I am writing this from the city of Columbus in central Ohio, the United States. A coworker of mine shares an attention-grabbing information. It is about Indian finance minister P.Chidambaram.
He could not recollect exactly. It might be 2002 or 03. Mr.Chidambaram was out of power, even out of congress party. He was invited to a function in Columbus, organized by an Indian community. Political personalities attending such gatherings, while out of office, is not uncommon. But what is fascinating about this Harvard educated lawyer cum economist is his simplicity.
Former finance minister (at that time) flew all the way from India in economy class. Three and a half hours drive from Detroit was adequate for his commute to Columbus. He had not demanded another domestic flight, even after long journey in the sky. Story did not end there. He stayed with an NRI at his residence & surprisingly did not insist for hotel accommodation.
After the talk in the meeting, folks had offered him to take around the city. He refused and held that he had to write for Indian Express. Indeed, he went ahead and penned down thousand plus word column, despite getting intermittent calls from international bodies like world bank etc. That shows the level of discipline this market savvy politician is made up with. He wrote a column every week in Indian Express between August 2002 and March 2004, except two weeks.
All those articles are collected and tied to be named as ‘A view from outside’, a 372 page book, not to mention being priced at Rs.500. I am making a simple attempt to gaze through that work via a common man’s eyes.
He starts his first article on a positive note. “India is often described as a poor country. I disagree. It is a country where a large proportion of its people is poor.” He talks high that India can grow much much faster than rest of the world. But, growth is a function of investment. He augurs the need to eradicate all stumble blocks hindering productive investment. More emphasis can be seen towards public spending on infrastructure. We join our current FM in pressing the need to accelerate public investment and removing roadblocks for private investment.
At many instances he proves to be a smart politician, principally when it comes to criticizing then ruling BJP and it’s Hindutva policies.
Many of Chidambaram’s remarks on BJP’s term at the center applies now as well. Finance minister might like to forget these statements. He terms Vajpayee
“He presides over the most fractious coalition government ever to rule India. Not a day passes without one party or the other vehemently criticizing the government”
Should we forget the current government at the center flexing itself for every peril from left allies and regional powers like DMK? If one has mind that can be mould just by reading some articulate writing, it would be easy to get a feeling that it was only BJP that had differences in the government. Differences and compromises are not the rule of the game and accepted norm in a coalition government. Even current DMK government in Tamil Nadu faces unprecedented (is there a better word) pressure from its allies, including Chidambaram’s party itself for the first time.
One should have no doubts on his vision and economic acumen. Growth of nation and the living standard of her citizen is characterized by the per-capita consumption. BJP’s inability to push hard power sector reforms, initiate & even achieve preset targets in power generation capacity addition is indicated at various instances. We ought agree with FM on this matter. We are pretty pleased with government’s ambitious target of electrifying every home by 2012, which is no longer a paper target.
He touches upon agriculture, albeit them being short. Even he acknowledges.
“there were only three pieces on agriculture, but I was able to identify the real issues plaguing that sector: low investment, inadequate credit and poor farm-gate prices. These problems persist, but a beginning has been made to correct the situation.”
Book advocates for simple and transparent rules to be incorporated into our administrative system. Author even makes an attempt to touch the roots of corruption in our system and reasons why it stays undiminished. License raj obligated business leaders to be nice with ruler to receive favor, which is percolates down the pyramid to every taluk office and office boy, not to talk of clerks and officers.
Chidambaram also questions ourselves on the important issue of Kashmir. Our governments, for Chidambaram it is more of BJP than congress, have been very comfortable to point fingers towards Pakistan for every unrest in India. It is no different from Bush's 'war against terror' and Sadam Hussain being found guilty for every crisis US faces.
Our failure to embrace Kashmir and its people into national mainstream is cited. Dissident Panjabi’s are now in every walk of life. We have accommodated them on the national dais. Even DMK wanted separate nation and gave up that idea. It is a classical example on how a state (and political dynasties) can prosper through participation and involvement. India’s failure to handhold north eastern states is a symbol of disgrace.
‘A view from outside’ is predominantly economic outlook of this free market preacher. He has quoted lot numbers through the length and breadth of this work. I shall get into those details. Chidambaram’s advocate brain makes sure that he puts forward his views, criticism and comments with relevant statistics. That is some effort for a politician in Indian. No wonder why prime minister Dr.Manmohan Singh praises his finance minister and asks opposition to use their otherwise gratis time effectively.
He goes on talking on many issues ranging from child labor, honesty in politics, low tax – high compliance, fiscal deficit, usage of forex reserves, women empowerment, WTO, Kaveri water problem, tourism industry, budgets, disinvestment, FDI, tourism industry, LTTE and the list goes on. He proves with no doubt that he was Rajiv Gandhi’s pet. Rajiv had a dream and wanted to change the lives of millions. Agreed! But, Chidambaram’s efforts on Bofors are very explicit. Even he proclaims to have taken Vajpayee, a wordsmith himself, by surprise with his statement on this historic arms deal racket.
It is my honest belief that this articulate politician with his ‘scholar’ hat has done a fantastic work using his free time. I would say, “Its a must read”, if you don’t ask back, “Are his criticism hold good for his current governance & government?”
I want to add another question too. Why is the government increasing the interest rate to curb liquidity and at the same time inject money by heavily buying dollar to maintain exchange rate? Are the FM and RBI of the view that Indian economy is not resilient enough to absorb strong rupee?