Did Nirmala Sitharaman just give clean chit to Amitabh Bachchan and others in Panama Papers leak scandal?


Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Sunday held an emergency press conference to talk about the alleged financial irregularities of Congress leader P Chidambaram by holding undeclared assets and income abroad.

She began by highlighting how Pakistan’s Supreme Court had disqualified the country’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, from active politics for five years after his name surfaced in the infamous Panama Papers’ leak scandal. Sitharaman said, “All of us are aware that in Pakistan, due to non-disclosure of assets held abroad, the Pakistan Supreme Court had disqualified Shri Nawaz Sharif and the parallel cannot be missed out in this case.”

Soon she made it clear that by parallel she did not mean similar action against the Indian names that had surfaced in the Panama Papers leak scandal. Among those whose names had surfaced in the dubious Panama Papers leak included Bollywood actors Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Ajay Devgn among others.

What she meant by an Indian parallel to the stunning action of the Pakistani Supreme Court was also not the Indian top court taking action against the Bollywood actors, perceived to be close to the government at the Centre, where Sitharaman is senior minister. Instead, she wondered if the Pakistani Supreme Court’s action against its own prime minister had caused a Nawaz Sharif moment for the Indian opposition party, the Congress.

“Therefore, I am starting to wonder if for the Congress party in India we are seeing a Nawaz Sharif moment,” she said.

She then went on to demand Congress President Rahul Gandhi to investigate the former finance minister P Chidambaram’s alleged financial dealings abroad. It’s perhaps for the first time that a senior minister of the government has asked the opposition leader to investigate the alleged illegal financial dealings even though the probe agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax all report to her government.

She said, “It brings on to the fore that the Congress party president, incidentally, who’s also out on bail on some financial matters, transactions, which are questionable. He himself is out on bail. But he should certainly comment and tell the entire party, tell the people of India that if he’s going to investigate on this. A senior leader of his party, not having disclosed partly or fully, income and assets held abroad. Is the Congress President going to investigate on this?”

Neither was she asked to comment on the action being taken by her government against those whose names had featured in Panama Papers leak, nor did the minister choose to refer to them. One wonders if by deliberately skipping to draw a parallel with what happened to Nawaz Sharif and the Indians whose names appeared in the Panama Papers leak, Sitharaman has given a clean to chit to Bachchans, Devgn and others.

Neither P Chidambaram nor his son Karti’s names had surfaced in the Panama Papers leak scandal. Nawaz Sharif was forced to resign as Pakistan’s prime minister after the top court in Pakistan found him guilty in the Panama Papers leak scandal. He was later barred from electoral politics for five years. In contrast, Bachchan and Devgn were hired as brand ambassadors to front key government initiatives after their names featured in the Panama Papers leak.

Another striking feature of Sitharaman’s press conference was how she repeatedly kept hazarding guesses while speculating on Chidambaram’s alleged assets in UK by using ‘probably’ far too many times. When challenged that she was merely basing her allegations on media reports, she chided the reporter saying, “You seem to undermine your own reports. Media reports are very very important in democracy. I am sure you sourced it from certain credible sources?”