Mr Chidambaram, however, rubbished Opposition's arguments that this proves 'there is a civil war' between him and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Asked why he had been bypassed by Mr Mukherjee who wrote to the Prime Minister, he said it had been dismissed as a non event which is why he wasn't briefed.
Speaking on the Lokpal Bill, Mr Chidambaram said many people would like the Prime Minister to speak on the matter. He also clarified the government's stand on the Prime Minister's inclusion in the Lokpal Bill.
"Lot of people would like the PM to step up to the plate...so as to say and speak more on the Lokpal Bill. But that is the style of the person," he said.
Here's the transcript of the interview:
NDTV: The political story that has dominated the headlines this week is the alleged bugging attempt of the Finance Minister's office. As Home Minister, in charge of internal security, could you clarify what it actually was?
Mr Chidambaram: Well, I didn't know about it until it hit the newspapers or the media. Apparently last September or October the intelligence bureau was asked to look into this complaint or suspicion that the Finance Minister's office has been "bugged". They went into it, did a complete investigation and sent the substance to a forensic science lab. They got a report that it was an adhesive kind of substance and there was no evidence of any bugs being planted anywhere and those reports I saw three days ago.
NDTV: Isn't it odd that as Home Minister you didn't know about it?
Mr Chidambaram: Because it was dismissed as a non event.
NDTV: Can adhesives and 16 substances be dismissed as a non attempt? Even as a fact that it was there, should it not have come to your notice?
Mr Chidambaram: Well if there was anything it would've been brought to my notice. Apparently the report was given to the Finance Minister and the PM and then they concluded it was a non event.
NDTV: Though the final report was done by the Intelligence Bureau, should it not have come to you first?
Mr Chidambaram: Not necessarily, because it was a non event there was nothing in it.
NDTV: But sir, if the Finance Minister wrote to the PM, the Home Minister would not be kept in the loop at all?
Mr Chidambaram: I don't think anyone suspected actual bugging. I think the so call bugging theory is a recent theory. I think what they suspected was what are these substances and why are they here kind of thing. I don't think anyone suspected actual bugging.
NDTV: Why do you think in this case the Intelligence Bureau was first bypassed completely. Former Intelligence Bureau chiefs have said publicly that it is a huge security oversight for the Finance Ministry to have first brought a private agency to investigate.
Mr Chidambaram: Well I don't know the facts about that. Apparently the CBDT was asked to or offered to look into the matter. Who they brought in, what they did, I have no idea.
NDTV: Leaving that aside the larger point that has been raised - the BJP claims there is a civil war in the government and the two ministers at war are the Home Minister and the Finance Minister, and they point to this as being a prime example. What would you say sir, in reaction to that?
Mr Chidambaram: I think they have hyper active minds and hyper active imaginations. I think they live under the shadow of daily war between the two leaders of the Opposition in their own party and therefore they look for ghosts where none exist. The Finance Minister and I are separated by at least 10 years of age. He is older, wiser and more senior. He chairs a number of JUM's and I am a member of practically everyone of them. We speak to each other every day and consult each other almost on a continual basis and I think only feverish and hyperactive imaginations can look for ghosts where none exist.
NDTV: Well the larger point they made Sir, you said the Finance Minister and you were good friends, he is older, wiser and senior to you. But everyday there is a question of what's happening in the government, who's lobbying for the top job, who should be the PM? Doesn't that signal a larger message of a government in disarray, and is everybody attacking a weak leader? Is that the issue here?
Mr Chidambaram: I don't know how you come to that conclusion, we had a Congress Working Committee meeting yesterday and the Working Committee fully endorsed the government position on the Lokpal. That was the only subject discussed yesterday and there was a full vote of confidence on the PM. I don't think anyone questions the authority or the position of the PM.
NDTV: Why all this talk then about who will be a good PM, who is in tussle for the top job when there is no vacancy?
