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Chidambaram, a bold reformer and taskmaster

November 30, 2008

P Chidambaram, India's new home ministerFrom a hard core Leftist in the late 1960s to being the liberal face, Palaniappan Chidambaram combines in him the qualities of a bold reformer, experienced administrator and a taskmaster in whatever assignment is given to him.

Sixty-three year old Chidambaram, who hails from a small business community of prosperous Chettiars of Tamil Nadu, was in the forefront of the economic reforms, unleashed during the P V Narasimha Rao government post 1991, and, executed by Manmohan Singh [Images] as the finance minister.

The Harvard educated MBA and eminent lawyer played an adequate foil to that team as Minister of State for Commerce with independent charge.

The experience gained during that period came to his help when he was made the finance minister with cabinet status in the United Front government in 1996 under Deve Gowda.

He presented a Budget that vastly slashed tax rates and contained a number of sops for the cooperate sector. I was hailed as a "dream budget". The budget could not ave its full run due to unstable political situation.

Chidambaram again made his entry into the finance ministry after the UPA was voted to power in 2004 beating many other claimants to the post.

It is a home-coming of sorts for Chidambaram in the home ministry, where he was the junior minister in charge of internal security in the Rajiv Gandhi government in late 1980s.

As the Minister for personnel in the Rajiv Gandhi government, he had carried out a number of administrative reforms.

Chidambaram, a darling of the country's industrialists, has now been called upon by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to usher reforms in the security set-up of the country, an issue on which the UPA was cornered when Shivraj Patil [Images] was in charge.

Beginning his political career as a Congressman, Chidambaram, a suave and articulate politician, was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1984 from the Sivaganga constituency in south Tamil Nadu.

Chidambaram's hardwork and adeptness in handling the economic issues facing the country made him India's youngest finance minister in the Gowda government in 1996.

Chidambaram had then quit the Congress and joined the Tamil Maanila Congress of G K Moopanar, who had floated the regional outfit after falling out with the Congress over aligning with All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

As the then Finance Minister, he had strived to bring discipline in government spending and introduced an innovative tax reforms programme to tackle the growing fiscal deficit.

Chidambaram, who lost the parliamentary elections only once in 1999, parted ways with Moopanar in 2001 when the veteran Congressman decided to align with Jayalalithaa's AIAMDK for the 2001 Assembly elections and floated his own outfit Congress Jananayaga Peravai.

In his early life, Chidambaram practiced as an advocate in the Madras high court and later in the Supreme Court, and was an adviser to several multi-nationals.

He was re-elected to the Lok Sabha from the same constituency in 1989, 1991, 1996, 1998 and 2004.

He lost in 1999 on a Tamil Maanila Congress ticket.

Image: P Chidambaram India's new Home Minister. | Photograph: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

Text: PTI

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