The verdict, which came as Uttar Pradesh polls get underway next week, saved the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, embroiled in various controversies, further embarrassment in the spectrum saga.
“I do not find any sufficient ground for proceeding against Chidambaram. The plea is without any merit and the same is dismissed,” Special Central Bureau of Investigation judge O.P. Saini said at the end of his 63-page order keenly awaited by a battery of media waiting outside the court room.
Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy had sought to make Chidambaram, then finance minister, a co-accused in the case, contending that he and jailed former IT and communication minister A. Raja had committed irregularities in allotting 2G licences in 2008 at lower than market prices.
But the judge was not impressed with records and files Swamy had submitted along with his plea.
“There is no material on record to suggest that Chidambaram was acting with such corrupt or illegal motives or was in abuse of his official position. There is no evidence that he obtained any pecuniary advantage without any public interest,” said Saini, adding: “There is no material on record to show that Chidambaram was acting malafide in fixing the price of spectrum.”
The home minister “indeed heaved a sigh of relief”, said a close Chidambaram aide.
The aide said that the home minister was keenly watching court proceedings on TV from his 19, Safdarjung residence here as he also cancelled his day-long trip to Madurai.
But the never-say-die Swamy said he was surprised but not disappointed and would appeal against the trial court’s ruling.
“I am surprised…but not disappointed because this is part of the game. I will appeal in the high court and if need be I will go to the Supreme Court,” said Swamy, vowing to “continue my fight against corruption”.
The Congress claimed victory in the court order which came two days after the government suffered a major setback when the Supreme Court cancelled 122 second general telecom licences because their allotment was “arbitrary, capricious and contrary to public interest”.
Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal said the verdict vindicated what the government had been saying all along.
“The truth can never be hidden. We knew that he was not responsible in any way either directly or indirectly and that these allegations were being made for political motives.”
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in Kolkata: “Of course, it is a good judgment. It is a relief.”
Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni also targeted Swamy. “Swamy lives by the media and has done this to keep himself alive.”
But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had focussed its target against Chidambaram and led a parliament boycott against him, said the fight was far from over.
BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad pinned his party’s hopes on higher courts and vowed to continue boycotting Chidambaram till he resigns.
He said Chidambaram as then finance minister was politically accountable for the 2G decision. “As far as political accountability of Chidambaram is concerned, in view of overwhelming evidence which is there in public domain, the BJP shall continue to insist for accountability inside and outside parliament.”