On Wednesday, Rajya Sabha MP and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram was heckled by his party members who raised slogans like “Go back Chidambaram”, and called him a “TMC sympathiser”. The party leader, who is also an attorney, is currently contesting a case in Calcutta High Court for the incumbent All-India Trinamool Congress (TMC) government. The case is against his party member and Congress West Bengal chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
The protest was led by pro-Congress lawyers, who have expressed their displeasure over Chidambaram’s decision and condemned it. “In West Bengal, thousands of party workers are attacked by the TMC. Unfortunately, a senior Congress leader (Chidambaram) is standing by the TMC. We condemn it,” said Kaustav Bagchi, a lawyer from the Congress cell. He added, “I have told him the Congress is in this condition today due to salable leaders like him. From now, we cannot recognise Chidambaram as a Congress leader.” Chidambaram did not respond to any of the protesters’ questions and allegations. Some lawyers also tried to stop his car but the security personnel subsequently cleared the way.
Amid protests, many have gone as far as to blame Chidambaram for the party’s poor performance in the recently concluded civic polls, and the 2021 assembly election in West Bengal. Notably, the Congress did not manage to win a single seat in the state in the 2021 assembly polls, and their vote share went from 12 percent in 2016, to 9 percent in 2021. On the other hand, Mamata Banerjee’s TMC won 215 seats, with approximately 48 percent vote share in the same elections
In response to the questions about the protest, WB Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president Chowdhury indicated that he was not present in Kolkata during the incident but saw it as a “spontaneous expression of outrage”. He added, “For the past two years, I have been fighting and exposing the corruption by the ruling dispensation of West Bengal in the highly questionable sale of Metro Dairy stakes. I shall continue to fight and expose this corrupt deal.”
Chowdhury also said that it was not an “organised protest” by the Congress as there was no march or protest by party workers and this incident took place within the HC premises. In the context of Chidambaram being an attorney fighting the case against him, the PCC president said, “Anyone can appoint anyone. P Chidambaram is known as a lawyer. He also is a political leader. He had all the legitimate right to fight for any case as a lawyer. We can’t interfere in that.” Chowdhury further stated that while the protesters are known to be “Congress lawyers” they “expressed an emotion”. “Why they did what they did, you must ask them,” he told reporters.
He also defended Chidambaram’s decision to appear on behalf of the TMC-led government saying, “Some people treat their politics and their profession as entirely different fields, with no connection between the two. Chidambaramji is an eminent lawyer and I am just a humble soldier of the Congress party. What else can I say!”
In 2018, Chowdhury filed a public interest litigation (PIL) against the West Bengal government, accusing them of corruption over the sale of 47 percent of the government’s stake in Metro Dairy (a public-private venture) to the project’s private partner – Keventers Agro Ltd. Subsequently, at least 15 percent of the shares were allegedly sold to a Singapore-based firm for a higher price. Aside from the West Bengal government, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) held a 10 percent stake while Keventers already held 43 percent.
The Mamata Banerjee administration had approved the sale in an auction, in 2017. Chowdhury alleged that while the government sold its stake to Keventers for Rs 85 crores, the latter sold 15 percent of its shares to a Singapore-based company for approximately Rs 135 crores, weeks after Keventers became the sole owner. However, Metro Dairy was set up using public money and suffered a loss of at least Rs 500 crores because of this difference in the pricing of the shares. Chowdhury claimed that there was no transparency in the process of setting the price of the shares, and said that “there was corruption at every level of this deal”, calling for a probe by a “neutral agency”.
This is not the first time that Chidambaram has found himself in a position to fight cases defending governments led by the opposition party. In 2017, the Congress MP had agreed to appear as one of the nine lawyers representing the Aam Aadmi Party-led government in Delhi, against the central government, in the Supreme Court.