The country witnessed a bizarre spectacle on Jun 7, 2012. Despite the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court dismissing P Chidambaram's plea to dismiss an election petition against him, the Home Minister came up with the strange logic that the court order was a setback to the petitioner.
Since the court has removed only two of the 29 charges against Chidambaram, his statement was a fallacy. Yet one saw Congressmen trying their best to defend him. Party general secretary Digvijay Singh asserted, "What case he (Chidambaram) has lost? It's an election petition. He has not lost a case, which has anything to do with his working as the home minister."
During a channel discussion on the matter, Minister of State in PMO V Narayanasamy even went to the extent of claiming that Chidambaram's stand had been vindicated. The other participants, however, pointed out the stark truth that Chidambaram has not been exonerated in any way. Instead, the HM is due to face trial because there is prima facie evidence of wrongdoing on his part.
After the Bharatiya Janata Party demanded the Home Minister's resignation, Law Minister Salman Khurshid tried to trivialise the issue. "Should the home minister get a resignation printed because they demand it on a daily basis or should he give it on the internet? BJP wakes up in the morning and says that the home minister should resign. God knows how many times the home minister would have resigned had he accepted whatever BJP said," Khurshid told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in New Delhi.
"Issues are raised in an election petition, trial happens and then a decision is taken after evidence. Then an appeal is made. Even an appeal can be filed in the Supreme Court on this order. Even if any decision comes, anybody can file an appeal against it," Khurshid said.
"Some mistake is being made when the word trial is being used. Somehow an impression is being given that it is a criminal trial. It is not that. It's an election petition trial. Just like there is a civil trial, there is an election petition trial and some order has been passed in that regard," Khurshid said.
Now let us consider the following facts: Raja Kannappan of the AIADMK was leading by a comfortable margin when the counting of votes ended in Sivaganga constituency around noon on May 16, 2009. According to some mediapersons present at the counting centre, a disappointed Chidambaram left the place at 12.30 pm but not before congratulating Kannappan.
Subsequently, results pouring in from across the country indicate that the United Progressive Alliance will form their second government. Buoyed by this, Chidambaram returns to the counting centre at 4.30 p.m. Then amazingly at 8.30 in the night, he is declared by the Returning Officer as the winner by a margin of 3,354 votes.
Something mysterious happened in those crucial four hours and consequently Kannappan was denied his due. No wonder he believes Chidambaram rigged the poll. Kannappan accused election officials of "unduly favouring" his opponent and not making the votes polled by the candidates in each round public.
He alleged that these officers were from nationalised banks and that they owed allegiance and loyalty to the then Finance Minister. However, Kannappan failed to substantiate this before Justice K Venkataraman.
Incidentally, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa told the Chief Election Commissioner in a letter in 2011 that data entry operators (DEO) at Sivaganga had transferred 3,400 votes polled by Kannappan from 11 polling stations in Chidambaram's favour. And all this was done at the behest of the DMK, which was then in power, she said in her letter.
Chidambaram continues to assert that there was no corruption involved. It is for the court to decide which side is saying the truth. A man is considered innocent until his guilt is proved conclusively in a court of law. To that extent, the Home Minister can be given the benefit of doubt. Neither he nor his apologists should expect for anything more at the moment.