Chidambaram and the art of misplacing documents

Times Now has obtained the Ishrat Jahan file through an RTI query and the documents prove that Chidambaram had in fact signed the first affidavit that admitted Ms. Jahan was indeed an LeT operative.

What is the significance of this?

Chidambaram has all along maintained that the first affidavit was filed without his approval. Now these documents bust that claim. In other words, in August 2009 he accepted the fact that Ishrat was a terrorist.

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Chidambaram has never had a problem owning up to the 2nd affidavit. (Of course, he wants G K Pillai also to own up to the affidavit. Pillai for obvious reasons is distancing himself from it.) What necessitated the 2nd version? The first one, in his view, was erroneous as it rested solely on inputs from intelligence ifnormation. ‘Intelligence information is not a conclusive proof, it is for the investigative agency to gather evidence and present it before a court,’ said the former cabinet minister in justification of the 2nd version. And to make it more robust, he got the 2nd affidavit vetted by the then Advocate General. All these sound very convincing and reasonable, don’t they?

Now comes the twist.

All these documents are missing. According to the home ministry the following documents are missing:

  1. Office copy of the letter and enclosures sent by GK Pillai to the then attorney general GE Vahanvati on September 18, 2009
  2. Draft note of second affidavit which was vetted by then AG
  3. The letter written by Pillai, along with its enclosures, to the AG again on September 23, 2009
  4. The draft of final affidavit amended by the former home minister PChidambaram.

What would these documents, if traced, prove?

  1. The list of missing documents as above traces the movement of documents between MHA and AG’s office before the 2nd affidavit was finalised. It would be easy to discern the changes/ improvements made at each stage.
  2. Chidambaram has famously claimed that he made only ‘minor editorial changes’—‘a comma here and there or strike out a word.’
  3. The 2nd affidavit, as all of us know, drops the reference to Ishrat having been an LeT operative.

From all the above it will be clear that the missing documents hold the key to who made what changes and whether those were indeed minor editorial ones. Who will benefit from the disappearance of these documents? To answer this question, one needs to look at what happened after CBI explained to the Supreme Court the movement of the draft status report in the coal scandal between PMO, Coal Ministry, AG’s office and Law Ministry and the nature of changes made to the draft by PMO officials, Law Minister, Coal Ministry officials and AG. It cost Ashwani Kumar, the then Law Minister, his job.

If, in spite of all these, Chidambaram asks somewhat righteously, ‘To whose advantage has the vetted draft gone missing?’ it is nothing but bravado.

Is it the first time papers on a controversy relating to Chidambaram go missing?

No. Two years ago Ram Jethmalani wrote a scathing letter to Chidambaram accusing him of harassing an honest income tax officer who was probing alleged financial irregularities at a prominent TV channel and Chidambaram’s role in the same. It is not the purpose of this article to go into the merits or otherwise of the allegation. Activist Madhu Kishwar, journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and others have written about it. My purpose is to focus on a reference to some missing documents in Jethmalani’s letter.

The annexure to Jethmalani’s letter narrates a curious story of how 12 pages in a finance ministry file went missing and how they were ‘replaced’ by papers from a different file. Now some background before we proceed with the details of the missing documents.

SK Srivastav is an income tax officer whose case Jethmalani was espousing in his letter to Chidambaram. Srivastav, it seems, applied to the ministry of finance under RTI for copies of files and papers purporting to contain incriminating details on Chidambaram. One of these documents was a file bearing reference number F. No. DGIT(V) /NZ/Com/113/06. And when he got the documents, Srivastav got the shock of his life. According to Jethmalani, the first 12 pages of the said file were replaced by the 12 pages from another file bearing reference number File No F.No DGIT(VIG.)/NZ/Com./36/06(Part).

Jethmalani elaborates further: ‘After the pages 1-12 substituted, the file F.No. DGIT(V)/NZ/Com/113/06–marked “Secret” continues from page 13 onwards;

‘Result, the first 12 pages is marked as F.No DGIT (VIG.) /NZ/Com./36/06(Part) without the word “Secret” [File 36/06] and rest of pages is F.No. DGIT(V)/NZ/Com/113/06 [File 113/06] marked “Secret”–something extraordinary and unprecedented.’

Of course, this is not a simple of case of missing documents. It is a planned operation wherein incriminating documents were removed and replaced by other irrelevant papers.

While Chidambaram replied to Ram Jethmalani within a fortnight, his reply did not offer any explanation on the alleged switching of documents.

My point is to highlight a pattern that emerges from most of the scams/ controversies of UPA:  A scam/ controversy breaks out. UPA, its ministers and allies defend by making false claims. When facts to the contrary emerge, papers/ files/ documents that would fix responsibility on UPA heavyweights go missing. Apart from the above, the following cases strengthen my argument further:

Ishrat Jahan papers are the latest addition to the list of documents that have been lost in various scams of UPA.

Missing documents—rather misplacing the documents—seem to offer a perfect escape route to the guilty. And UPA seems to have perfected this art.

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