A pain in the eye for the Chidambarams

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karthi-p-chidambaramAdversaries call him a political heir without a career plan. This might be the reason why Karthi Chidambaram, son of former Finance Minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, failed to climb the political ladder like Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot. Despite his manipulative campaigns as the head of the youth Congress in T amil Nadu, people outside know little about this scion whose activities are covered by a veil of secrecy.

However, the only son of the ‘messiah’ of India’s financial liberalisation is creating headlines now for different reasons. After Machiavellian right wing politician Subramanian Swamy’s allegations that he was a beneficiary in the controversial Aircel-Maxis deal, Karthi faced strong media and public scrutiny over the allegations of corruption and money laundering in the Rajasthan ambulance scam.

More dark clouds are looming over the horizon for the young leader and his father after RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy levelled a series of allegations including the charge that both received black money via healthcare chain Vasan Eye Care. The duo is also accused of being the benamy owners of Vasan Eye Care .

Chidambaram said the charge was false and made out of political vendetta. However, Gurumurthy and The New Indian Express which carried the allegations, are in no mood to relent. Gurumurthy had cited a sworn statement by a former commissioner of income tax in Chennai, M Srinivasa Rao. Rao had filed a complaint with the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) saying he was transferred as punishment for not obeying ‘unlawful’ orders from higher-ups.

In his strongly worded article in the daily to which he remains an editorial adviser, Gurumurthy claimed there were circumstantial evidences of possible links of Karthi owned companies to Vasan Eye Care. Gurumurthy added that the eye hospital chain did the illegal act in connivance with a company called JD Group and one Dr AM Arun.

Gurumurthy quoted from the petition by Rao which said that the jd Group had made black money payments of up to 100 crore to Vasan Group. He wrote, “investigations beyond Rao’s petition to cat now show that the amount paid by jd Group in cash to Vasan Group was 223 crore”. The proof of this is said to be lying with the Income Tax department.

According to Gurumurthy, Rao alleged that P Chidambaram received all the ‘black money’ from Vasan Eye Care via Dr AM Arun. He added, “PC and his son Karti Chidambaram (KC) are crucial players from behind Vasan with benamis and dummy companies, the usual actors in corrupt structures, fronting for both.(sic)”

He also quoted Rao to allege that Chidambaram owns Vasan Eye Care through companies in Mauritius and Singapore. To substantiate this, Gurumurthy said that it was only after Karthi invested in the company through a shell company (a non-trading company used as a vehicle for various financial manoeuvres or kept dormant for future use in some other capacity), that Vasan grew substantially, with hundreds of crore rupees worth of investments coming in from Mauritius based firms. Gurumurthy said that Chidambaram brandished the political clout of Vasan Eye Care when he got the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to inaugurate the chain’s 100th clinic in Karaikudi in Tamil Nadu. He wants a full scale government enquiry into the matter.

“Neither I, my son nor any member of my family have any equity or investment or economic interest in the company concerned. I have no knowledge of events concerning the income tax department or its officers said to have taken place in June 2015 and subsequently. The UPA government demitted office in May 2014,” said Chidambaram in his denial statement.

However, Gurumurthy still maintains that Chidambaram’s denial does not counter or answer the facts, circumstances and documents on which his allegations rest. “Given Chidambaram’s intellectual stature one would normally tend not to scrutinise what he says. But in the Vasan case, his statement definitely needs scrutiny,” he writes in an article dated 22 September.

“Chidambaram’s anxiety to distance himself from the very name Vasan is selfevident. He does not mention the name at all in his statement and refers to it as ‘the company concerned’. This is a bit too much, and even surprising, as he opened Vasan’s 25th clinic at Madurai in April 2008 and was again a guest of honour in the inauguration of its 100th clinic in his constituency in December 2011 in the august company of the prime minister and governor of Tamil Nadu. Having shown such extraordinary identity with the private eye care firm, he is now feeling shy even to mention Vasan’s name. Why?’’ asks Gurumurthy, who has already put powerful Maran brothers of Tamil Nadu in a fix over the Aircel-Maxis deal.

“Yet, Chidambaram surprisingly takes advantage of the ‘immediate’ denial issued by ‘company concerned’ — read Vasan — and its assertion that the allegations against it were ‘false and malicious’,” Gurumurthy writes. He asserts that he had explained at length in another article published three days ago why Vasan’s one-line response was no answer to the exposé.

The article, he says, listed 28 questions that arose out of the exposé, which Vasan had not answered. “At least one of the questions related to Chidambaram’s son Karthi — namely, ‘Has ed not issued notice to Vasan and Dr Arun on the transfer of Rs 1.5 lakh shares from Dwarakanathan to Karthi Chidambaram’s company?’ The exposé on 17 September mentioned the acquisition of Rs 1.5 lakh Vasan shares by a Karthi-owned company. This fact has to be either denied or accepted. How could an undenied fact be false and malicious?’’ Gurumurthy asks.

Whatever be the truth, the issue has gained wider media publicity and public focus. “With non-friendly governments at the Centre and the state, it would be a tough challenge for both father and son. They have to struggle hard to wade through the troubled waters. Gurumurthy has the backing of the RSS-BJP leadership which has serious reservations about the style of functioning of Chidambaram and his son,’’ says political commentator C Lakshmanan, associate professor at Madras Institute of Development Studies.

“Gurumurthy may have his own interests to attack the political foundations of Chidambaram. But that would not eclipse the seriousness of the allegations,’’ he adds.

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