New Delhi: The Congress and a host of its leaders on Wednesday backed P Chidambaram, who could be arrested in a money laundering case related to INX Media, with Rahul Gandhi accusing the government of using probe agencies and the media to "character assassinate" the former finance minister.
Alleging that the government was "persecuting" its citizens for speaking truth to power, the Congress said on its official Twitter that the party will stand by him "no matter what".
"A govt that persecutes its citizens for speaking truth to power is only reiterating its own cowardly nature. P Chidambaram is an extremely qualified and respected leader, he has served this nation with dedication & humility. We stand by his quest for truth no matter what," the Congress said.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the party's chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, Anand Sharma and Shashi Tharoor were among those who spoke out in solidarity with Chidambaram. On Tuesday, the Delhi High Court refused to grant him any protection from arrest in the INX Media case.
A battery of the party's top leaders who are lawyers, including Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Singhvi, presented themselves before the Supreme Court in favour of their colleague, whose appeal against the high court order will now be taken up by the apex court on Friday.
Sibal told the Supreme Court that probe agencies posted a notice at Chidambaram's home at 2 am on Wednesday, asking him to appear before them within two hours.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have issued look out circulars against the former Union minister. "Modi Government is using the ED, CBI and sections of a spineless media to character assassinate Mr Chidambaram. I strongly condemn this disgraceful misuse of power," Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter.
Priyanka Gandhi alleged that Chidambaram is being "hunted down". "An extremely qualified and respected member of the Rajya Sabha, P Chidambaram ji has served our nation with loyalty for decades including as Finance Minister and Home Minister," she said in a tweet.
"He unhesitatingly speaks truth to power and exposes the failures of this government, but the truth is inconvenient to cowards so he is being shamefully hunted down. We stand by him and will continue to fight for the truth no matter what the consequences are," she said.
According to Singhvi, the "hunger for sensationalisation in the case is deadly and could lead to character assassination of a towering political figure". "How can somebody be an absconder who was in legal conference with me till 6.30PM yesterday?," he asked.
Surjewala said India is witnessing the worst kind of "virulent vendetta" by the Modi government and alleged that the BJP was running a police state. "Judge reserves judgement for 7 months & delivers it 72 hours before retirement, CBI/ED are sent to raid as a respected former FM is hounded. Banana Republic?" he tweeted.
Senior party spokesperson Sharma also termed the action of probe agencies against Chidambaram vendetta and accused the government of targeting opposition leaders.
When there are serious allegations against their own leaders, including its chief ministers, who are in office, the same agencies go silent, he alleged. Sharma said there was not "even a whisper" when some leaders facing investigation like Mukul Roy and Himanta Biswa Sharma belonging to non-BJP parties defected.
"So there cannot be double standards, it is so glaring. This is not a good image for this country. Mr Chidambaram has been cooperating and joining the investigation as and when he was required. There has not been an occasion when he has not presented himself, so why this tearing hurry tonight. The government and the agencies should also respect the Supreme Court, have faith and wait for the hearing tomorrow," he said.
Another Congress spokesperson R P N Singh echoed him, saying even when there are cases going on against leaders of other parties, investigations stop the moment they join the BJP.
"It is a tribute to your strength of character that you are standing up to persecution and character assassination with courage and confidence. I believe justice will prevail in the end. Till then we will have to allow some malicious minds their schadenfreude," Tharoor tweeted in support of Chidambaram.