The father-son duo of Chidambaram and his son Karti have only grown in their infallibility and their influence in the society.
Bengaluru: In 2001, the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu had an alliance with the Congress and Tamil Maanila Congress and was spectacularly voted to power in the State.
But in less than a year the tie-up came unstuck. While there were many reasons bandied for the split, but one of the important ones was: An AIADMK leader could not stand a Congress stalwart. The bad blood between the two ensured that the two parties would never come together again.
The two leaders, of course, were: J Jayalalithaa and P Chidambaram. Both extremely articulate and smart. And both arrogant and snobbish to a fault.
"They hated each other. The hatred was visceral and not just political," says a journalist who had covered the events of that time from close quarters.
"Jayalalithaa's haughtiness is well written about. Those who have seen and interacted with Chidambaram will, however, vouch for his equally disdainful demeanour for others. He was and is one of the most hated leaders within the Congress State unit," adds the journalist.
Chidambaram and his equally abrasive son Karti Chidambaram have rubbed almost everybody in the Tamil Nadu Congress on the wrong side that many would have been happy at his drama-filled arrest last night in New Delhi.
Hailing from a mega-rich Chettiar family from Sivaganga and having pursued his MBA at Harvard, Chidambaram, old-timers in the party recall, always carried a chip on his shoulders. He had a razor-sharp mind and was thorough in his legal practice, and with the right and powerful connections he had, his rise was understandably meteoric in the late 70s and early 80s.
His maternal grandfather was Annamalai Chettiar who founded, among others, the famed Annamalai University and the United India Insurance Company. His brother Ramaswamy Chettiar was instrumental in starting the Indian Bank. Chidambaram's father-in-law PS Kailasam was a former Justice of the Supreme Court while his mother-in-law Soundra Kailasam was a poet and a senior advocate in the Supreme Court.
"Even in those days, Chidambaram was a star in Chennai's social circuit, and soon enough his plunge into national politics took him to greater heights," says K Valliappan, a resident from Chidambaram's hometown.
Having established himself as a youth leader in the State Congress and as well as union leader in units like the MRF, Chidambaram got himself the party ticket to contest from Sivaganga in 1984. In the post-Indra Gandhi assassination sympathy sweep for the Congress, Chidambaram easily won. And with his suave, articulate ways, he quickly caught the eye of Rajiv Gandhi who was partial to English speaking young leaders then. Chidambaram became the deputy minister of Commerce in 1985, and from then on his career graph zoomed even further.
With consistent backing of his mentor G K Moopanar, Chidambaram climbed the political ladder. And even as he was active in politics, he also smartly kept his legal practice active with his high-profile image. He didn't care for the dangerous conflict of charges levelled against him. In the period from 1999 till 2004 when the NDA was in power, Chidambaram appeared for clients like Pepsi whose fortunes he had a say as the Finance Minister before and after.
It helped that his wife Nalini Chidambaram was also an advocate in the Supreme Court.
But even as he grew powerful in New Delhi and occupied pivotal ministries, Chidambaram never endeared himself to his party or the state leaders. The stories of his cavalier attitude are legendary in state Congress unit. That is why he never had a political base of his own in Tamil Nadu. His power stemmed from his connections and posts and not from the people. There are no stories of him ever helping his followers.
But soon enough there emerged another person in Congress who could outrival Chidambaram in terms of snootiness and smugness: It was his son Karti Chidambaram.
In fact, Karti never bothered with even outward finesse that his father sported. Nor did he lay claim to the intellectual heft that Chidambaram senior had. "Karti was out and out bully who made the most out of his father's powerful position," says a journalist.
Right through the 2000s, Karti's rise as a back-room wheeler-dealer was as speedy as it was shady. Mostly operating out of a dingy and unheralded small office in Nungambakkam, Karti grew his empire worldwide with mind-boggling investments in diverse properties and corporates through shell companies and off-shore tax havens. Adds the journalist, "it is impossible to pin father and son duo on these acquisitions, but in private everyone knows what they were up to."
Karti's ambition and greed perhaps got the better of him and it is his devil-may-care approach in expanding his financial riches finally seems to have laid low the dad and son. "He left too many trails as he was drunk on his infallibility. And that is what has proved to be their undoing," says the journalist.
There are also many sleazy and lurid stories of the father and son. You can ignore them as they fall in their private domain. But not their financial malfeasance.
Chidambaram is bound to get bail sooner or later. And the case will linger on and die a slow death. But Chidambaram and his son's charmed run has been halted. The Chidambarams are no real political force even though Karti is a Lok Sabha MP from Sivaganga.
And today, when Chidambaram is in custody there are more people happy in Tamil Nadu Congress than there may in the BJP.
That is the tragedy that Chidambaram has brought upon himself.
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Last Updated 22, Aug 2019, 5:53 PM