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What you didn't know about P Chidambaram
BS Political Bureau in New Delhi |
May 25, 2004
What can you gift a man who commands a Rs 25 lakh crore empire (Rs 25 trillion), employs 37 crore (370 million) people, and is sitting on foreign exchange reserves worth $118 billion?
In short, what can you give to a man who has everything?
Buy him chocolates. That is sure to win his heart.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram is a self-confessed chocoholic. He can't have enough of the stuff. He eats chocolates when he's low, when he's exuberant, especially when he wants to concentrate.
He also likes potato chips (plain, not all that onion and cream and masala stuff), pizzas and footlongs, with generous toppings of ketchup and mustard.
Lest you think these are signs of indolence, just hold your horses. This is the man who rewrote India's Exim Policy in one non-stop eight-hour sitting in July 1991, when he became the commerce minister. He's not one for partying and he's not musical because, as he once confessed, he's tone deaf. But he's capable of very, very hard work.
Chidambaram doesn't believe in bending rules and laws. When he started his law practice after leaving home for the girl he loved, he wrote a charter for himself and his colleagues that ruled out sharp practices.
He believes rules should be changed, not bent. So industrialists meeting him for concessions -- for any purpose other than adding to national wealth - should expect to be sent away with a flea in their ear.
Occasionally, very occasionally, when he thinks his discretion should prevail, he does bend the rules: like in the case of a young IAS officer who came to see him when he was personnel minister because she had got a posting abroad, but was expecting a baby so she was not being allowed to go.
Only the minister could waive the rule. Once he had ascertained that she and the baby would have help, he let her go. That decision is recorded in the files as a ministerial intervention.
Among the causes he believes in, there's one that will always have his support. He will back anything to do with children.
When he quit the PV Narasimha Rao government in 1993 after offering to resign as commerce minister following a small family investment in Fairgrowth Financial Services Limited, he was at war with himself.
He felt the acceptance of his resignation implied tacit acceptance of his culpability in the Harshad Mehta scam, something that he was not remotely connected with.
To put it all behind him, he decided to deploy a substantial part of his considerable resources in the service of charity to children.
Project Interact was launched by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in May 1993 to help the children of victims of terrorism.
As an RGF Trustee, Chidambaram devised the scheme that would meet the cost of school fees, uniforms, books and maintenance of each child up to the senior secondary level.
This assistance was envisaged to extend to the child's post-school education as well. His objective was to ensure that at least materially, the children did not miss their parents, taken away from them for no fault of theirs.
As many as 800 children are supported by this project now, one that Chidambaram is intensely proud of. The children belong to Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Nagaland, Tripura and Assam. Chidambaram monitors their progress himself.
This doesn't mean he's without faults. He's tough, arrogant, unforgiving and inflexible. He has not forgiven former Defence Minister George Fernandes till today for a stray remark Fernandes made in the context of the investigations of the JPC on the Harshad Mehta stocks scam, to the effect that "we have mounds of evidence against Chidambaram."But in a profession where double-speak is the norm, Chidambaram is a man who can counted upon for being straight.