If patterns are formed by recurrent phenomena then there are one or two important patterns you can observe in the political machinations of the present UPA regime.  Behind the scene cloak and dagger maneuvers, one minister pulling down another like the proverbial crabs in a bottle and the general consensus on the need to regularly pay their obeiscance at the 10 Janpath Darbar are one set of patterns that explain the internal working of the government in New Delhi.

There is another set of pattern that you would have noticed : this is the concerted attempt to project a particular candidate as a reformer, a personality whose ruthless efficiency would do away with the bumbling old style of the ministry’s function and throw open the doors for restructuring in the best interests of our beloved country. I must remind you, gentle reader, that although our Hon’ble Ministers exercise themselves in an earnest manner to achieve and retain the image of a reformer this has nothing to do with their actual performance. After all, the Ministers are not to be held responsible if you come to believe or expect to see their projected image being completely against the spirit of reform and re-organisation.

The Prime Minister leads the pack, in fact he maybe the culprit who started the whole ‘reformist’ thing going. He has Kamal Nath, Kapil Sibal and AK Antony for company of course, but none come close to our Home Minister Shri P Chidambaram (PC).

PC was made Home Minister in the aftermath of 26/11. His predecessor Shivraj Patil had set such a record of sorts in incompetence and ineptness that many believed, including the gullible yours truly, that PC might be able to change a few things for good at the Ministry of  Home Affairs.

Being dropped into the hot seat the new Home Minister had to spend an entire year in fire-fighting, introducing cosmetic measures and to undo some of the damage his predecessor had done to our internal security. Press releases informed the citizenry of the number of new boats, new equipment for police, new bases for special forces across the country and also of how much effort it was to run a ministry of that size and complexity.

Some of the new measures had been hanging fire for a long time and it is such an embarrassing testament to the standards of our political leadership that we have to reluctantly grant PC some credit for getting the MHA to clear some of the files.  But that is just about all you credit PC for. Allow me to explain why PC deserves no credit for any major reform or reorganisation measure that has happened in MHA since he took over in November 2008.

While delivering the 22nd Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture  titled  ‘A New Architecture of India’s Security’ P Chidambaram unveiled a bold new vision for managing internal security in India.  He began with a very valid case to address the deficiency in our police forces and proposed measures to address the same at every level: individual stations, district and state organisations. At the apex of this new security architecture was the NATGRID and the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC).  Just as one was getting the impression that some worthwhile proposals were being turned out PC delivered the coup de grace: give me a new ministry to run the internal security affairs of the country and downgrade the MHA to handling ‘less important’ issues.

It was almost a  well argued position. The MHA with its multi-various divisions had lost focus and was dragging its feet on even routine issues. The Minister was certainly carrying a heavy burden having to manage the the paramilitary forces, intelligence agencies,  border management, centre-state relations and then some sundry issues. It almost seemed the natural thing to do: India had a huge internal security problem and therefore deserves a new ministry.

The soundness of this proposal may convince anyone rather easily until the Minister is asked as to why he does not choose to share the workload with one or two Ministers of State instead of creating a completely new bureaucratic set-up. (Junior ministers have complained to the PM that they are being deprived of any meaningful work) If the Home Minister has his handful with Left Wing Extremism and intel reform surely he can get the Prime Minister to assign a couple of junior ministers to share the less important duties?

This was nor the first time PC brought a proposal to create a new institution even if it could be redundant from day one and whose job was best carried out by existing institutions. The duties of the National Investigative Agency would’ve been easily carried out by a separate, specialized wing within the Central Bureau of Investigations. But no, PC wanted a glittering new organisation added to his list of achievements.

If the creation of NIA and the proposal for a new Ministry raise suspicions of PC using the reform agenda to grab new turf and crown himself the internal security czar then one is not the only citizen to feel so.  His latest target is to get the UID Authority under his command in the garb of protecting privacy/security regulations.

How about other less controversial proposals?  Half way into the UPA’s second term – the two and a half years that PC has remained Minister for Home Affairs our police forces continue to languish in the same babu-controlled environment without any significant re-invention or re-organisation. Apart from paltry dole-outs the Union Government has rolled out no major proposal for encouraging police reforms by the states. Yet, the Minister gets felicitated for pioneering ‘police reforms’ in the country.

Given PC’s lack of attention to bread and butter issues in lieu of the focus on creating large new institutions under his control other members of the Union Cabinet (no less political animals than him) are naturally worried about the mans ambitions. They have stalled the setting up of NCTC and will continue to block any major initiative from the MHA. The less said about his proxy wars with other ministries on 2G and other issues the better.

But political ambition is not a bad thing. Despite the all prevalent denial and alleged self-effacement there is no such as thing as an unambitious politician.

The health of a polity is determined by the heights to which an ambitious man may rise by virtue of  his salesmanship of reform or change as a quid pro quo for the power he wants. Such salesmanship comes only to folk who have either experienced the need for the change or who empathize deeply with those that need the change. In other words it takes innate political conviction to be able to push through a reform agenda. A man’s political conviction and his articulation of it are important ingredients in the making of a good reformist executive member of government.

We know P Chidambaram has absolutely no political conviction. It is only his ambitions that are clearly out on the display for all to see. He chose reform to climb the ladder but never had the political conviction nor the salesmanship. Naked ambition can only go so far.

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Amar Govindarajan is a management professional based out of somewhere in South India. He spends his spare time in bird-watching, dog keeping and reading Popular science. He is also a member of the CRI Editorial team.

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