There is deep irony in that two of the most senior, most experienced and most articulate members of Parliament — Farooq Abdullah, a former J&K chief minister and former Union minister, a sitting member of the Lok Sabha, and P. Chidambaram, a former Union home and finance minister, who is a Rajya Sabha member — are in jail and can’t attend the Winter Session.
Their imprisonment is a sorry reflection on the working of our democracy. This is because, to an ordinary observer, both arrests would seem arbitrary, unjustified, flowing from executive hubris and ill-will, and shot through with a streak of political animosity.
Strictly speaking, the arrests may not be illegal. This is because, in Dr Abdullah’s case, the government chose to first arrest him without citing any reason (on a preventive detention basis after the constitutional dismemberment of J&K state) but later implausibly pulled him in under the draconian Public Safety Act.
The Centre can fairly be questioned for ill-treating an 83-year old. Not only has a nervous Centre arrested an elderly public figure, it also sought to malign him and his family — besides hundreds of other Kashmiri leaders also jailed — as being corrupt without an ounce of proof.
(The story of Kashmir being locked down for over 100 days since August 5 is a separate discussion. Even so, it’s necessary to point out that Parliament has not been informed of the reasons for doing so, as some European Parliament members were given a guided tour and feted in Srinagar in a desperate bid to appease international opinion.)
Mr Chidambaram was arrested in dramatic fashion from his Delhi residence on August 21 midnight. The investigative agencies’ officers clambered over walls without warning as though they were dealing with a dreaded terrorist.
Since then the former minister has been lodged in Tihar Jail or in the CBI lockup. He has been subjected to intensive and lengthy investigation-related interviews by officials of the CBI, Enforcement Directorate and income-tax department in two separate matters, the INX Media case and a money-laundering case. Three months of custodial interrogation when all the evidence is document-based is shocking. To a lay person, this would suggest the government has a poor case. Therefore, it would seem that his arrest - which also seems an attempt at personal humiliation — may be rooted in political vendetta. Even the decisions of the judicial authorities to virtually hand the CBI and ED a carte blanche to practically arrest Mr Chidambaram at will is likely to make a disbelieving public worry about the state of our judiciary.
The presiding officers of the two Houses have not informed members of the reasons for these two high-profile arrests. They must do so right away. The way things stand, it would appear that the government is worried that Dr Abdullah and Mr Chidambaram, were they present in Parliament and spoke, would expose its arbitrariness and misuse of power.