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The country could do with more like Chidambaram

OPINION: Manmohan Singh

Business Standard  |  New Delhi 

His essays are an intelligent, articulate critique of the government of the day
N ewspaper are not always meant for posterity. Many of them are forgotten even before the day is out! However, some columnists deserve not just a wider readership but also deserve to be read by future generations. The essays of Chidambaram fall in this category. They are an intelligent, articulate critique of the government of the day and need to be studied by future generations for the insights they provide into our governance processes. Hence, the value of this endeavour. I compliment all those associated with this project for publishing this volume.
I have greatly benefited from Shri Chidambaram's wisdom, acumen, experience and knowledge of the functioning of a modern economy. He is undoubtedly one of the hardest working and most intellectually alive persons of the day. I have always been impressed by his energy and enthusiasm, and his deep commitment to his work.
We have been colleagues in Government in the past. He was a great source of strength and support for me in 1991, during the early years of economic reform and liberalization. In fact, apart from the fiscal stabilisation we had to undertake in the Ministry of Finance at that time, an important aspect of reform was of the external sector and in the realm of trade and he was an enthusiastic partner in this process.
Even the most ardent of reformers find it difficult to obliterate their own empires of power and patronage. But that is what Chidambaram did as Commerce Minister. I think he was one of the few ministers who presided over the shrinking of his own ministry, disproving the usual notions of political economy that all politicians and bureaucrats aim to expand their personal empires! He closed down sections of the ministry that had been rendered redundant by the trade and industrial policy changes we had initiated.
He remained committed to our agenda of fiscal reform even after our Government changed and he became part of the United Front Ministry. I think it was his budget of 1997 that was called a `dream budget' by Swaminathan Aiyar. I think that made it difficult for his successors, including himself now, to come up with another such budget!
I think being in opposition is always a good thing for politicians. It is a humbling experience. It is also a time to reflect on the policies practiced when one is in power, their positive and negative repercussions and the course corrections that may be needed. It is a time to observe the working of another government which has come to office after having defeated an incumbent and try to understand whether they are able to put their chance in office to good use. While not all politicians put the spare time to good use, this book tells us that Chidambaram certainly did so. It is clear that during the period he was out of government, he had the time to reflect on issues of social and national concern.
I think those who are now in opposition should learn from the way Chidambaram handled spare time on his hands and make better use of their time. Though I am not sure how may of them can write as well as Shri Chidambaram does, and write so intelligently. Few can match his knowledge, wisdom, experience, humour and the ease of expression.
I wish him well, and hope this book finds a wide readership. I also wish him long years of good health and many more years of service to our country. He is a great asset and the country will need his services for a long time to come. May God bless you."
(Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, releasing a compendium of newspaper articles written by Finance Minister P Chidambaram, on January 22 2007)

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First Published: Sun, January 28 2007. 00:00 IST