Conflict of Interest

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nalini chidambaram
Dr. Subramanium Swamy thinks that our Finance Minister, P Chidambaram should resign on grounds of corruption.

The crime: Ms Chidambaram has been legally representing the IT department, which falls under the purvey of the Finance Ministry, for the “modest” (in the words of Ms Chidambaram) fee of Rs 2 lacs a pop.

As to her record: 1 case fought, 1 defeat. After that her legal counsel has not been sought possibly because the Opposition had already caught onto the nepotism angle or possibly because, after shelling out 2.5 crores as compensation, the IT department, in the tradition of the Indian cricket team, was “resting” her. However she is still on retainer—that is she is still getting cheques in the mail.

The government’s version reads thus:

‘The Board would like to clarify that in January 2004, Smt Pushya Sitaraman, senior standing counsel for the Income Tax Department, Chennai briefed Shri P Chidambaram (then practicing as a senior advocate) in a case involving large revenue (clubbed with a batch of cases raising the same issue). The case was not taken up for hearing until May 2004, when Shri Chidambaram became finance minister,’ the press release said.

‘In July, 2004, due to the non-availability of Shri Chidambaram, Smt Pushya Sitaraman persuaded Smt Nalini Chidambaram, senior advocate, to take up the case, in view of her long experience and familiarity with the subject. A proposal to this effect, received from CCIT-I, Chennai was approved by the CBDT as per the prescribed procedure,’ the press release added.

In simplespeak, that means P Chidambaram used to be the legal counsel for the IT department and when he became the FM and hence “unavailable”, the government finding no other person went to Ms Chidambaram and “persuaded” her to take up the case just like Rabri Devi was persuaded by the people of Bihar to become the Chief Minister once the “Messiah of the Masses” got himself into some trouble with the law.

Now how can she refuse —-really it would have been a most heartless thing to do.

P. Chidambaram has gone on record saying that he had no idea that his wife was representing the IT department because he was never shown the files. Which reminds me of a line in “Yes Minister” when the Minister asks Humphrey, the great bureaucrat, why he is never shown all the files and Humphrey replies: ” There are some things, Minister, that you are better off not knowing.”

Then of course there is the third angle. Assuming that P. Chidambaram was never shown the files—should he, as a husband, know what his wife does for a living and whom she represents? A point of view expressed thusly.

The MP said, ‘He (Chidambaram) doesn’t seem to know what is happening in his ministry. Now he doesn’t seem to know what is happening in his house. What kind of a person is he? Does he know what is going on in the country?’

I think what happened was that Nalini Chidambaram did tell her husband. But the way she said it would have been like: ” How many times have I told you to clean the living room? The ceiling fan has been making a creaking noise and I have been telling you for months now, bring it down and grease the joints. My sister’s daughter is getting married and we need to go shopping, buy some gifts. I also need a new sari. By the way I am representing the IT department.And oh did you do go to the…”

No wonder….P Chidambaram was by then in the “entering this ear and going out the other” mode husbands frequently get into for their survival—-of course he did not know !

Swamy, of course, thinks that the husband and wife are in it together. He reminds us of the Fairgrowth scheme where again, Fairgrowth was a company under CBI investigation, P Chidambaram had some inside knowledge, and his wife supposedly made a killing on the stock.

Here’s the deal. Let’s assume the highly unlikely scenario that the Chidambarams are a corrupt couple—-again let me stress it is so very unlikely that two people engaged in two of the world’s most honorable professions—politician and lawyer would stoop to such a level. Making that assumption, I as an Indian citizen, still feel proud of their alleged corruption.

Nepotism has always existed—-but it is usually an unqualified relative getting a position on the basis of daddy/mummy’s pull—examples: the entire Gandhi family, the Yadavs, the Chautalas…….however here Nalini Chidambaram is qualified in her own right to act as a legal counsel (just like many others are)……the fact that she gets the job is perhaps because of who she is related to. And note Chidambaram’s reaction and contrast it to what Devi Lal said, circa early 90s, when a reporter pointed out why Om Prakash Chautala was the Chief-Minister-in-waiting:

“To kya? Usko nahi banoonga to kya Bhajan Lal ka chora ko banoonga ?”

(So what? If I don’t make him (the CM) do you think I should make Bhajan Lal’s son the CM ?)

I mean looking at in another way– India is shining. Politicians too are now hopefully evolving from the days of cash-filled suitcases (Narasimha Rao) , smuggling in watches (Om Prakash Chautala), weighing against gold (Jayalalitha, Maywati) to more refined forms of corruption—insider trading, conflict of interest etc.

And that, my friend, is progress.

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15 thoughts on “Conflict of Interest

  1. Sd :-))

    Michael: I know….the Chidambaram style of impropriety is old-hat in US…but it is rather innovative in terms of Indian politics….which leads to the conclusion that we are evolving/mutating….

