He once presented a Dream Budget and helmed the crucial finance as well as home ministries but today 73-year-old lawyer-politician Palaniappan Chidambaram is facing the toughest crisis of his career.
Arrested by the CBI over charges of money laundering and corruption in the INX Media case, Chidambaram might be in for a long battle in courts before the case comes to a closure.
A votary of free enterprise and unbridled economic reforms, Chidambaram started off as a hard-core leftist arguing in favour of the command economy in the late 1960s.
A scion of a prominent industrialist family from Madras, Chidambaram — who has done MBA from Harvard Business School — chose not to join the family business. Instead, he ventured into politics by joining the Congress after the party lost power in 1967.
He remained with Indira Gandhi when the party split in 1969 and in 1984, was inducted as a junior commerce minister in Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi-led government.
Chidambaram was also a junior minister in Prime Minister Narasimha Rao-led government, holding portfolios such as commerce and industry. However, disagreement with the party’s decision over political alignments saw him quitting and setting up a new political outfit in 1996.
A year later, as finance minister in the United Front — an alliance of 13 parties — government, he presented the Dream Budget that helped broaden India’s tax base. The budget came at a time when economic reforms were seen as anti-poor in the coalition area.
Chidambaram returned to Congress and became finance minister under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He was at the helm of finance ministry between 2004 and 2008, before becoming home minister from December 2008 to July 2012. He returned to the finance ministry for the rest of the UPA-II term that ended in 2014.
He is widely credited with implementing a series of reforms to stem a slowdown in growth, curb a widening fiscal deficit and attract more foreign investment into Asia’s third largest economy.
In 2014, he did not contest election from his traditional Lok Sabha seat of Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu, which he had won seven times.
As BJP came to power, probe agencies started casting their net on him and his family in connection with corruption cases, including INX Media, Aircel Maxis and more recently purchase of aircraft by Air India during his tenure as finance minister in UPA-II.
Chidambaram, also a prominent lawyer, entered Parliament from Sivaganga constituency in Tamil Nadu in 1984 and served as junior commerce minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government.
The big-break in his political career came when he quit Congress and joined Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), which was part of the coalition government under Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda.
Chidambaram was made the country’s finance minister and he presented the proverbial Dream Budget in 1997. However, the government lost power in the following year.
While the BJP-led NDA was in power (1999-2004), Chidambaram quit TMC in 2001 and formed his own party Congress Jananayaka Peravai. However, things did not go as planned and he had to merge his party with the Congress.
After about six years, he again became the finance minister in the Congress-led UPA under the prime ministership of Manmohan Singh in 2004.
Chidambaram, known for his administrative prowess, was moved to the home ministry after the Mumbai terror attack in 2008 as incumbent Shivraj Patil quit under public pressure.
Fortunes continued to favour Chidambaram and he won the Lok Sabha election from Sivaganga in 2009 and continued as the union home minister during the second term of Manmohan Singh.
However, in 2012 when the then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was elected as the President of India, Chidambaram was once again given the responsibility of the key finance ministry.
With the fall of Congress, Chidambaram’s political graph too started moving southwards. He is currently a member of the Rajya Sabha.
The CBI and the ED are probing various decisions taken by him as finance minister. Chidambaram was arrested on Wednesday (August 21) by the CBI in relation to the INX Media case.
While rejecting his anticipatory bail, the Delhi High Court had said Chidambaram seems to be the “kingpin” and “key conspirator” in the INX media case of money laundering and he needs to be interrogated in custody for the investigation to be effective.
Just before his arrest on Wednesday, Chidambaram made a dramatic appearance at the Congress headquarter, where he read a statement to the press clarifying his position.