Mr Chidambaram: Well I think if you and your colleagues take a holiday for a week none of this will happen.
NDTV: What about Mr Digvijaya Singh taking a holiday for a week?
Mr Chidambaram: Well, he could do that too, but if the media takes a holiday for a week nothing will happen. This is the media feeding on people who wish to talk and people who wish to talk feeding on media's presence.
NDTV: I mentioned Digvijaya Singh but of course there has been a usual chorus of when will Rahul Gandhi become PM when he turned 41? Do you think that undermines the government or the leader of a government?
Mr Chidambaram: See these are statements made by a senior leader of the party, but my friend Digvijaya, that's his style of speaking, that's not the decision of the party, that the PM will be replaced by a younger person. That's not the decision of the party and certainly that's not the decision of the Congress President or the General Secretary Mr Rahul Gandhi.
NDTV: You just said that the CWC endorsed that the PM should stay out of the Lokpal?
Mr Chidambaram: No, I said the government's position on the Lokpal was fully endorsed.
NDTV: Yes and the government's position that the PM should not be in the Lokpal Bill?
Mr Chidambaram: No that is not the government's position. The drafting committee minister members' position is that the PM should be under the Lokpal after he demits office. In an earlier press briefing I laid out four options and I said maybe there is a fifth option. The option we have chosen, the five minister members of the committee, their position is the PM should be under the Lokpal after he demits office. But when the Government considers it in the Cabinet, they could still take any position.
NDTV: But we have heard that the PM himself has no issues in being brought under the Lokpal while he is in office?
Mr Chidambaram: Obviously, it's not Dr Manmohan Singh being brought under Lokpal, it's the Office of the Prime Minister. I think what Dr Manmohan Singh the individual said is perfectly in character with the gentleman, saying I don't mind being brought under the Lokpal. But we aren't talking about him, we are talking about the Office of the Prime Minister
NDTV: But do you think he made that difference when he said it?
Mr Chidambaram: Of course, of course, we are talking about the Office of the Prime Minister.
NDTV: But within the Congress itself there have been many different views on that...not just Mr Digvijaya Singh...But do you feel right now the CWC endorsing the Drafting Committee stand as well...do you see this is what is going to go through?
Mr Chidambaram: Of course there will be different views. Again you are not noting the significance of what I'm saying. The CWC endorses the Government's broad position on the Lokpal Bill. When the matter goes to the Cabinet, the Cabinet could still come to a conclusion that the PM should be brought with some exceptions, the third option. The Prime Minister should be brought "fullstop", second option. Or the PM should be brought after he demits office, fourth option .What we have recommended, the ministers have recommended, was the Prime Minister should be brought after he demits office. Now that is, I think, is a reasonable position. But I certainly do not say that the other position is unreasonable.
NDTV: Depends which one the Cabinet finally agrees to go with. Why is it then that we have seen what is called a dirty tricks campaign or a very strong campaign united with the Congress government attacking Team Anna...self-elected representatives....some people saying we will give them the same treatment we gave Baba Ramdev? Does there seem to be a change in tenor? Does there seem to be a change in the position on how the government is now looking at the Anna Hazare campaign?
Mr Chidambaram: See as I said, a news used to break once in 24 hrs when I was growing up as a student. Now it breaks every minute of 24 hours. Therefore this kind of hyperactivity is unavoidable. I don't think anyone is attacking Team Anna. Who coined this Team Anna? It's Mr Anna Hazare, his two nominees who are lawyers, one RTI activist and another former judge of the Supreme Court. Now do they all have the same view on every subject? Answer is no. Are there not shades of differences between them, among them? The answer is yes. I think in a robust democracy like ours there will be different opinions and with a large party like the Congress party there will be different opinions. But that's the sign of vitality and healthy debate. What is wrong with that? Of course not disarray. The Republican Party in the USA, the Democratic Party in the US, UK went through a referendum today, on first pass the poster voting system. Did everyone in the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party have the same view? In fact the Prime Minister of the UK and the Deputy Prime Minister took opposite positions. Yet they continue to be coalition leaders. I think the media assumes that everybody must speak in one voice. That's completely wrong, that can only happen in a dictatorship.
