Chennai/New Delhi: Two days after the DMK quit India's ruling coalition, the CBI Thursday searched the house of party leader M.K. Stalin in Chennai, sparking a political storm with an upset Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying the timing was "unfortunate". DMK chief M. Karunanidhi played it cool, saying enigmatically it "may or may not be political vendetta".
"We are all very upset (at these events). The timing of this is most unfortunate. The government had no role in this that I am sure of. We will find out the details," the prime minister said in the capital.
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram also spoke out, declaring that he strongly disapproved of the CBI raid, ostensibly carried out to detect tax doging on imported cars, leading to reports that the search had been called off.
However, a Tamil Nadu intelligence official told IANS in Chennai that the search had "got over and was not called off".
"Normally I do not comment on the working of another department (home ministry), but in this case I have to say that I strongly disapprove of the CBI's action. It is bound to be misunderstood," Chidambaram said.
An angry Stalin, a former Tamil Nadu deputy chief minister, called it political vendetta and vowed to face all legal issues.
"I am being targeted. It is quite clear why I am being targeted. We will face the case legally," he said.
His father and former Tamil Nadu chief minister Karunanidhi said: "Generally actions of political vendetta surround DMK party, and this (the CBI raid) may or may not be one of that."
He added that he subscribed to the view of several leaders who voiced opposition to the raids. Actions of political vendetta, he said, were carried out not only by the centre but also in Tamil Nadu.
The CBI raid was carried out in connection with the import of a Hummer car used by Stalin's son Udyanidhi, an official said.
United Progressive Alliance chairperson and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is known to have voiced her unhappiness over the CBI raids.
V. Narayanasamy, minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office, denied there was any "witch hunting" by the Congress following the DMK's exit from the UPA.
The CBI said it had registered cases under the Indian Penal Code and Prevention of Corruption Act following a complaint that 33 vehicles had been imported in Tamil Nadu.
The CBI said: "Of these, certain vehicles are believed to have been imported and subsequently sold in violation of import provisions causing loss of up to Rs.48 crore approximately to the exchequer."
Faced with all round criticism on the timing of the raid, the CBI clarified that the operation was strictly in accordance with procedures and there was no intention to target any particular individual.
The raid, which began around 6 a.m., came two days after the DMK announced its decision to pull out of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance over New Delhi's stand on supporting a US-sponsored resolution censuring Sri Lanka over killings of Tamils during the war against the LTTE.
Stalin, widely seen as the successor to the ageing Karunanidhi in the DMK, reportedly played a key role in persuading his father to snap ties with the Congress and the UPA.
The CBI also raided Stalin's friend Raja Shankar's house.
The investigating agency's move gave the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) more ammunition against the Congress-led UPA.
"This is a signal to all friendly parties that what happened in Chennai can happen to you as well. The Congress is known for misusing the CBI, which is the Congress Bureau of Investigation," senior BJP leader M. Venkaiah Naidu told IANS outside parliament.
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley also slammed the government.
"It is an interference in the CBI's work if the government got it stopped. And if the government was actually interfering, it is answerable to the accusation that the CBI is being misused," he told reporters.
"However, if the CBI is working as per the law, the government did not have any right to interfere. If the PM's statement is accepted, it's the CBI's normal course of search. The government does not have any right to stop it," he said.
Stalin is the third person in his family to be questioned by the CBI.
In 2011, the CBI questioned Stalin's mother Dayalu Ammal and sister Kanimozhi in connection with the flow of over Rs.200 crore from Swan Telecom promoter Shahid Balwa's DB Realty firm to Kalaignar TV, a regional Tamil channel in which Karunanidhi's family members allegedly have majority stake.
Later, Kanimozhi was charged as co-conspirator in the 2G spectrum scam with former telecom minister A.Raja, and lodged in Delhi's Tihar Central Jail. She was later freed on bail.
The raids came on a day India voted for the US-sponsored motion against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council for war crimes.