With speculation at its peak that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is reshuffling his Council of Ministers in the near future, a great deal of that speculation is centred around Union Home Minister P Chidambaram.
The question being avidly adressed is whether he is being removed from the coveted Home portfolio or whether he would survive this current round and live to fight another day.
Apart from his own sins of omission and commission, one of the biggest problems being faced by the Congress leadership is that P Chidambaram stands between Jayalalithaa and the Congress party. It is no secret that she has displayed a keen interest to be a part of the UPA government at the centre but there is a price for her support. She has already fired her first rather loaded salvo against the Harvard-educated and lungi wearing Chettiar from Tamil Nadu by questioning his very existence in the government as a home minister by stating rather bluntly that he was never elected to the Lok Sabha as he had lost the election and was fraudulently elected.
With the DMK gradually slipping out of the UPA, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa is set to make her second visit to Delhi and will be here on July 6 when she may meet the Congress president Sonia Gandhi in a bid to repair a relationship, which had become frayed at the edges many years ago. She may also do some blunt speaking on the terms and conditions of her support to the Singh government at the centre.
Another interesting aspect of the Chidambaram saga is the downward slide of his relations with the Prime Minister. Once considered to be close to him as both share a deep and abiding love for the American state, sources in the government now say that the Prime Minister regards him with suspicion and the trust factor which was there and has slowly evaporated. This became evident when the Prime Minister pointed a finger at Chidambaram for having cleared the first-come first-serve system in the awarding of licenses in the 2G spectrum issue but Chidambaram immediately retaliated by making public his stand that he had favoured the auction route.
Sources also state that the Prime Minister was said to be cut up when Chidambaram conducted interviews to select the new home secretary, an act seen as unprecedented by a minister since it is considered the prerogative of the Prime Minister and Appointments Committee of the Cabinet. It was seen as another example of Chidambaram asserting his position and his authority.
He also went to the extent of giving the Prime Minister advice through a television channel asking him to be more open and communicative in his interactions. This stunned political leaders in the Congress and the government but made the PM sit up and begin the process of calling editors for an interaction in a bid to be more open, communicative and give his views on a host of issues.
Sources say this is just one of the many instances between the two, leading to a breakdown in the relationship. In this context the Prime Minister is not happy considering Chidambaram for the external affairs portfolio as is being speculated as it suits him to have a foreign minister who will allow the PMO to call the shots and be content with merely travelling abroad on goodwill missions. Efforts are on by the Prime Minister and his team to retain SM Krishna in the post or bring in “convenient” ministers like Anand Sharma or Salman Khurshid who will neither oppose nor obstruct the PMO line on foreign policy.
Another senior leader with whom Chidambaram has developed drastic differences is Pranab Mukherjee who took over from Chidambaram in the Finance portfolio. The latest bugging episode where Pranab Mukherjee’s bedroom to the office was bugged has further raised the deficit bar between the two, even as Chidambaram organised an interview with a TV channel to bring home the point that he did not known about the bugging nor had the IB given him any information.
Interestingly, Pranab Mukherjee’s office was on red alert when they received reports that posters had been plastered in central Delhi demanding that Pranab be made Prime Minister. Some processions were also carried out in Cannaught Place area. Discreet enquiries by the Finance Ministry have revealed that the person organising these is a gentleman from Tamil Nadu!
As a Home Minister, Chidambaram’s record in managing anti-naxal operations have been less than successful with statistics showing that more CRPF personel have been killed in Naxal areas than jawans in full-fledged wars earlier. Unprepared for combat of this nature and untrained, the CRPF men were sent to Dantewada and subsequently other areas and a large number of casualties resulted in the operation. There are now reports that Naxal activity is on the rise in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra while Bihar where there is large concentration of Naxal outfits has been largely ignored by the Home Ministry. Despite the fact that he brought in a Tamil Nadu cadre officer Vijay Kumar as the DG CRPF.
Chidambaram is a man who probably has more enemies than he has friends. Considered to be arrogant and a no-nonsense kind of leader, Chidambaram has the habit of picking up the phone and directly dialing the editor/owner if he finds that a reporter has written against him. But on the flip side, he is seen as a politician who is articulate, clear headed, makes great speeches in Parliament and under his tenure as Home Minister, India has seen the minimal terror attacks (almost none) compared to the tenure of his “illustrious” predecessor Shivraj Patil where the country was battling one bomb blast after another.
In such a scenario, as speculation peaks about the much talked about shuffle of the cabinet, which the Prime Minister had said would be an “expansive” one, the focal point continues to be Chidambaram with the will he wont buzz all around. The grapevine has sent him to commerce, to defence, to external affairs, as PCC President Tamil Nadu etc. But having given an interesting interview to a TV channel where he looked and sounded low key and brought in his family to add the right touch of a family man despite the controversies surrounding him and where he said he wants now to travel, read and write. He has gone to Russia and France and would be back on July 1. Probably just in time to listen to the latest buzz on where he is headed!
By Renu Mittal