NEW DELHI: Saturday’s court reprieve for Home Minister P Chidambaram will rekindle the fighting spirit of the beleaguered UPA troubleshooter. He is likely to come out of hibernation to take his adversaries head on. The verdict came as a relief for him and the home ministry, which has been paralysed for months. For the government, whose key ministers are enmeshed in legal battles—External Affairs Minister S M Krishna in a land scam case, Defence Minister A K Antony in the Army chief age row and the PMO in 2G—Chidambaram’s vindication will provide the UPA ammunition to bombard the Opposition.
Chidambaram had come under fire from various quarters on issues ranging from bugs found planted in Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s office to the way Baba Ramdev was handled. After the Saturday verdict, fair weather party colleagues—publicly silent until now—fell over themselves to defend the home minister, especially on TV. Salman Khurshid, Ambika Soni, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari and even Mukherjee shouted themselves hoarse in front of the cameras championing Chidambaram’s innocence. With many of them bogged down in controversies, it appeared as if with Chidambaram’s victory, they had also won some battles of their own. Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal remarked about Swamy’s campaign against the home minister, “He’ll go to High Court, then Supreme Court, then he’ll perhaps appeal to God!’’ In the last one year, Chidambaram was ringed and hounded by troubles. Even within the government and the party, the spat with Mukherjee, Digvijay Singh and also over Nandan Nilekani’s UID schemes left his profile much diminished from the days of his prominence, when he had stepped in as Home Minister and was perceived to have handled the fallout of Mumbai blast extremely well.
If Chidambaram was to be investigated, logically the PM’s responsibility would have come under intense focus. The dismissal of Swamy’s petition has given the UPA a breather. In the corridors of power, the buzz is Chidambaram will replace Mukherjee as trouble-shooter: he has already been assigned the task of sorting out the Koodankulam N-power plant mess by the Prime Minister.
In all for now, on the eve of a make-or-break election in UP, the Congress and its government is treating Chidambaram’s victory as ‘theirs’. The Home Minister, however, can expect the Opposition to ratchet up the intense and direct campaign against him. Nevertheless, he will be able to defend himself both personally and politically. After the verdict, he will also be able to participate in Parliament, because the BJP—which has been baying for his blood—will not be able to question a juridical verdict unless an adverse comment happens. The party had boycotted him in the Winter Session of Parliament and earlier this week, demanded his resignation. It plans to wait for Swamy’s next appeal. BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said,“ We would continue to demand political accountability’’. But Saturday’s order, which took into account the evidence against Chidambaram, seems to show that his alleged sin of omission was only in allowing Raja to continue with his flawed licensing policy.
In his much-quoted letter of January 15, 2008 to the Prime Minister, where Chidambaram seemed to accept Raja’s issue of licences as a done deed and asked the government to treat the giving out of spectrum without auctioning as a “closed chapter”, he also went on to advocate auction of spectrum in future.
He wrote: “Spectrum is a scare resource. The price of spectrum should be based on its scarcity value and efficiency of usage. The most transparent method of allocating spectrum would be through auction. The method of auction will face the least legal challenge.’’ As for the Unitech-Telenor deal in which Telenor bought shares worth Rs 6,200 crore of Unitech, Chidambaram was lucky to have cleared the file much before the new law, which brought more clarity on the lock-in period, was introduced.