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Catching Up


If the rich and powerful in India face charges of financial wrongdoing, they remain unfazed because they know that expensive and well-connected lawyers can put off the day of reckoning for as long as they live. The system is so open to manipulation that every single move by the prosecuting agency can be challenged right up to the highest court, making the case a complicated, time-consuming and expensive process that no group of transferable and poorly motivated government officials can overcome. It is a rare occasion when someone like Lalu Yadav gets convicted and pays the price for wrongdoing.
Former Union Minister and senior Congressman P Chidambaram used all these tricks and more to keep himself out of the clutches of the ED and the CBI, but he ran out of luck on Wednesday. Even so, the government agencies had to use all the powers at their disposal to finally interrogate him. Chidambaram and everybody else involved know that there is a long way to go and he can reasonably expect the case to last his lifetime. Unfortunately for him, though, his son is also involved and, if things continue as they are now, Karti Chidambaram may well see the inside of a jail cell as a convict. Their big hope is that, in the not too distant future, there is a change of government at the Centre and the prosecutors lose their motivation. This is why the arrest is also being made a political issue, with grand pronouncements being made from the Congress Party platform.
Normally, any party would like to keep a safe distance from someone accused of corruption of the scale alleged in the INX Media and other cases, but Chidambaram probably knows so much that it would be dangerous to deny him the support he seeks. The ruling family will be feeling the heat and the inexorable pace with which the corruption cases are being pursued by the present dispensation. In many ways, this may well be the test case on how much refuge the labyrinths of the judicial system can provide to white-collar crime.
It is about time that the very necessary changes are made so that every case in India takes not more than a couple of years to obtain the first verdict, and even less to dispose of the appeals. It will require a lot of money, technology and regulatory reforms, but it must be done because governance has become near impossible in an environment where it is almost impossible to enforce the law. The poor fail to obtain justice, while the powerful manage to stay out of its reach.