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Narendra Bisht
Even if Sonia and Rahul choose PC, regional allies may demur
Budget 2013-14
To Have A Chance, And Have Not
Is Chidambaram to keep Rahul’s seat warm? A close look...realpolitik says nay.
COMMENTS PRINT
Budget 2013-14
No one dare say it, but Indian politics has a hidden vacancy. Can P. Chidambaram fill it?
Lola Nayar
jump cut
What P. chidambaram needs to watch is the gap in his budgets between projections and ground realities.
Narendar Pani
jump cut
Rather than making people self-reliant, the government has reduced them to a line of begging bowls.
P.V. Rajagopal
personal finance: outlook money
Outlook Money offers a primer to make the most of these testing times.
Markets
Despite the effect his speech had on equity markets, his budget tackles the issue of a slowing economy.
Mohit Satyanand
Investment Analysis
The budget permits a voyeuristic pleasure in watching the rich squirm beneath a 10 per cent surcharge.
Gautam Chikermane

PC Unfriendly

Digvijay Singh: PC’s handling of the Maoist issue was severely criticised by Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh who said PC lacked understanding of the situation Pranab Mukherjee: There was no love lost between the two senior ministers, forcing Sonia Gandhi to broker peace. Now, Pranab being the president leaves the field clear for PC.

Jayalalitha: Became a foe when the ED probed her aide Sasikala’s house in ’96, leading to her arrest. PC was then in Gowda’s cabinet. Insiders say she’ll ensure he loses in 2014. Subramanian Swamy: Has been ruthless in targeting his “former student” since the mid-1990s, and spearheaded the charge that Chidambaram was involved in the 2G scam

  Congress and UPA allies: Is disliked by colleagues, allies and party workers (even in TN) and would need major support from the Nehru-Gandhis to steamroll opposition  

***

Just over a decade ago, when the NDA was in power and Atal Behari Vajpayee’s health appeared to be failing, a prime ministerial balloon was floated in New Delhi. Jaswant Singh, who had served as fin­ance, defence and foreign minister in the NDA regime, was suddenly being “discussed” as a replacement for Vajpayee. What was interesting about this “candidature” was that it was not floated by the BJP or even the NDA, but by foreign missions in Delhi and Indian journalists who were in touch with them. Foreign correspondents posted in New Delhi even did a few stories on the “PM candidate” who was  clubbable, affable and spoke English in that grand manner. He was one individual in the BJP that westerners and Indians of a certain class could relate to. The “Jaswant for PM” idea was, however, quite bogus and completely out of sync with realpolitik.

The “Chidambaram for PM” idea, similarly, is being taken more seriously in circles that only speak English instead of those who can revert to the vernacular in order to play a real political hand. Presumably, the latter would be more likely to read the political pulse. Most politicians, for instance, just say the idea is plain “ridiculous” and not worth discussing. A few give reasons for this. The CPI(M)’s Basudev Acharia just says, “Why do you ask if he can be the PM when it does not even look likely that the Congress will form the next government!” But that is the old Communist dismissal of individuals they believe are selling off the nation!

It is part of the game to discuss future scenarios, especially when elections in the world’s largest democracy are just a year away. The most plausible scenario emerging from the opposition corner is Gujarat CM Narendra Modi being the face of one campaign, while Rahul Gan­dhi will lead the other. But since Rahul has never shown the sli­ghtest inclination for office, there has been some speculation about the search for his Man­m­ohan Singh. Since one plus one makes two and we do not have to balance the math of a bud­get before speculating, we may well ask: why not P. Chi­dambaram?

He seems good for the part, particularly if it’s up for discussion in editorial columns and TV studios. Chidambaram is bright, cogent, savvy, apparently attractive to middle class India, cer­t­ainly comes through well on television, has been smiling a lot more at his press conferences, has friends in the corporate world (for some of whom he has also been a lawyer). And it is also said that he is quite the wit, with a penchant for dark sarcasm. And now he has delivered a reasonable budget. So why not Chidambaram as the running mate for reluctant prince Rahul?

 
 
The lack of a mass base can be an advantage in selecting a partner for Rahul. Leaders with real bases don’t always fare well in the Congress.
 
 
A well-placed bureaucrat sees merit in the plan and offers some insights: “There is no denying that currently the FM’s writ extends beyond finance. He is able to suggest things in other ministries as well, most notably pushing the nctc proposal.” But in the Congress there is no one this correspondent could find who takes this proposal seriously. There is, however, the understanding that Chidam­ba­ram is one of the most efficient men in the government. He has also mellowed in the course of UPA-II and modified some of his instinctive right-wing positions to ideologically fall in tune with the line the Gandhis prefer to project. More than anything else, what makes him vital to the regime is that he is a doer, he understands economics, policy and knows how to negotiate in that space.

He is also seen as not that good with human beings and “arrogance” (at times a characteristic of the very bright) appears to be his undoing. Prof Saugata Roy, MP and senior leader, Trinamool Congress, puts it bluntly: “I don’t think that P. Chidambaram has the potential to be a replacement for Manmohan Singh. He is bright but he is not brilliant. He has no political base in his own state, though one would say the same thing about Manmohan Singh, but the PM has three special qualities—he is a scholar, he is honest and he is a humble person.” The reason why Sonia chose Manmohan when she made her spectacular and dramatic “sacrifice” was that he offended no one and would never really threaten the dynasty. Chidambaram is a very different personality.

The other argument for Chidambaram is that, like Modi, he is a tough “fix-it” guy who can be a counter to the Gujarat CM. But Modi has a proven electoral base while Chidambaram had difficulty winning his own seat in Tamil Nadu and is said to be quite unpopular with the current state leadership of the Congress party. Still, the lack of a mass base could be an adv­antage in selecting a partner to Rahul, as leaders with real bases do not always fare well in the Congress. Many have either carved an independent path (like Sharad Pawar) or been cut loose by the party (like Jagan Reddy).

So, if we start ticking the boxes, we may actually conclude that Chidambaram could be smart enough, but not popular enough, to play Manmohan’s part in the future. Presuming that Sonia and Rahul are conv­i­nced and inform the party of the choice, the real problem would be the regional players and parties. It is worth remembering that legislation pushed by the ministries Chidambaram has headed has often got stuck in Parliament because his management of other parties was poor and, quite perversely, his colleagues in the Congress often just stood by as his proposals sank. Now, one of his former colleagues inhabits Rashtrapati Bhawan. So why shouldn’t Chidambaram dream big?


By Saba Naqvi with Panini Anand

COMMENTS PRINT
Budget 2013-14
No one dare say it, but Indian politics has a hidden vacancy. Can P. Chidambaram fill it?
Lola Nayar
jump cut
What P. chidambaram needs to watch is the gap in his budgets between projections and ground realities.
Narendar Pani
jump cut
Rather than making people self-reliant, the government has reduced them to a line of begging bowls.
P.V. Rajagopal
personal finance: outlook money
Outlook Money offers a primer to make the most of these testing times.
Markets
Despite the effect his speech had on equity markets, his budget tackles the issue of a slowing economy.
Mohit Satyanand
Investment Analysis
The budget permits a voyeuristic pleasure in watching the rich squirm beneath a 10 per cent surcharge.
Gautam Chikermane
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