NDTV: But it is interesting Sir, among the different voices we hear, we very rarely hear the voice of the Prime Minister, and many have asked why the PM doesn't speak out on something which has become so controversial and which does involve his office?
Mr Chidambaram: Well that is a question I cannot answer. You should put it to the PM. But yes I acknowledge that lots of people would like the Prime Minister to step up to the plate, so as to say, and speak more often. But that is the style of the person.
NDTV: It's interesting you talk about style of a person, because you of course have your own individual style as well and have lots of critics because of that. At one point, the BJP seemed to admire that and Arun Jaitley stood up in Parliament and says the BJP supports you as a party. But recently, the Opposition seems to have taken a U-turn and we see attack after attack on you and allegations made on the 2G scam, allegation on the latest draft of the CAG Report on RIL, with MM Joshi saying you should resign. What would you say to this?
Mr Chidambaram: The BJP is a party of impatient men of advancing years. They can't wait until 2014. I think there is a great deal of jockeying of power within the BJP. I think there are people who would like to force a mid-term election this year so that some of their ambitions can be realised. Within the party, there is jockeying for power as you can see between Mr Gadkari and Mr Munde, and I can cite any number of examples between my friend Arun and my friend Sushmaji. So I think much of what they say is in fact a spillover of their own internal battles.
NDTV: But I think what strikes home again for most tax payers and especially at a time where we have just seen a hike in diesel, kerosene & LPG prices, is when you have a draft report, which is of course initial at this stage, saying that the tax payers were defrauded. Did big corporates benefit...and then we see Murli Manohar Joshi, the then Finance Minister, raising questions on why were petrol prices actually raised? How would you answer claims that you favour corporates?
Mr Chidambaram: Well, I think he got his facts wrong and you have got your facts wrong in what you just now said. As I know, as I have not read the report, the draft report deals with the capital costs of exploration of a KG Basin well. That's the only thing the draft report deals with. It does not deal with the pricing of gas which was referred to an EGOM, chaired by Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, of which I was a member. Now Shri Murli Manohar Joshi was trying to connect two dots which are not relevant to each other, and I think in his anxiety to score a point, he tied himself up in knots, and he referred to an EGOM decision on pricing of gas, which was not the subject matter of the CAG report. And referring to the EGOM decision, he should have called upon the entire EGOM to resign. Why would he call upon the then Finance Minister, who's a member, that's myself, who's a member of the EGOM to resign? I mean it shows what we would call Extreme Prejudice.
NDTV: This of course is the man who heads the PAC so you're saying...you're presuming he doesn't join his dots together in the last case as well, the 2G scam?
Mr Chidambaram: Well the Congress party...he has forfeited at least the confidence of the Congress party. No one in the Congress party reposes faith in his impartiality or credibility as the Chairman of the PAC. But since he's the Chairman of the PAC, we have to respect that office, but he has forfeited our confidence.
NDTV: I do agree that the CAG draft report maybe in the initial stage but coming as it does after the whole 2G scam, and now reports of the possible involvement of another Minister Mr Dayanidhi Maran in another scam, does it reflect what you referred to in a recent interview when you were asked about the governance deficit and perhaps ethics deficit also, which has been there for a while? Do you think that instead of actually things improving after a minister went to jail, after there were very strict investigations, that things have actually got worse?
