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Don’t criticise colleagues in public

While P. Chidambaram has got support from the Opposition on the Naxal policy, there are many within the Congress who feel that he needs to be less ‘rigid and arrogant,’ writes Pankaj Vohra.

columns Updated: Apr 18, 2010 21:23 IST

The signed article by senior Congress leader and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh in a national daily attacking Home Minister P. Chidambaram is another indication of a fierce power struggle within the party. Singh was not alone in criticising the home minister — his party colleague Mani Shankar Aiyar also agreed with him “one lakh per cent”. Singh claimed that he has been a victim of Chidambaram’s “intellectual arrogance”.

Former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi also seemingly does not agree with the home minister’s approach in tackling the Maoists. For the three of them and with many others in the Congress, the Naxal problem is not merely a law-and-order issue but also has socio-economic and political dimensions to it.

Chidambaram, however, remains focused to take on the Maoists head on. He told the Lok Sabha that the murder of 76 Central Reserve Police Force personnel in the jungles of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh recently should be treated as a wake-up call. He added that the tragedy must lead to greater resolve, determination and fearlessness in dealing with Naxalism as a law-and-order problem.

Within the Congress, many agree with Singh. But the question that arises is that why someone as senior and politically astute as the former MP chief minister should take a public position against his party colleague? Many find it hard to believe that he acted on his own and feel that he must have been prompted by someone to air his views.

His views on the government’s Naxal policy came shortly after the Cabinet Secretary, K.M. Chandrashekhar — who was acting at the instance of the prime minister — circulated a note among all UPA ministers which said that Chidambaram alone was authorised to speak on the Maoist problem. Singh in his article wrote that the home minister should not have taken a sectarian view on the issue. Instead, Chidambaram should have put up the issue before the Cabinet for formulating a holistic approach to deal with the problem, Singh added. After all, it is the collective responsibility of the Cabinet to deal with such situations.

Though Congress General Secretary Janardhan Dwivedi tried to play down the controversy by declaring that the senior leaders should discuss their views on sensitive matters within the party forum and not go public, Singh’s attack on the home minister was supported by some Congressmen. Some also saw the criticism as an attempt by the senior leader to convey to the high command that Chidambaram’s approach on issues lack political depth and the party might have to bear grave political consequences in the future.

While Chidambaram has got huge endorsement from the Opposition parties including the BJP in the fight against Naxalism, there are sections within the Congress who feel that he needs to be more approachable, flexible and understanding on many issues instead of being “rigid and arrogant”, as suggested by Singh. This section also feels that a home minister should always be a man with political insight and experience.

It was not without any reason that most home ministers who served under Indira Gandhi were always former chief ministers. The tradition of appointing former CMs as home minister had its own political logic but the trend was broken by Rajiv Gandhi when he appointed Buta Singh as the home minister. Narasimha Rao reverted to the Indira Gandhi-style and appointed S.B. Chavan as his home minister. But the UPA’s two home ministers since it came to power in 2004 — Shivraj Patil and Chidambaram — have never been chief ministers.

The times are changing and it requires new solutions. There have to be strong reasons for the prime minister and the Congress president to opt for Patil and Chidambaram for this sensitive ministry. If other Congress leaders have reservations about the policies and approach of the home ministry, they should, as Dwivedi suggested, raise it first at the party level.

Whatever be the compulsions, Congress leaders must desist from criticising their colleagues in public. People are watching and the party will feel the heat when the appropriate time comes. Between us.

First Published: Apr 18, 2010 21:22 IST