to home in on their target. Have we seen it all in this one episode? Or is it likely to be a long running or never ending serial of repeat shows? What a shame.

(Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)

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