'I think we should take serious note of the concerns expressed by them. There is indeed a governance deficit in some areas and perhaps there is also an ethical deficit. But to conclude that these deficits have surfaced only now, in my view, would be totally wrong. These deficits have been there and we have from time to time tried to put in systems in order to meet the challenges of these deficits. But it is obvious that the systems that have been put in place are not entirely adequate and therefore any suggestion to improve the systems should be taken into account seriously,' Chidambaram said.
About the criticism that India's reform engine has stalled for the last couple of years, Chidambaram was his combative self: 'I think we need to look at reforms from the point of view of the many millions of people who have not gained from the reforms process also. And if you do, clearly, right to information, right to education, rural job guarantee program, the universalisation of the mid-day meal scheme, the extension of the old age pension scheme and now the right to food, in whatever manner the bill will be, are clearly attempts to share the benefits of growth with the millions.'
On the benefits conferred by the rural job guarantee scheme despite the complaints of leakages, Chidambaram pointed out that 'Firstly, it has raised the level of minimum wages all round, which is good. Secondly, it has reached areas where no other programme has. Thirdly, it has, maybe an unintended consequence: It has, in effect, given an old age pension to a large number of old people who otherwise got nothing from society. Fourthly, at least taking the concrete example of my state Tamil Nadu, it was never very bad but now it is absolutely clear -- nobody starves; there is no starvation as such.
'And there are many parts of India where one can now say with confidence that no family starves, no child goes to bed without having had at least two meals a day. Yes, it has its faults and downsides that need to be addressed.'
On India's biggest domestic challenge, the threat from Maoism, Chidambaram said, 'My assessment is that in Orissa, Jharkhand and, surprisingly, even West Bengal, the civil government has been able to gain an upper hand in many areas where they were nowhere in the picture. In Chhattisgarh, it has been a bit of a stalemate, a draw at the moment. In Andhra Pradesh, we always had an upper hand, although in one district there have been some setbacks- Vishakhapatnam rural district. In Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, there have been some setbacks. So, overall, some gains, some setbacks but we are still there engaging the Naxals.'
Alongside the stick, Chidambaram also spoke of the carrot being dangled in the countryside. 'Side by side, we have cut through all the very refined economic gobbledygook and simply put money in the hands of the three senior most district-level officers, and said "Go ahead and do whatever you think is doable in a matter of three months, depending upon what the villages need." So in 60 districts today, we have put Rs 250 million in each district and next year we will give them Rs 300 million and maybe a little more. These three officers have been given full freedom to do what needs to be done after consulting the village.'
On anti-terrorism initiatives, the home minister felt India's capacity to deal with terror is better today than what it was two years ago. 'And if you ask me this question next year, I can say with confidence our capacity to deal with terror next year would be even better from what it is today. We have recruited more policemen, we have substantially augmented our capacity to train them, we have equipped them better -- better clothing, better footwear, better weapons. We have trained them better and our intelligence gathering has improved considerably in order to be able to deal with challenges of terror.'