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Has the buck finally stopped for Chidambaram?

By Sheela Bhatt
April 14, 2010 16:43 IST
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Digvijay Singh's indictment of Home Minister P Chidambaram's strategy seems to be a preamble to the party's stance on Maoists which will differ from the government's plan, says Sheela Bhatt.

Has the Congress lost trust in its own home minister?

It seems so.

In a sensational column written by All India Congress Committee general secretary Digvijay Singh in a financial daily on Wednesday, Home Minister P Chidambaram has been cut to a thousand pieces. He has been called arrogant, a man opting for 'a narrow sectarian view' on the Maoist issue, and a minister who does not take into consideration the people living in the affected areas while formulating a strategy to tackle the Left-wing extremists.

But, first, read what one of the most powerful general secretaries of the ruling party has to say about the United Progressive Alliance government's high-profile home minister.

Digvijay Singh writes: "I have known P Chidambaram since 1985 when we both were elected to Parliament. He is extremely intelligent, articulate, committed and a sincere politician, but extremely rigid once he makes up his mind. I have been a victim of his intellectual arrogance many times, but we still are good friends. In this case, I have differed with his strategy that does not take into consideration the people living in the affected area who ultimately matter. He is treating it purely as a law and order problem without taking into consideration the issues that affect the tribals. When I raised these issues with him, he said that it was not his responsibility."

"I strongly believe in the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, and as home minister, it is his responsibility to take a holistic view of the issue and put it up to the Cabinet rather than opt for a narrow sectarian view. The home minister is also a member of the core group," adds Singh.

This is an absolute indictment of P Chidambaram. How can you tell a politician that he is not working for the people? There could be no bigger humiliation than that for any leader in a thriving democracy.

In the wake of the Dantewada massacre, in which Maoists killed 76 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force in an ambush in the thick forests of Mukrana in Chhattisgarh, Chidambaram had offered his resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had refused to accept it.

Now, one does not know how the home minister will react to this attack by his friend of 25 years.

However, Chidambaram is a skilled lawyer and normally lawyers are trained to ask what the motive behind a crime is. So who is the mastermind behind Digvijay Singh's attack?

The massacre of CRPF's 62 Battalion has shaken the nation. Even Left-wing liberals have condemned the violence but not even a single-line statement has come from power-to-be Rahul Gandhi or the de-facto power behind the throne in New Delhi, Sonia Gandhi.

Singh's column cannot be viewed in isolation. He is a veteran and a wily politician, and it would be naive to believe that Singh wrote the column without the knowledge of the Gandhi family.

The Congress party has merely asked Digvijay Singh to not air his views publicly. "Congress is a democratic party. Every one has the right to express his or her views, but such views should be expressed within the party forums only," AICC general secretary in-charge and media department chief Janardhan Dwivedi said.

There was no vociferous denial of the charges against Chidambaram, so it can be construed that -- albeit a bit late and indirectly -- the first family and their party have finally and forcefully spoken on the nation's 'greatest security threat.'

Singh, in his column, also points out: "As far as law and order is concerned, the buck stops with the chief minister, not with the home minister. The Centre provides central forces at the request of the state government and their deployment is the responsibility of the state government."

In the same column he also revealed the much-believed story of how local Bharatiya Janata Party leaders cut deals with Maoists to win the Chhattisgarh elections.

However, the focus of Singh's column remains the 'wrong strategy' adopted by Chidambaram to tackle the Maoist insurgency.

The BJP has staunchly supported Chidambaram in the current crisis and this column reflects that this is proving to be the proverbial 'kiss of death' for the home minister. The Congress has hit back against its own government.

The Maoist issue has sharply divided the country. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that it is the gravest security risk to the country. Chidambaram has said that it has to be dealt with severely. The home minister and his deputies are convinced that Maoists want to overthrow the democratically elected government and want to use violence to snatch power.

Many liberal thinkers and activists have opposed the recent crackdown on armed Maoists and have been pleading for development-oriented and pro-people programmes so that, eventually, tribals are reassured that their land, water and forests will not be snatched away from them.

Through Digvijay Singh's column, the Congress has injected its own rhetoric into the broad debate. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi's entire success over the last few years has been due to their successful identification with the aam admi.

Now, Singh has penned the preamble to the party's final stance on Maoists which will be different from the Manmohan Singh government's strategy. The column also depicts BJP as a party that has entered into clandestine deals with Maoists.

Two, Singh says that the buck stops at Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh's desk and that the central government has nothing to do with it.

Three, Singh indicates that Chidambaram who has acquired the image of a toughie is awful and that the Congress is distancing itself from the home minister.

For the moment, forget the ongoing melodrama over Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor. After all, Tharoor is just a pawn in the bigger war in the battlefield of cricket between Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and the Congress where the BJP has thrown its weight behind Pawar.

The Indian Premier League is a successful brand that has caught the imagination of young Indians whom Rahul Gandhi wants to represent in the coming years. Surely, a kitty of Rs 15,000 crore and the aspirations of the Indian youth are irresistible attractions for politicians of all parties. The Congress wants Pawar to lose vital control over organs that spew mega bucks and define the dreams of young Indians: but then that's a long-term goal.

The Tharoor drama is a short-term thriller. It is all about money, money and more money. The larger issues of the nation have nothing to do with it.

The plight of Tharoor or his lady friend will not disturb Prime Minister Singh once the MoS scores a couple more self-goals to die a natural political death. But the devastating column by Digvijay Singh should be read carefully by Chidambaram to understand where the buck stops, finally.

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi