Chidambaram's views on politics, economy

P. Chidambaram told U.S. Ambassador Timothy Roemer that India would have registered higher growth rates if the country had comprised only what are now its southern and western parts. But the Home Minister praised the Chief Ministers of Bihar, Orissa and Punjab, all of them non-Congress leaders.

He made these observations when Mr. Roemer made an “introductory” call on the Minister after arriving in 2009 as successor to David Mulford.

The two discussed several issues including counter-terrorism and intelligence cooperation, the Mumbai attacks, and the threat posed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Mr. Roemer conveyed U.S. willingness to provide geo-location technology, if India approved the presence of American personnel to work with the technology. He asked the Minister to “push harder on your side” for the approvals. Mr. Chidambaram replied that the issue was high on priorities.

But Mr. Chidambaram seems to have made the most interesting observations as the two discussed domestic political issues.

Commenting about the troubles in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he flagged the dangers of having “no opposition.”

“While quipping that the Congress party might take delight in the ‘implosion' of the BHP, he cautioned that [having] ‘no opposition is a curse' and could result in a ‘complacent, or, even worse, arrogant' ruling party,” Mr. Roemer wrote.

The Minister advised the Ambassador to get to know Opposition and regional party leaders, singling out the Chief Ministers of Bihar, Punjab and Orissa as being “particularly dynamic.”

He asked Mr. Roemer to meet “real people,” not just the politicians.

In passing, wrote Mr. Roemer, Mr. Chidambaram commented on the “vast disparity” between southern India — which he called “the entrepreneurial and business hub” — and the rest of the country.

“The Minister concluded that India could achieve 11-12 per cent growth if it were the South and West only, noting that the rest of the country ‘held it back'.”

Four days later, the envoy had something more to report back about Mr. Chidambaram. In a cable sent to Washington on August 25, 2009 (222183: secret) setting out the U.S. “goals” for Mr. Chidambaram's September 7-10, 2009 visit to New York and Washington, Mr. Roemer it was a “rare opportunity” to advance cooperation on counterterrorism and intelligence-sharing with India.

He wrote: “The Minister appears to be willing to engage on some issues that National Security Advisor (NSA) M.K. Narayanan has previously kept as his own purview. This opening may allow us to broaden our channels of communication over the long term.”

He cautioned that “we need to keep in mind, however, the rivalry between Chidambaram and NSA Narayanan, and ensure that we stay in contact with both.”

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)