Karti Chidambaram (Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s son) of the Congress, M. Patturajan (confidant of DMK’s M.K. Alagiri) and Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) MP Asaduddin Owaisi spoke without inhibition to US diplomats how they and their men made payments to voters during the election campaign. That’s the story of Wikileaks cables on India.
Responding to the publication of Wikileaks cables in The Hindu involving his name, Karti Chidambaram has stoutly denied he was involved in any acts of bribing voters as chief manager for his father’s campaign in Sivaganga Lok Sabha constituency.
Karti’s detractors in the faction-ridden Tamil Nadu Congress Committee cannot contain their glee at the cable leaks. But Karti’s friends say the criticism is because the “Chidambram camp” is gaining prominence against other dominant group led by G K Vasan, son of late G K Moopananar and Shipping Mininister.
Though Karti began as his father’s son and campaign manager, he is now in thick of TN politics, whether it is organising voters at polling booths, crowds at rallies, or devising strategies to keep other faction at bay.
Karti has ensured that loyalists of his father, Chidambaram, get at least 16 of the Congress list of 63 (wrested from the DMK after tense seat-sharing talks). There were just three MLAs in the last Assembly.
Apart from Chidambaram, it is Karti who has worked in the last five years to create a ginger group in the TNCC. His detractors within the party openly accuse Karti as a wily businessman/sports official/ politician of using his political clout and money power to woo the members of ‘rival’ Congress factions.
Karti’s friends say Karti is a hardworking young man. Unlike his father who is not easily accessible to Congress cadres, Karti moves with them. He ensured that his father’s group won 15 districts in the state-le vel NSUI polls. Vasan’s group won only eight.
“Karti has proved his organisational skills. He can speak extempore in both English and Tamil depending on his audience,” says Karate R. Thiagarajan, former Chennai deputy mayor and PC loyalist.
Another Congress senior recalled that Chidambaram would campaign only within his Sivaganga Lok Sabha constituency and rarely pushed himself during the era of his political guru the late Moopanar. “But now Karti is all over the state addressing meetings and visiting houses of party members, in veshti if in the rural side and trim pants in the cities. He is the only Congress leader who will immediately respond to an SMS,” says Viswanathan, the lone Chidambaram’s supporter among the Congress MPs in the Lok Sabha.
But the Wikileaks cables show Frederick J. Kaplan, acting principal officer of the US consulate general in Chennai, telling his bosses in Washington that these leaders have admitted to payments made in the form of cash, goods, or services, according to a revealing cable sent to the state department by
In a cable sent on May 13, 2009 Kaplan elaborated the role of money in the electoral process: “Bribes from political parties to voters are a regular feature of elections in south India. From paying to dig wells to slipping cash inside the morning newspaper, politicians admitted to violating election rules to influence vote.”
“The money to pay bribes comes from proceeds of fund-raising, which often crosses into political corruption. The precise impact of bribery on voter behaviour is hard to measure. But there is no doubt it swings at least some elections. Journalists, politicians, and voters speak of bribes as a commonly accepted fact of the election process,” he said.