Mr Chidambaram: No, I won't comment on any individual or any report. The CAG report is in a draft stage. The response of the Ministry of Petroleum has not been sent yet and the CAG report will be finalized only after factoring in the response. And the CAG report is an audit report. It is not an investigative report. An audit report points to how the money of the government was used. It doesn't point to corruption or any malfeasance or misfeasance, unless that is proved in an independent investigation. Anyway, we won't get into all that now. So I won't comment on any draft report, I won't comment on any individual. When I spoke of governance deficit, I spoke after the Prime Minister used the exact same phrase in a media briefing, and after the Congress President had used a similar phrase in another speech. So there's nothing extraordinary when I said there is a governance deficit and perhaps we have to address the governance deficit. I think the fact that we're working overtime to bring a Lokpal into existence, the fact that we are in the final stages of amending the Prevention of Corruption Act, the fact that we have signed a number of agreements on exchange of tax information with many, many countries, the fact that we have launched prosecutions, shows that we are making a determined effort to close this governance deficit. No government in a period of 12 months has taken so many steps to close the governance deficit. Let me turn around and ask you, there was a Kargil Report when the NDA was there. Was there not a governance deficit there? Was another trust deficit there? What did they do? They removed a Minister in pretence of taking action, and brought back the same minister to the same portfolio.
NDTV: Well that happened with Mr A Raja as well in the Telecom Ministry till the Supreme Court intervened.
Mr Chidambaram: Please! The allegations against my former colleague Shri Raja were made and surfaced and investigated after the UPA 2 assumed office. We are talking about another case, where in the term of the government, a minister was removed and brought back to the same portfolio. That, I think, shows utter cynicism for governance
NDTV: And the ethics deficit Sir, do you think that perception has changed?
Mr Chidambaram: Well governance deficit and ethics deficit are really companions. While governance deficit could simply mean inefficiency or bad administration, ethics deficit adds another twist to it, to say perhaps there is a bad faith. But these are phrases which have been used by others too. I think.
NDTV: But you choose your words carefully?
Mr Chidambaram: I try to.
NDTV: You certainly didn't use those words without meaning. You saw an ethics deficit which is why you said it?
Mr Chidambaram: There is, how can you deny it? I get the monthly CBI report and I see ethics deficit at every level - bankers, tax collectors, public sector executives. Therefore I am concerned about the ethics deficit.
NDTV: When you see a front page report that Pakistan is getting more foreign investment than India in the last six months, when you see people on the streets due to the high rate of inflation currently over 9%, does that worry you, Sir? I mean as a former Finance Minister, you would say hikes are inevitable, but do you think there is a genuine worry among the consumer, the aam aadmi the Congress had reached out to, about what's happening currently?
Mr Chidambaram: See there is. But there are 2 parts to the story and I think we must be concerned about both parts. And I think the Petroleum Minister Mr Jaipal Reddy tried to state the case of the government, and I think the Finance Minister added his views. There is inflation. Inflation has hovered around 9% for many, many months now, and that is worrying. Food inflation in China last week was 11.3% and overall inflation was 5.5%. We have the highest overall inflation, but our food inflation is high, not as high as 11.3%. The point is there is high inflation and I don't want to get into what could've been done. But those would be technical statements and this is not the place to discuss the very technical aspects of inflation. There is inflation and it is becoming somewhat structural and that's worrying. People are therefore concerned and they are concerned the prices will go up. When petrol, diesel or kerosene prices go up, people are affected, and are you suggesting we do not see the impact on the people? We do. But let's look at the other side. There is an unrecovered deficit of 1,70,000 crores for our oil companies. Now if crude prices are in the region of 90 dollars to a 110 dollars and they remain so for the next year or so, no country can afford that. The oil companies bleed. 1,70,000 crores deficit for one year and the second year they will all go bankrupt. We won't have money to buy oil and nobody will give us oil either and the specter of India coming to a grinding halt when we have no oil, petrol, diesel, no gas is frightening. Therefore, an attempt is being made to reduce that under recovery by about 50,000 crores. The oil companies are still left with a deficit of a 1,20,000 crores. These are hard decisions, they aren't easily palatable decisions. People won't accept it that easily, they will criticise us. All that we can say is that it is our misfortune that crude oil prices have averaged over 90$ for the last seven-eight months, and have threatened to remain at that average for the next six months. So this is our misfortune.
