Karti Chidambaram, the Congress MP representing the Sivaganga constituency in Tamil Nadu, is very outspoken, even when it comes to the affairs of his own party. Scathing in his criticism of the BJP, he is also someone who has been constantly on the radar of central investigative agencies since 2014.
In an interview to South First, he candidly spoke on a range of issues: From the alleged misuse of central agencies by the Union government to the BJP’s “Hindutva project”; from the crisis within the Congress party to its alliance with the DMK in Tamil Nadu.
Incidentally, on the day of the interview, the Supreme Court took up for hearing the review petition filed by Karti against the 27 July order of the apex court, which upheld certain key amendments made to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) that gave enormous powers to the Union government and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) with respect to summons, arrests, and raids, and made bail nearly impossible for the accused — not to speak of the reversal of the presumption of innocence.
Speaking about the significance of the review petition, he said: “It is a wider legal issue that has constitutional ramifications. It has ramifications for individual liberty. It requires serious legal minds to address this issue. I’m very glad that the Supreme Court has decided to look into two aspects of the judgment given in July. It is a necessary legal debate that needs to be re-opened and re-looked at.”
‘ED is like the Gestapo of Nazi Germany’
Karti has been raided by the ED multiple times and has come under the scanner of the central investigative agencies in connection with different cases after the BJP came to power at the Centre. Not just him, but several Opposition party leaders too have been raided by these agencies.
On the role of the central agencies in the country today, he alleged that agencies like the ED are “not neutral, independent, or professional”.
“Today, particularly the Enforcement Directorate, is like the Gestapo or the SS of Nazi Germany, or one of these agencies of military juntas that is only used to harass political opponents. … There is a clear pattern to the raids conducted by these agencies,” Karti said in a blistering attack against the misuse of agencies by the Central government.
While pointing out that the track record of these investigative bodies is “abysmal”, he alleged that the people who man these agencies are used as “hatchet men” and those who head these organisations are “hand-picked” by the government of the day.
“This government (BJP) is known to misuse the agencies to the hilt,” Karti added.
Speaking about his own experience, he said that he has been raided a total of eight times and that he didn’t know of anyone else who has been raided these many times.
“My daughter’s entire educational career, right from standard 10 to graduation, has been peppered with raids. It has almost become farcical, the number of times I have been raided,” Karti told South First.
Claiming that the raids don’t “serve any investigative purpose”, he remarked that they were carried out for the “theatrics” and the “voyeuristic pleasure” of somebody else, and for the media.
I have lost count, how many times has it been? Must be a record.
— Karti P Chidambaram (@KartiPC) May 17, 2022
Elaborating on his point, the Congress MP said: “It actually aids nothing for a legitimate investigation, if there is a legitimate investigation. In my case, there is no legitimate investigation itself. It’s harassment.”
‘Government run by the PMO, not the Cabinet’
Expressing his views on the federalism debate, Karti told South First that he strongly believed in the rights of states and considers India as a Union of States as is enshrined in the Constitution.
However, “every time there is a dominant party that comes to power at the Centre, there are tendencies toward more centralisation of power and authority”, he said.
Speaking about the current BJP government, Karti alleged that it’s not just about centralisation of power, but centralisation of power in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
“This government is being run almost presidentially. It is not being run (in a) parliamentary (manner). Ministers do not have the authority here. They don’t know what’s happening… This is not a government run by the Cabinet. It is a government run by the PMO in a presidential style through hand-picked bureaucrats, particularly from Gujarat,” he charged.
‘Rahul Gandhi reluctant to be Congress chief‘
With the internal party elections for the post of Congress President around the corner, there is a lot of speculation about who the next party chief will be. Though several leaders have demanded that Rahul Gandhi take on the mantle, there are also reports that Ashok Gehlot could be considered as a consensus candidate.
Admitting that the broad consensus within the party cadres is for Rahul to head the party, Karti pointed out that “there seems to be some reluctance from Rahul Gandhi”.
“So, another consensus has to be formed. I think an exercise is being done to find a consensus that will please everybody. And the Congress will find that consensus,” he optimistically stated.
‘Congress needs to re-position, re-articulate and re-capture’
While agreeing that the Congress has ceded space to parties like the BJP in Tamil Nadu and Telangana or the AAP in Gujarat and Goa, Karti emphasised that the Congress needed to “re-position, re-articulate and re-capture the minds of the people”.
“Our electoral record has not been stellar. Data does suggest we have done very poorly in 2014 and 2019. We have also not done exceedingly well in the state elections. And even in the states we have managed to do well, we haven’t been able to keep our flock, but that’s because of the nefarious activities of the BJP. So, we are not necessarily on a strong wicket,” the Congress MP said while underlining the need for the party to “re-calibrate on many fronts”.
Karti, however, is hopeful that the “Bharat Jodo Yatra” from Kanyakumari to Kashmir — which will be kickstarted by Rahul Gandhi on 7 September — would help the Congress in reconnecting with the people.
‘Congress is not a monolithic, cadre-driven organisation like RSS’
Apart from the electoral setbacks, another issue plaguing the Congress today is the infighting within the party, including in its state units, and desertions by senior leaders.
But Karti believes “infighting” is an exaggerated term.
“Congress is not a monolithic, cadre-driven organisation like the RSS. We are a large tent, where people with very, very different backgrounds and diverse views come together. So, there are bound to be differences. But it never really affects our electoral performance. … Internal party debates that come out in the open don’t necessarily mean that the party is disunited,” he explained.
He further added: “I think it’s a healthy sign. A party that allows different voices is actually very healthy for democracy.”
‘Those leaving Congress to join BJP are no ideological warriors’
Reacting to the trend of leaders deserting the Congress and joining the BJP, Karti said that those leaders were never ideological warriors.
“I don’t think there is anybody who in a large organisation would say everything is fine, especially when our record in the elections has not been very good. I understand that angst, the disappointment, and the frustration people feel. But what I don’t understand is somebody leaving the Congress to join the BJP, which is 180 degrees different from us. So, that means you are never an ideological warrior. Politics is about ideology,” he explained.
Simplifying it further, Karti said: “You can’t say that because I didn’t get a ticket on IndiGo airlines from Madras to Bangalore, I will take SpiceJet. That option is not there in politics. You travel with a political party because you believe in a political party. So, if you believe in what the Congress says, you can’t believe what the BJP says.”
He added that irrespective of his success or failure in the Congress party, there is no question of him leaving his ideological moorings and joining the BJP, which is completely different from what he believes in — values such as individual liberty, secularism, free market, etc.