In safe hands

If there was one virtue of the Narasimha Rao government that won universal acclaim, it was its relentless pursuit of economic reforms. Even the worst critics of Mr. Narasimha Rao would not deny his government the credit for pulling India out of virtual disaster and putting it on the road to economic prosperity. And the architects of this economic revival Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. P Chidambaram, aided of course by a policy of non-interference in the affairs of the Economic Ministries by the Prime Minister, can now look back with pride for having established the economic agenda ‘permanently’. This is also borne out of the fact that every subsequent government, be it BJP or the United Front have promised to continue the reforms programme, if only more vigorously.

For Finance Minister Mr. P Chidambaram, it is time now for looking forward. Not one to rest on his laurels, the affable and practical Mr. Chidambaram is quite conscious of the onerous tasks that await him at North Block, not to speak of the high expectations from industry. Business circles and economic pundits heaved a sigh of relief when he took over the Finance portfolio for the election outcome had indeed cast a cloud over the future of reforms. Though every party did promise continuance of the reforms, it would remain very much in paper if not followed by proper policy measures and implemented virtually on a day-to day basis. To ensure this, it is imperative that the right man is at the helm and Mr. Chidambaram no doubt fits the bill perfectly. He is indeed a worthy successor to step into the shoes of the distinguished Dr. Manmohan Singh.

Ever since he took over, his manner has been one of cautious optimism about the future of economic reforms. A vociferous votary of free market, yet Mr. Chidambaram is fully aware of the need to watch his step, in the light of the uncertain political scenario. Being a Minister in a fragile coalition, with the Left breathing down his neck with their antireform rhetoric and the Janata Dal’s obsession with social justice, there are bound to be hiccups. While Mr. P V Narasimha Rao was able to push through his economic policy despite heading a minority government, it remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Mr. Deva Gowda could achieve the same. But if the Prime Minister does give a free hand, as is expected, and necessary, we can rest assured that Mr. P. Chidambaram will do the job to perfection.

While professionalism and practical wisdom are hallmarks of Mr. P Chidambaram’s approach, another virtue which needs special mention is his integrity. When he voluntarily resigned in the aftermath of the stock scam it was felt that he had overreacted and paid a heavy price for what can utmost be termed a minor indiscretion. But his conscientious and spontaneous action stands in sharp contrast to the genre of thick skinned politicians who are on parade today for whom even Supreme Court strictures and indictments are meant to be ignored.

When this writer called on him today morning, Mr.P. Chidambaram was his usual genial self. His friendly warm manner was quite in evidence as he patiently received a large number of visitors who had come to greet him. When I told him that the country’s economy is now in safe hands he simply smiled and said ‘Let us see and hope for the best’. Of course, behind the smiling facade was a keen mind, already on the job, churning out facts and figures, assessing policy matters and weighing alternatives while waiting ‘impatiently’ for 11 June.

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Jawahar T R