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Rajan And Chidambaram – Story Of A Foreword

Author: Suhas
Publication: Swarajyamag.com
Date: February 15, 2017
URL:   https://swarajyamag.com/books/rajan-and-chidambaram-story-of-a-foreword

P Chidambaram. Fearless In Opposition: Power and Accountability. Rupa Publications. 2017.

P Chidambaram’s latest book, Fearless In Opposition: Power And Accountability is out. The book is a collection of Chidambaram’s columns elaborating his views from the opposition trenches on politics, policy and everything that lies in between the two.

More interesting than the content of the book itself, is the foreword written by Raghuram Rajan, the celebrity economist and darling of Delhi circles. For a man who wasn’t afraid to be candid with statements like ‘Andhon mein kaana raaja’, the former Reserve Bank of India governor seems to be in a saccharine mood while deploying wordsmithery to set us up for Chidambaram’s collection of columns.

Rajan lauds Chidambaram for providing a consistent stream of constructive criticism, something which Rajan notes as lacking in the Indian press. Surely the zenith of this lack of any criticism, let alone constructive, was seen in the way the media ran a fawning, high-octane campaign to keep him in RBI. Contrary to his rather coolly outspoken demeanour, Rajan was silent throughout that phase, pretty content to ride the wave while it lasted. No wonder then that he feels, at least in hindsight, this way about the conduct of the media.

“If you want to test a man’s character, give him power” said Abraham Lincoln. While Rajan wrote that Chidambaram draws his suggestions and criticism of government policy from his ‘formidable intellect’ and ‘experience in governance’, many would say Chidambaram was the man whose talents to returns ratio was the most abysmal while in power. If one wanted to observe what Chidambaram’s ‘formidable intellect’ could do, one only has to look at his record in power as well as his government’s. Manning one of the key positions throughout the disastrous terms of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule that India saw – scams, economic mess, social disorder, institutional decay, broken infrastructure and crony capitalism – was Chidambaram. The value of a critic must not only be analysed with what alternatives the critic offers but also with how many of these alternatives the critic himself may have brought to fruition. In this regard, Rajan’s analysis of Chidambaram as a critic – perhaps due to his ideological proclivities – fails to make the cut.

Rajan’s discovery of ‘empathy’ in Chidambaram for the object of his criticism is rather astonishing. Given that Chidambaram – in a show of condescending hatred - openly called Narendra Modi an ‘encounter Chief Minister’ and he is accused of changing affidavits of the Home Ministry just to get at Narendra Modi in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case, no reasonable observer of politics would expect any fairness in his criticism of the government, let alone empathy.

Rajan, in his analysis of Chidambaram’s positions on Kashmir and nationalism, calls him an anguished liberal patriot with a fundamentally liberal idea of India. Showing how one cannot analyse criticism without analysing the critic himself, one must remember that this was the same Chidambaram who let the police loose in the dead of night on peacefully sleeping protestors at Ramlila Maidan, injuring several of them and also killing a woman Rajbala, lending her a painful death due to spinal injury. Surely, Rajan may like to inform himself on whether letting the police loose on a sleeping protestor and killing her is the mark of a liberal patriot. But in this matter, Rajan’s earlier observation on the lack of constructive criticism in the Indian press was on the dot. Many media worthies were busier enjoying the sight of police roughing up people associated with Baba Ramdev than their unprovoked violence.

Rajan observes that Chidambaram’s commentary on legal matters on how justice shouldn’t be delayed and thus denied, comes from his experience as a lawyer. Maybe it does. However, Rajan may note that it is possible that Chidambaram’s expertise in this matter was on display in a case regarding his controversial and hotly contested election victory from Sivaganga in 2009, which wasn’t closed even when the next round of Lok Sabha polls came about. There is nothing that Chidambaram or his government can claim to have done to reduce the delay in justice while in face they seem to be beneficiaries of the same.

Chidambaram’s waxing eloquent on economic freedom in India having to start from maximum freedom and later putting only regulations that are absolutely necessary, finds a like-minded person in Rajan. That India needs more economic freedom to bloom and come into its own is a reasonable argument, which when made in a column, is hardly disagreeable. Again, the context goes completely missing. Rajan, being a celebrated economist, must surely know that under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, Chidambaram and his colleagues ran a Socialist Raj 2.0 all over again – this is something even UPA’s most charitable commentators observe.

It is a tradition to keep the foreword largely a quasi-hagiographical endorsement of the writer or part of his writings. However, it may sound unusual in this case, given Rajan’s bold and opinionated nature, exemplified by his constant stream of opinions on topics such as tolerance, make-in-India policy and a 2015 speech invoking Hitler, despite possibly knowing what connotations the media would derive out of it.

For a man who prided himself on not acting as a cheerleader to the government he worked for, perhaps Chidambaram’s constant patronising statements like ‘Modi government does not deserve Rajan’ went a long way in making him unearth hitherto unseen virtues in Chidambaram. In which case, this is just an intellectually dishonest and mutually appreciative account rather than any serious debate from supposedly opposite side of the trenches.
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