Of all the millions of words that have been expended since Thursday night to examine and re-examine the collapse of the Indo-Pak talks into a slugfest between the two subcontinental S.M.s—Krishna and Qureshi—the most incisive 1,042 words come from the editor of the Madras-headquartered New Indian Express, Aditya Sinha, who lobs the grenade the Delhi media cannot fine the ball bearings to: did Union home minister P. Chidambaram sabotage the dialogue?
Even as Krishna is flying into Islamabad, Chidambaram’s top bureaucrat, home secretary G.K. Pillai, accuses the ISI of being behind the 26/11 attack in an interview with the Chidambaram-friendly Indian Express. Predictably, at the mention of ISI, Qureshi flies off the handle and accuses Krishna of taking orders on his cellphone, etc, and soon enough taglines like “Big Chill”, “Tu-tu-main-main“, “Aman ki Ashes” start crawling on TV screens.
Sinha’s entirely plausible theory sparks a bigger question: is the veshti-wearing, Harvard-accented Chidambaram what he is cracked up to be—a high IQ dude competently running his ministry unlike the bandgala-worshipping Shivraj Patil? Or is he just pursuing an agenda all his own that is often at odds with the weltanschaaung of the Congress and is perhaps even deliberately intended at causing discomfort to prime minister Manmohan Singh who has made foreign policy the signature tune of his second term?
The suggestion could have been dismissed off-hand if only if were the first such indiscretion. It isn’t.
# Witness the Telangana tamasha, manufactured mostly by Chidambaram’s breakneck speed in announcing the formation of a new State after TRS chief K. Chandrashekar Rao‘s fast-unto-death, that has turned Congress’ most profitable state into a liability.
# Witness the operation against Naxals that has turned vast swathes of the hinterland into a graveyard posting for CRPF jawans. (Arundhati Roy has called him “CEO of the war” because he appears to be furthering the cause of his former clients by using State power to clear tribal land for their mining and business interests.)
# Witness the upsurge in violence in Kashmir after the CRPF, which is getting slaughtered in the Naxal badlands, opens fire on teenagers throwing stones and plunges the State into the kind of chaos not since the militancy began in 1989.
# Witness the Afzal Guru issue which again gained traction following a report (obviously in Indian Express) that the Delhi chief minister Shiela Dixit is sitting on it that causes further embarrassment to a party bending backwards to avoid it.
Chidambaram has, for long, been a slightly distrusted individual in the Congress. Partymen salute his obvious brilliance in dealing with complex issues like the Bhopal gas compensation, but he is seen as a bit of an upstart who left the party and became finance minister in non-Congress Third Front and United Front governments. There are some who whisper that the careerist very nearly joined the BJP.
Even if you put all that down to professional jealousy, it cannot be denied that he enjoys a fair degree of middle-class sympathy, especially among the NDTV viewing sections of it, especially for his muscular stance against Naxals and his “proactive” approach to policing by mouthing hollow American tripe like the “Buck Stops Here”. He is, in a manner of speaking, the English-speaking Narendra Modi, without evoking the same visceral venom.
Nevertheless, the Indo-Pak kerfuffle is a good time to ask if Chidambaram is playing his own tune in the government, (which is why he routinely runs afoul of party loyalists like Digvijay Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyar). Is he doing it on his own volition or to some higher power’s script? On the other hand, if Chidambaram is eyeing the “7, Race Course Road” address on his visiting card should such an eventuality arise, will such antics necessary earn points on the Congress high command’s scorecard?
Did Manmohan Singh miss a golden opportunity by not accepting Chidambaram’s resignation (not since offered) after the first Dantewada massacre of CRPF jawans?
Or is there something here that falls short of logic?