NDTV: The silver lining is perhaps the drop to 91$ yesterday?
Mr Chidambaram: But 91 is still above 90.
NDTV: Let me just go across to some cities where people have questions for you .
Viewer question from Mumbai #1: The government is a trustee of people's welfare and I think the crackdown on Ramdev's congregation at midnight was not the right thing to do, because I think you could've decided a time and it was not the right hour. People don't disturb people who are asleep, that's where the government faltered, I feel.
Viewer question from Mumbai #2: Your personal opinion on the Jan Lokpal Bill, and why is it being phoo-phooed by the government people? It gives a feeling that the government is really not interested in having the Lokpal Bill in a proper perspective?
Viewer question from Mumbai #3: Being Mumbaikars, we all ask why Dawood Ibrahim can't be extradited? And the other is how the proposed security of the aadhar biometrics is?
NDTV: The Jallianwala Bagh comparison that you heard also from your favourite party, the BJP .
Mr Chidambaram: I think they are mocking the freedom struggle when they compare this to the Jallianwala Bagh. Leaving that aside the matter is being heard by the Supreme Court. The police signed an affidavit saying that there was no lathicharge, there was no force used on the people.
NDTV: But we do have visuals of the police using lathis?
Mr Chidambaram: You've looked at what you have, you haven't looked at other videos or seen what the police has presented to the Supreme Court. Unedited raw video from the first point to the last point has been presented. I don't think we should jump to conclusions. I am trained as a lawyer. I tell myself never jump to conclusions unless you have heard the other side or many sides. Now the point is on the 4th morning, Mr.Ramdev was in violation of the law. He had no permission to hold a political rally, he only had permission to hold a yoga camp and he didn't hold a yoga camp. He was converting it into a political rally. Orders were served upon him that he should remove himself. He disobeyed the order. Now nobody wants to comment on that. Now if an order is served upon me as a citizen, it is my duty to obey the order, and then question it in court. He disobeyed the order, he defied the authority that passed the order, jumped off the stage, jumped into the crowd, climbed on the shoulders of some of his devotees, surrounded himself by women. Took a microphone and challenged the police to come and arrest him. That created the commotion. In all that commotion, some people were injured. I am deeply saddened that one person out of 20,000 suffered a very critical injury and she is fighting for her life. Now it's the police which have to decide how to execute an order to remove him, the civilised way to do it, and that's the way they did it - tap him on the shoulder, serve him the order and say please get into the vehicle. He did not do that, he defied the order which caused this confusion and commotion. Yet when 20,000 people left the place, all but four suffered very simple injuries, two were treated for fractures, one was operated upon and discharged. Only one was critical. I think police used minimum force and this is the case they put before the Supreme Court. Now it's for the court to decide whether they are right or wrong. All I'm saying is the popular perception that excess force was used, people were beaten up, there was a lathicharge, hundreds were injured, I think, I am afraid, all that is wrong.
NDTV: We did show visuals of stones being thrown at the police when they came in. Leaving aside the case in court, politically was it a wise decision to send in police when those 20,000 followers were sleeping, was that the right time to try and pick up this man?
Mr Chidambaram: The police were not trying to clear 20,000, they were trying to remove one person. If he had obeyed the order, he would've quietly been put in the car and taken away and let the 20,000 people continue to sleep. He woke them up.
NDTV: But the police didn't feel it was a dangerous situation to go in, on account of the number of people there?
Mr Chidambaram: No, on the contrary, if the police would've waited till the next day, the number would've swelled according to our reports to nearly 1 lakh. And according to the policy, to remove a person of that kind, the best time to do it was when everyone was asleep.
NDTV: Would you really say...was he a law and order problem or a political problem?
