UNION home minister P. Chidambaram has acted with honour and integrity and set an example by offering to resign after the massacre of 76 security men by Maoists in Dantewada in Chhattisgarh last week. By his action, PC has set a precedent for his colleagues. More important, he has consolidated his position within the government hierarchy. The Congress “ appreciated and commended” his “ buck stops at my desk” statement but would not go beyond saying that the resignation would not be accepted.
What came as a surprise though was the reaction of the opposition BJP which would normally have used an occasion such as this to go for the government’s jugular. “ We have not sought Chidambaram’s resignation or want him to resign on his own. He has to continue the country’s fight to the finish and our party would extend ( the) support he needs to defeat the forces backed by foreign states”, BJP spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy said. These are words that Rudy couldn’t have afforded not to utter. Chidambaram succeeded the effete Shivraj Patil as Union home minister in the wake of 26/ 11 and since then there is a near cross- party consensus that the lawyer- economist- politician from Sivaganga is the best CEO for India’s law and order machinery. That India did not witness a single case of terrorism for the next 14 months is testimony to that. The spotless record was somewhat blemished by the attack on the German Bakery in Pune in February this year; yet there is acknowledgement of the broad success of his strategy to snuff out threats from across the border. Indeed, so convinced was PC about the success of the path he chose that just a couple of weeks ago, he stated in an interview that he would wipe out the Maoist menace within the next three years.
Why then has he offered to resign? Has he thrown in the towel? I hope not, just as I am sure do a majority of our countrymen. At a time when the vandals rule a third of the country’s 600- odd districts, India needs a man like him who carries no ideological baggage, has chalked out a clear agenda and goes about it with clockwork precision. PC uses both the carrot and the stick in equal measure.
In the last few weeks, on more than one occasion he signalled the government’s willingness to open dialogue as long as they “ abjured” violence. Like any tough administrator who sets out to change the rules of the game, PC has run into hurdles.
There is no shortage of bleeding hearts within and outside the government who’d rather that the state go soft on Maoists and adopt a twopronged strategy that includes both carrying out anti- extremist operations and addressing their socio- economic issues.
It is PC’s contention that, far from yielding results, this strategy has proved costly, both in
terms of men and material. Since 2005, 1,800 paramilitary personnel have met their death at the hands of extremists; 140 in the last months alone. PC has probably taken a cue from Y. S. Rajashekhara Reddy and N. Chandrababu Naidu, two men who otherwise followed policies that were as different as chalk and cheese. But on Naxalites, they — one a Congress chief minister and the other from the Telugu Desam Party and the bitterest of political rivals — were one.
They were ruthless in their pursuit of Naxalites and both had the full support of the Centre. It is no secret that during the NDA regime, Naidu had a carte blanche from the then home minister L. K. Advani to act as he deemed fit and it is largely due to their tenacity that the Naxalite menace in Andhra is no more what it used to be.
PC tried to establish the same kind of rapport with opposition chief ministers like Raman Singh and Naveen Patnaik. But he is being held back by the breast beaters in the government and professional human rights protesters.
There was no sight more shameful than one such organisation claiming last week that the jawans were ill- trained to tackle extremism. It is not about lack of training. What they need are weapons and most of all, a morale booster. And that can only happen if the state empowers them with both weapons and policies that make them feel that the state cares. For a start, politicians could start thinking beyond the vote bank and give them powers for preventive arrest and interrogation and even POTA. Give them autonomy; their demoralisation will vanish as will their death count.
As finance minister, PC had greater exposure and influence over the nation’s destiny. He missed the global stage and initially found it difficult to adjust to his new role in North Block.
He had just begun to assert himself when Dantewada happened.
He enjoys the confidence of both the PM and Sonia and by offering to resign, he stooped to conquer. He is indispensable now and his foes will think twice before engaging him in a bout.