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Karti Chidambaram: A curiously aloof politician with rough edges

Some view him as a ‘political upstart’ endlessly harried by investigative agencies, others see him as a ‘smooth operator’ who claims to be the victim of vendetta.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Mar 01, 2018, 09.08 AM IST
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Political associates and acquaintances describe Karti Chidambaram as a ‘curiously aloof politician with rough edges’.
CHENNAI: It was a Youth Congress summit in Chennai in 2014. A group comprising veteran Congressmen from Tamil Nadu convinced that promising ‘Kamaraj rule’ was a sure way of winning votes suggested it as a slogan. But Karti Chidambaram advanced the argument ‘merely projecting akingmaker’ will not help. Karti was talking of the role Kamraj played in Indira Gandhi’s elevation as PM, but it was seen as being dismissive of Congress’ most popular chief minister of Tamil Nadu. While his intention may have been to emphasise that Congress should build on a leader’s legacy than recycle him, the way he put it saw him being heckled. And it took the skills of several veterans to pacify the agitated Congressmen.

Political associates and acquaintances describe Karti Chidambaram as a ‘curiously aloof politician with rough edges’.

“I had asked him once if there was a chance of some help from him in getting the South Chennai constituency, because I thought I had a better shot at winning,” said Americai Narayanan, a Congress politician who has observed Karti Chidambaram from close quarters. “He was unusual in the way he outrightly told me it was not possible. He is not a wishy-washy politician.”

Arrested by the CBI Tuesday morning at the Chennai airport, Karti Chidambaram has been the focus of multiple probes including alleged kickbacks to facilitate an investment in INX Media, and for his ‘involvement’ in the Aircel-Maxis case.

Chidambaram’s properties and office have been raided multiple times. As recently as a fortnight ago, officials of the Enforcement Directorate raided homes of people perceived to be close to him. Even though many of the raids took place in Chennai, local officials of the agency were seldom deployed, indicating the degree of secrecy maintained during the raids. “While we helped in the logistics, we were not made part of the raiding team,” an official with the city wing of the Enforcement Directorate told ET.

Across the political spectrum, Karti Chidambaram evokes diametrically opposite opinions. While some view him as a ‘political upstart’ endlessly harried by investigative agencies, others see him as a ‘smooth operator’ who claims to be the victim of vendetta, when the tide turns. “Every time the CBI arrests someone, there is achorus of ‘vindictive politics’ emerging from the other camp,” said Tamilisai Soundararajan, who heads the BJP in Tamil Nadu. “I think we should look at what the impact of their actions on the general public and not what benefit the BJP gains out of hunting them,” she added.

A tennis and tenpin bowling enthusiast holding business administration and law degrees from University of Texas, and Cambridge, respectively, the 46-year-old Karti bears the legacy of an influential southern family that has a storied legacy in the business, political and legal spheres over generations. His paternal great-grandfather was the Rajah of Chettinad, one of the founders of Indian Bank and a noted philanthropist. Among his other relations is former BCCI chief and founder of Southern Petrochemicals Industries, AC Muthiah.

“Having been born in a family like that has its own share of challenges. He will surely scale them,” said Karate Thiyagajan, a political associate and a loyalist of P Chidambaram. Karti had contested in the 2014 general elections from the home constituency of his father, Sivaganga. He was the only other Congress candidate, besides retail chain owner H Vasantha Kumar, to secure over one lakh votes, although he lost his deposit.

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