Soon after Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram took charge of the home ministry, a mobile sms started doing the rounds. It said: “Hope he would be able to bring down the terror attacks just as he has brought down the Sensex”. The sms may have been in a lighter vein but the new job he’s been entrusted with is no joke.
The task at hand is tough and tricky. It involves not only handling the Union Home Ministry in the run-up to the 15th Lok Sabha elections but to shape it up and plug the security loopholes that have rendered India vulnerable to terror strikes. An astute politician, Chidambaram knows that the stock of the Home Ministry as well as the entire United Progressive Alliance is at an all-time low following a series of strikes.
He also knows that meeting the security challenges of the country is a Herculean task. But at his first press conference as home minister he made it clear that he was serious about these issues. Snubbing a reporter who wanted to ask him a “fun” question, Chidambaram said: “This is not the time for fun. Let’s be serious.”
The question is, why Chidambaram? Was he chosen for his earlier three-year experience as the Minister of State for Internal Security? Yes, that’s an added advantage but, as a senior party colleague, puts it: “He has a razor-sharp mind and excellent command of law. As the ministry has to deal with law at every step, he is the best choice.”
Chidambaram has a track record of being a pro-minority politician as well. “Just look at his budget announcements and you can see what he’s showered on the minorities,” says one of his ministerial colleagues. This image will also be of immense help to the government which is grappling with the problem of how to take initiatives against terror without hurting the sentiments of the minority community.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi have asked the new home minister to announce a “plan of action” on revamp of the internal security as fast as possible. Chidambaram may do so in Parliament, where a stormy debate is expected over the Mumbai attack, when it reconvenes on 10 December. Sources hint that the new home minister will focus on re-jigging the intelligence network. Then he would turn to tackling the Naxals.
As the FM, Chidambaram spent time creating policies to solve various problems related to income-tax rates, import duties and waiver for farm loans among other things. In the home ministry, however, policies already exist and the tasks are cut out. But Chidambaram has to accomplish them in the next four months — something which Patil could not do in the last four years.