PC in a pickle?


Prasanna Mohanty | April 16, 2010

Is P Chidambaram getting too big for his boots? Or is it that the Congress wants to send a conflicting message to address to the concerns of various constituencies? Better still, is it a reflection of the perceived differences between the political boss, Sonia Gandhi and the executive boss, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh?

Knowing the Congress, you never know. It can be any of these or all of these at the same time.

For quite some time, an impression has gain ground that Chidambaram is the Shining Knight of the UPA, particularly because of the way he has transformed the home ministry and taken the Maoists head-on. He has won the confidence and approbation of the BJP chief ministers too, including that of Narendra Modi. When he offered to resign following the Dantewada massacre, the BJP stood up and appealed him to continue his battle against the insurgent. No mean achievement this given the fractious politics of the day.

All this would have certainly rattled many in the party, a monolith which seldom allowed anyone to grow too big if he happened to be from outside the dynasty. Recall how Pranab Mukherjee and V.P. Singh had been cut to size. And also how P.V. Narasimha Rao had a difficult time dealing with Arjun Singh and N.D.Tiwari. In the present context, Digvijay Singh is far too senior a party leader to be taken lightly. There may have been personal differences, as he mentions in his newspaper article, but for him to take a line completely different from that of the party-led government on the Maoist issue raises reasonable doubts about the purpose of his salvo. Singh wrote, among other things, that “he (Chidambaram) is treating it purely as a law and order problem without taking into consideration the issues that affect the tribals”. Another of his comment is also note worthy. In the same article he wrote: “We can’t solve this problem by ignoring the hopes and aspirations of the people living in these areas. Are these people getting benefits of public distribution system, MNREGA, NRHM and other pro-people policies? Are our forest policies, mining policies, land and water policies people-centric?”

Another senior leader, Mani Shankar Aiyar, too has jumped into the ring. He has been insisting for days together, particularly after the Dantewada massacre, that the only solution to the Maoist problem is implementation of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act. When Digvijay Singh’s article caused a ripple, he supported him whole-heartedly, saying the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister is “one lakh percent right”.  Are they playing a familiar game? The game that Digvijay Singh played by visiting Azamgarh some time ago to raise the Batla House encounter issue?

Political observers are not unfamiliar with the strategy of the ruling party to let a section of its own to act as a critique of the government’s policies to appropriate the role of the opposition. The Swadeshi Jagaran Manch and the RSS often played that role during the NDA regime. By taking a line that sounds so much like that of the civil society protesting against the security operation against the Maoists, both Singh and Aiyar seem to be playing to a constituency which has every reason to feel alienated from the party and the government—the civil society and the tribals among whom the Maoists have found a support base.

But coming as it does after the prime minister’s clear directive that only the home ministry would be the authority to speak on the issue, their comments can’t be seen simply as an attempt to keep various constituencies happy. Not when far too many grapevines are actively whispering about a growing gulf between the political boss, and the executive boss ---be it over amending the RTI Act, the Food Security Bill or one’s focus on social agenda while the other one is busy pursuing his economic and foreign policy agenda. 

Singh and Aiyar are far too astute and shrewd politicians to let one know their real motive.  If there is a method to the disgruntled voices against the government, it can be discerned in due course of time.



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