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Home Minister Chidambaram chooses change over popularity
Published on 27 Sep. 2009 11:20 PM IST
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Home Minister P. Chidambaram has really shaken up North Block that houses his ministry, not just with his biometric attendance system that has even peons and clerks clocking in to beat the deadline. Chidambaram is undertaking such sweeping policy changes on combating terror and on policing that even his own party chief ministers are feeling the heat of his directives. And the home minister does not care if he has to become unpopular to force the pace of change. At a recent closed-door meeting he said that a new security regimen was taking shape gradually and in the months to come there would be a major offensive against anti-state elements like the Maoists. He agreed his pushing the envelope to bring about change may not go down well with many chief ministers but said so far no one has complained. “Will it be better if I try to be popular and not have change?” he asked. Red threat in Kolkata? Home Minister P. Chidambaram feels the Maoist threat cannot be underestimated and their growing arc of influence has brought them within “striking distance of Kolkata”. He has made anti-Maoist operations the top internal security priority and said the government response has changed in the last 11 months he has been head of the home ministry, from a carrot and stick policy to all-out war. He is of the firm opinion that unless the so-called liberated zones that Maoists claim to have established are brought back under state control, no administration or socio-economic measures will work. He says that 2,000 of the country’s 14,000 police stations are currently under Maoist siege in the east, centre and south of the country. Tharoor learns his lesson Twitter-happy junior foreign minister Shashi Tharoor has told his friends he feels he is being unfairly targeted by a section of the media. Though not taking any names, he feels that at least one newspaper has been told to “dig out dirt” on him and his personal life to embarrass him politically. Tharoor says he came to India at the invitation of the political leadership and imagined with his international background he could make a difference and contribute to the effective championing of its foreign policy and the Indian point of view. But in the days since reports accusing him of an extravagant lifestyle and indiscreet tweeting have hit the headlines, Tharoor has learnt the hard way that India’s political culture is different from the US where he has lived for so long. Jinnah, cricket & Scotch Mohammed Ali Jinnah has the uncanny gift of being resurrected in the most unusual places. It’s not quite clear whether the Quaid-e-Azam loved cricket, but he was the ghost in The Viceregal Lodge at Claridges Hotel here when a score of Pakistanis and Indians gathered to celebrate the launch of a book chronicling cricketing encounters between India and Pakistan over six decades. After the launch of “Shadows across the Playing Field” co-authored by Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor and Shaharyar Khan, former chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, columnist M.J. Akbar subtly insinuated Jinnah into the discussion by saying that only Jinnah and cricket could unite Pakistan. Khan, a former foreign secretary of Pakistan, was not amused. He reminded the audience that Jinnah’s secular message -- “Go to your temples, go to your mosques” -- was as relevant as ever in contemporary Pakistan. Tharoor, not to be left behind, shot back: “Rest assured, at least this part of Jinnah’s message is followed in India.” There were hints of an India-Pakistan rivarly in the assembled gathering, but before long Jinnah and cricket were mercifully followed by Scotch. Austerity drive not for hacks Some ministers are following the government’s austerity drive to the letter and have realised it could backfire especially when journalists are around. Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad learnt it the hard way when at a recent press conference called to highlight his ministry’s achievements, reporters found the customary high tea was absent. After listening to Azad for over two hours, a cuppa was the least they expected. One journo in fact brought it to the notice of Azad who promptly laughed it off. As it happened, the event did not get much media coverage considering the amount of labour put in for the occasion. A senior ministry official wondered whether it was because of want of refreshments. The message went home and at a subsequent event organised by the ministry a lavish spread was laid out and no one was allowed to leave before tucking in well. Hindi inspection a nightmare With all government departments completing “Hindi Pakhwada” (Hindi fortnight), celebrated on the occasion of Hindi Diwas, the diktat to maintain a certain percentage of communication in Hindi is giving sleepless nights to ministry officials. To promote Hindi, the national language, the government has deputed a Hindi official in each ministry who carries out an inspection from time to time. The inspector undertakes surprise checks to see if departments are communicating in Hindi. But many bureaucrats feel this drive will not last for long as official communication is normally in English even if the signature and the title are in Hindi. Former union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, who was defeated in the general elections, may be steering clear of parliament but he still cherishes his tenure as panchayati raj minister. Currently he is keeping himself busy visiting neighbouring countries to tell them a thing or two about grassroots democracy, a subject close to his heart. Aiyar is just back after a tour of Sri Lanka where he was invited to give advice and share his experience after the Tamil Tigers were vanquished in May. His next stop is Bangladesh where the government has asked him to come and lend a helping hand. TN minister feels out of place Union Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister M.K. Alagiri is having a bad time -- over Tamil. The decision of the Lok Sabha secretariat not to let him answer MPs’ questions in Tamil has left him so distraught that he told his father -- DMK party chief M. Karunanidhi -- that he wanted to be out of New Delhi and back in Tamil Nadu. Nobody knows how this will play out, but Alagiri’s deputy, Srikant Jena, who has been sulking for not getting the cabinet rank, sees a chance of a possible promotion.

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