New Delhi, Aug. 29: P. Chidambaram, one of the most high-profile ministers in the country, today found himself sucked into what the Opposition derisively described as “domestic violence”, forcing the finance minister to clarify that he had no knowledge of his lawyer wife representing a department that reports to him.
Faced with an Opposition demand that he resign on moral grounds on charges of nepotism, Chidambaram pleaded ignorance over his wife Nalini appearing as a special counsel for the revenue department in an income-tax case in Chennai.
Buffeted by a storm in Parliament, the minister told the Rajya Sabha: “I had no knowledge on the matter and at any point of time, had the matter been brought to my notice, I would have ensured that the proposal of (engaging) Nalini Chidambaram was nipped in the bud and not proceeded any further.”
The case which the income-tax department asked Nalini to take over from her husband after he became minister last year involved tax demands made on 43 textile mills in Tamil Nadu.
Chidambaram’s first public statement since the controversy broke last week came after the Rajya Sabha was forced to adjourn twice by Opposition members.
The statement failed to satisfy BJP and ADMK members, who rushed to the well of the House demanding the right to seek clarifications.
The Opposition members alleged that one of the mills, Karpagambal, was owned by Chidambaram’s elder brother P. Lakshman. They said that in the final judgment in April this year, Madras High Court ruled against the income-tax department, resulting in the government losing Rs 2.5 crore in revenues.
However, income-tax officials said the high court order does not mention Karpagambal Mills in the order.
In a press release issued today, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) said: “In this batch of cases, 43 textile mills were concerned. Among these 43 cases, the name of Karpagambal Mills Ltd, Cholapuram, does not figure. The allegation made is totally incorrect.”
Chidambaram told Parliament that the tax board has clarified in detail the circumstances under which his wife had taken up the case.
“I came to know of it only when the issue was raised in the House. I was not consulted, nor did the CBDT inform me that the case was given to my wife,” he said. “We regret it. The CBDT has said it was a lapse and they have expressed regret.”
BJP spokesperson Sushma Swaraj rejected Chidambaram’s explanation, saying “pleading ignorance cannot be an excuse”. “By this logic, any minister can get away saying he was ignorant of the matter,” she told reporters.
Sushma described the minister as a “victim of domestic violence”. “The reality is that the country is the victim of domestic violence coming straight from the house of the finance minister.”
Sushma said Chidambaram would be on the BJP’s list of “tainted” ministers, which now features the names of Laloo Prasad Yadav and the other RJD ministers.
“From time to time, when there is a case of corruption, the list gets longer,” Sushma said.