Mr Chidambaram: He was a law and order problem. There is lot of intelligence that he could've lighted a spark which would've resulted in a conflagration. Where the spark would've come from I cannot say. Ramlila is nestled in a very communally sensitive neighbourhood and whoever the provocator was, a tiny spark in a big city like Delhi could've resulted in some conflagration. This was not some maidan, way out in some village.
On Lokpal...we treat the civil society members with great respect. We had nine meetings, five Ministers met with them nine times. That itself is an indication of the manner in which we have dealt with the civil society draft and we believe our draft has a greater chance of success. It's better and has passage in the Parliament and it's a more doable draft. But that's for Parliament to decide, we will wait and see.
On Dawood Ibrahim...now Dawood Ibrahim we know is in Karachi, Pakistan. Pakistan denies it. We know he shuttles between Pakistan and Dubai. Now the countries concerned deny that, so how are we to extradite him if the other country does not accept the rules of extradition, or the rules of international law. You see the rules of extradition, deportation apply only when two countries are on the same page when international law is concerned.
NDTV: For India it's always ironical that this constant thorn, Dawood Ibrahim, is never the main issue when it comes to the talks between the two countries. These things are always kept on the back burner, and then we see the Foreign Secretaries' talk, about Indo Pakistan, progress was the main focus?
Mr Chidambaram: Because Pakistan denies Dawood Ibrahim is there. We have some evidence to show that he lives in an area called Clifton in Karachi. We have pictures of a house, but if the other country flatly denies that Dawood Ibrahim is there, we have nothing to say. Say you're India and I'm Pakistan, and I say, sorry Madam Foreign Secretary, Dawood Ibrahim is not in our country. What will you say after that?
NDTV: There were ridiculous comparisons that America went in and got Osama bin Laden, so why can't India do this? Because India is not America. But there is this feeling that India seems ineffectual when it comes to dealing with an issue like 26/11?
Mr Chidambaram: I think you're reading too many James Bond, Spiderman stories. A lot of people read James Bond, so do I. But please remember the American security forces are embedded in Pakistan. They are already there, whether they are ground forces, they have air assets and naval assets just off Pakistan. Their intelligence organisations are embedded in Pakistan. Whether we should do, whether we can do are 2 different questions. If you're embedded in a country you can do. Could America have done a similar operation in India? The answer is NO. You know that, I know that. They cannot do such an operation in India, but they can do it in Pakistan because they are already embedded there.
NDTV: So if we don't have the military embedment to do this, we don't have the diplomatic and political will, so what's left?
Mr Chidambaram: Political and diplomatic will is what one imagines only he has and others don't have. The point is you don't have the advantage of carrying an operation of that kind unless you're embedded in that country. The only country which is embedded in the Pakistani system, security, intelligence, armed forces etc is the US.
NDTV: But politically and diplomatically, are we strong enough? We have seen what happened. David Headley had a plea bargain and was not given death; Rana has not been convicted and Hafiz Syed walks free. If I was a family member of someone who died in 26/11, I wouldn't be very happy with my government.
Mr Chidambaram: I'm afraid, in your anxiety to score points, you're missing the facts. Rana has not been convicted. Why has he not been convicted, you should ask yourself? In America, the trial is a Jury trial and the rules are -- if 1 member differs, the verdict cannot be given as guilty. Now there were 12 members on the Jury and they all agreed on count 1 and count 2. Now, on count 3, we think perhaps one or 2 members of the Jury did not agree with the other 10. Have you seen this Jury film with the one about the jury men, it came about 20-25 years ago, and it's a great movie? Therefore it is not as though no one in America, none among the peers of the Jury thought that Rana was guilty on count 3 also. The overwhelming majority thought he was guilty of count 3, but even if one person had taken a different view, the Jury could not return a verdict of guilt. And the Judge had no choice, he has to accept the finding of the Jury-- of guilt or otherwise. He only decides the sentence. So Rana was convicted, he could've been convicted on count 3 also. Now David Headley, I have the word of the American authorities that the plea bargain doesn't hold the promise of a lenient sentence. That he will be sentenced most likely to many, many years in prison.