  2. Although Ms Chidambaram is qualified enough, it is definitely a case of conflict of interest. Let me tell you this is so prevalent in India (also in other parts of the world). In every sphere, if one has a daddy/mummy/uncle at the top, he/she can also go to the top with a second rated qualification – thus superceding quite a number of deserving candidates. In politics, you don’t even have to be qualified – the only qualification is gene related. Did Ms Chidambaram get it because she was the best? Certainly not. She got it just the way sons/daughters of judges, company presidents/vice presidents, company directors, IAS/IPS (not retired because once they retire who cares about them!) get jobs/promotions/lucrative postings etc. Mortals with lesser potent DNA(!) have to depend on their capabilities and luck. Walter Cronkite used to end his news bulletin by saying “That is the way it is” – thus we should learn and accept the reality and can only wish for more potent DNA for our next life!

    P.S. By the way where did you get her picture? By the look of it, it sure seems she needs a good tailor for her blouses. Or has the FM put a cap on the charges for blouse making!

  3. While PC should have avoided this controversy by making a declaration upfront, one must recognise that Ms Nalini Chidambaram is a leading, sought-after lawyer in her own right and has a flourishing practice of her own. PC and wife have in certain cases even appeared on opposing sides. I would have expected Ms Nalini C to react with indignation and assert her professional rights , rather than be apologetic over the whole thing. The accusation seems to be more that she, appearing for the IT Dept, lost the case than about the impropriety per se, of being appointed as the lawyer in the first place. Would things have been different if she had won the case ?

  4. Well, let’s not just shoot the messenger here, even if it’s difficult considering it’s good old Subramaniam Swamy. In any case, you cannot trust ANY politician. Caesar’s wife is not above suspicion.

    – Nanda Kishore

  5. @yourfan…she must have said “You need to take me to the tailor to get my blouses altered” just after “I am going to be the legal counsel for the IT dept’….no wonder P missed it and her blouse is “ill fitting”

    @kaashepeya: Of course Swami is another big crook( a big flip flopper)…far far bigger than P could ever be.

    @plus ultra: I dont think its about her losing (accusation being that she lost to Chidambaram’s brother)…it is that the Chidambarams expect us to believe that P did not know about N representing the IT dept….thats a wee bit tough to buy.

    @gameboys: No question of shooting Swami….but its kind of like the pot calling the kettle something or the other.

  6. I laughed aloud at the second batch of supposed sequence of conversation between N and her husband. It is said that writings reflect the writers. So are you talking out of your own experience – that is are you also in “husband mode” all the time/most of the time? You look too young to fathom this all important, all pervasive “husband mode” in its entirety.

  7. Arnab
    Good writeup with your clever insights. Very interesting.

    When I started reading this piece, I was wondering how the IT (Info. Tech) dept was related to the Finance Ministry. Slow Tuesday..as in Slo Mon…thru…Slo Sun.

    Well what if NC really kept her professional affairs away from her persaonal life, like most of us do ? Why do we implicitly assume that this is a case of nepotism ? I am no fan of PC, but wht burn someone at the stakes until they have been really found guilty. NC is a competent lawyer in her own right who has taken on IT cases earlier in her career. So if she takes up IT again, despite having declared to the contrary earlier, then this is a job that is very well qualified for.

    What of the crores that have disappered in the fodder scam or the 70 crores that were found from the house UP Chief Secretary or the Telecom deals that Reliance bagged when BJP was in power.

    Check out an earlier interview with NC in 04

    http://us.rediff.com/money/2004/jun/28inter.htm

    Sourin

  8. @ideamani…thank you.

    @yourfan: It’s been ages someone has called me young !!! Oh of course I often go into the ‘husband mode” when my wife says “Oh we need to get some nice stuff to decorate the living room…”…:-). You are never too young for this mode—the day you are married you have entered ‘the zone.”

    @Chappan: Oh yes IT is now a heavily overloaded acronym.

    @Sunil and Chappan: It is true that NC is one of India’s hotshot tax attorneys. But I am sure she is not the only one. There must have been others equally competent who should have been given the job because of the conflict of interest. This was the point of my post: while previously nepotism was to further the careers of undeserving, incompetent people —at least in the case of N, the beneficiary of nepotism is an otherwise qualified person. Which is an advancement.
    [Dont really buy PC’s statement that he didnt know—maybe he does not read all the files…but does he really want us to believe that the fact that N is representing the IT dept never came up over dinner?]

  9. Dig deeper – if you can handle the truth !

    Do you have any idea what this case is about ? About IT department vs Spinning Mills. The IT Department lost over 200 crores in this case. Do you know PCs background ? Do you know how many of his family members own spinning mills ? Karpagambal mills is owner by his brother.

    Everyone is allowed to screw the state. Since the loser is IT department and the winner is spinning mills owned by families of powerful politicians – no one cares.

  10. Conflict of interest is an important issue in law firms where the interests of law firm getting in conflict with the interests of their clients.

    It is a major issue when there is a merger of two la firms.

    In general functioning of the work in the firm also the issue comes into focus where the official position is used for meeting personal interests. for example, official time utilised for personal work

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