Here’s wishing you more luck, Mr Chidambaram
Governance isn’t about promoting individuals. It’s about building institutions. On this count alone, one cannot quarrel with Home Minister P Chidambaram’s agenda for a national counter-terrorism center styled after a similarly named, post-9/11 US organization for a focused, unwavering fight against terrorism. In his pursuit, he’d make many toes curl. But the Griha Mantri isn’t expected to keep friendships if they weaken the country’s war on terror.
Take the case of the outgoing national security advisor MK Narayanan who’s the Home Minister’s friend for 35 years. The wide powers he wielded as the PM’s points-person on internal security and strategic and foreign policy issues, did not sit pretty with the need for a lean and mean anti-terror machine to fight home born and cross border terrorism. So Chidambaram proceeded to do what the country expected of him as the keeper of internal security: moot NCTC for placing under on roof the national expertise and wherewithal to thwart terrorist designs.
A section of the media has presented Narayanan’s elevation as West Bengal governor the outcome of the choice the Home Minister presented the PM by floating the NCTC model. The fledgling concept had no space for a super home minister the NSA became during Shivraj Patil’s listless tenure. The latter paid in the wake of 26/11 the price for his soft, laidback demeanor in the office where people wanted a tough guy sitting. But why and how the axe didn’t fall on Narayanan remains a mystery, the popular perception being that the PM wanted him to continue and the Congress leadership, then gearing up for elections, decided to be deferential.
Chidambram has had a reassuring presence in the office he took from Shivraj. He’s known to attribute to lady luck the relatively calmer 2009 India had after the shockingly violent 2008 that ended with Mumbai. One only hopes that his run of luck continues in the New Year in which his prime agenda is to give NCTC a life and a body. Posterity will remember him with gratitude if he delivers on that promise, especially when the NCTC’s powers and responsibilities will be a collective sum of what it takes from other agencies and organizations such as the IB, RAW, CBI and the like. And in that, he’d need to be backed as much by the Prime Minister, the bureaucracy, the intelligence fraternity and his party, the Congress.
Narayanan, for instance, had tremendous de jure power on being designated national security advisor — with dual charge of internal and external policy — after JN Dixit’s 2005 demise. But the de facto powers he wielded with the political class arose from the exaggerated impression of his proximity to the Congress’s top leadership.
If extended to Chidambaram, such powers will — rather than making an individual larger than life — help him create an institution the country so direly needs.
Internal security responsibilities should return to where they belong — the MHA. The PMO cannot be a keeper of cops and snoops. It has a much broader mandate — that of reviving the economy, generating jobs, formulating foreign policy, devising means and mobilizing resources for poverty alleviation schemes. Alongside, it needs to promote a work culture and a system where only the fittest survive.
Narayanan’s gubernatorial retirement should be the beginning of a new order replacing the old across sectors of governance. In that sense, the junior ministers’ clamour for meaningful work allocation is timely.