Sunday Column-What are Chidambarams' secrets?

Amarnath Govindarajan

May 21, 2011, 10:09 AM | Updated May 02, 2016, 04:12 PM IST

Of all the strange and nauseating phenomena that perplex and put off political observers it is the mushy approval for P.Chidambaram that is perhaps the most easiest to explain. To your average anglophile elite-schooled journalist of Delhi-pedigree Chidambaram represents the ideal politician. Educated at Harvard he usually rolls off his tongue most impeccable angrezi with the unmistakable air of serious, intellectual self-assurance. This is not to say there are no other UPA ministers that have been at the receiving end of some serious love from usual suspects but you have got to admit it: in the eyes of a broadcast journalist PC defies the stereotype of a Congress neta quite easily. He’s self made: PC does come from a well known family in the Sivagangai region of Tamil Nadu but that is nothing close to the sort of ancestry that Sachin Pilot or a Jyotiraditya Scindhia or even a Manish Tiwari can claim. Compared with his other colleagues like the Kapil Sibal our man PC does not dilute his importance by being the proverbial loose cannon or by generally accepting every invitation to evening TV shows. Chidambaram conducts his press conferences with a certain discipline – given the totally unprofessional nature of our broadcast journalism this is probably mistaken for ministerial efficiency.

Given this background one should not be surprised at the manner in which the goof-up of our government in the matter of 2 (or 3, whatever the latest count is) of the 50 most wanted terrorists suspected to be in Pakistan being found in Indian jails – arrested and prosecuted by our police forces without our Home Ministry ever getting wise. Chidambaram was gracious to admit incompetence even as he made sure that his journalist fans got the point that agencies responsible for compiling the list were not operating under his control. An acute sense of embarrassment was feigned and the PC story was (is being) given the appropriate burial. Last weeks’ display of dim-wittedness by all parties concerned does enrage the average citizen but one really does not know where to begin criticising. Let us begin with Chidambarams’ record as Home Minister.

Chidambaram began his tenure as Home Minister on a good footing, he did things that were hard to find fault with. The Ministry of Home Affairs was subjected to a restructuring with more emphasis on counter-terrorism and from then on focus did seem to shift towards countering Left Wing Extremism. Chidambaram did not miss to take credit for much of expansion of Central Paramilitary Forces initiated under Shivraj Patils’ tenure. Even as the Minister sought to take the fight to the Maoists the enemy struck back and seemed to be killing central forces by the dozens. The Minister could explain it away as failure in training and field leadership – he did indeed seem to have a point. As if to demonstrate his earnestness the man also repeatedly called for Chief Ministers conferences wherein he pleaded for police reform, better armaments and facilities for the men. Nobody else seemed to care.

PC also went ahead with setting up new organisations with gusto. The National Investigative Agency, National Counter Terrorism Centre and Multi-Agency Centre were said to be in the process of ‘being set-up’. At one point of time the hoi polloi were told that setting up such hi-tech agencies were part of the then newly elected UPA 2.0’s 100 day agenda. Although ‘in-principle’ approvals and ‘interim measures’ seemed to come rather soon for some reason none of these agencies made any headway.

What caused this slow down or stalling? It appeared the Minister had made enemies. Many within the security establishment disapproved of Chidambarams’ new ambitions. The new Home Minister wanted too many departments under his direct control and just to make sure he wasn’t accumulating all the power he offered to give away some departments like pensions and other such. He wanted to be the National Security Czar, and sell a lemon but nobody was buying it. The all important National Counter Terrorism Centre is still in the making – it may receive approvals in the next weeks but 3-4 years one would think is too long. Other projects from Chidamabaram were also ‘throttled’ in departments run by Ministers not too happy about their colleague’s ambitions. This is sad because the restructuring of our security organisations, police reforms and cutting down the Home Ministry to size were long over due.

So apart from being ambitious where was PC going wrong? How come a Minister who appears to have started off addressing the right issues has received little support from others – importantly from his journalist friends who appear to have great regard for him? It is hard to tell what factors caused the halt in PC’s march to Czarship of the national security apparatus but lets begin with the man himself. For all his alleged effectiveness and attempts to make the Home Ministry more ‘communicative’ our still-incumbent Home Minister is seen as an arrogant personality at the end of the day.

The Minister has yet to engage the rest of the country in an effort to conceptualise a coherent internal security set-up – without such an articulation one cannot but view his efforts as directed towards turf acquisition. Worse, the Minister appears to have not taken his own colleagues into confidence and hence the stalling.

In so far as his broadcast journalistic fan-clubs are concerned PC would do well to observe how they have done just about nothing in aiding him to communicate his idea of security management. As mentioned in the beginning the constitution of his fan-clubs were primarily the lazy, anglophile characters hired mostly as facilitators of access journalism due to their familial connections and so on; this constituency has yet to demonstrate journalistic abilities. Consider the recent most-wanted-list goof up. Whilst some news outlets have done well to investigate the embarrassing mistake where is the demand for a full investigation to identify how the mistake occurred in the first place? Was the vain minister insistent on compiling a list of ‘50’ individuals that we may demand from our neighbour? India will never know – just as it would never find out the entire truth about 26/11 attacks, the delay in firming up anti-terror organisations and the lapses in counter-LWE strategies. India will never get these answers because those that are responsible for demanding answers by virtue of their professional dharma have yet to go beyond being very shallow news-bite producing TV anchors.

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