Divya Salaskar (Vijay Salaskar's daughter): On November 26, 2011 it will be 3 years since the attacks. What has Pakistan been doing about its masterminds sitting in Pakistan? Have they taken any action against them? What is India doing to pressurize them so that they take action under international law and when will we get justice?
Mr Chidambaram: Pakistan has done pretty much nothing. That's why I have never relented on the issue that Pakistan must do more. They have not brought the controllers and handlers (of the terrorists) to trial, not arrested them, they have not carried out a full investigation, and of the 6 people they have brought to trial, only 2 are relevant, the other 4 are simply foot soldiers. So I have never changed my view and as we speak today (that) Pakistan has done very little and they have changed the Judges, 3 so far. Today, there is no Judge to hear the case. So I entirely agree with you and I'm pretty angry that Pakistan has done nothing.
NDTV: But sir, does the rest of the government agree with you? If you remember the last time Mr Krishna was in Islamabad and your Home Secretary said something about Pakistan and involvement, there was a huge hue and cry. There was anger derailing the smooth relations with Pakistan in delicate talks. Has India done enough in this?
Mr Chidambaram: Yes, what more can we do? I have given to my counterpart, names, addresses, pictures and photographs. I have demanded that our team be allowed to investigate in Pakistan, speak to a few suspects, and interrogate them with Pakistani security and intelligence around. I have demanded voice samples and said if you don't want to give me, give it to a third country like the US, who will test them and analyse them at the laboratory at Quantico. Now they make promises,(but) they don't keep their promises. They say, they will act, they never act. But then we are in a world which is a cruel world in which people can get away with these kinds of non-cooperation and non-adherence to the basic rules of international law. So I can only continue to put pressure on Pakistan and raise it with everyone who visits me. Every visiting leader of every country, who calls on me, asks me to brief them on India-Pakistan. I tell them, this is how Pakistan is behaving.
NDTV: Is the Foreign Ministry with you on this?
Mr Chidambaram: Yes, I think so, but the Foreign Ministry has other responsibilities too and I think they have to nuance their questions in a manner which is sometimes misinterpreted. But on the question that Pakistan has done very little, and to assuage the feelings of Divya and other families, I think is a feeling that is shared by every member of the government.
Divya Salaskar: Sir, we have all been offered government jobs but the Maharashtra government hasn't been very cooperative and neither has the Maharashtra Public Service Commission. I am a graduate from London. I have been running around the government offices for 5 months but have nothing concrete. At every stage, am I supposed to face injustice, for which my Father has laid down his life?
Mr Chidambaram: What did you graduate in?
Divya Salaskar: Human Resource Management
Mr Chidambaram: What kind of a job are you looking for in the government?
Divya Salaskar: I am looking for the position of Assistant Sales Tax Commisioner and a JR has been issued for the same
Mr Chidambaram: That requires recruitment through the State Public Service Commision or otherwise?
Divya Salaskar: It requires recruitment through the SPSC and it says children of martyrs of 26/11 should be granted these jobs.
Mr Chidambaram: Let me talk to the Chief Minister and I will get back by the end of next week.
NDTV: But the larger perception of how the Government treats children of martyrs, it's not perception it is reality?
Mr Chidambaram: I don't think anyone intends to react to their sense of hurt. It's just the way the government machinery sometimes works. Take the 74 jawans who were killed in Dantewada. Now within a month we ensured everyone got compensation, terminal benefits plus pension, and everyone who wanted a job, got a job, and some who did not qualify because they were underage got a deferred job. So, it is possible sometimes to get those things through, but in this case it is seen that there is a Public Service Commision which is independent, which is autonomous. She says a government order has been passed. Let me talk to my friend Prithviraj and Divya I promise you will have an answer.
Viewer question from Chennai #1: How did your academic and non academic influences in college help shape your life in politics?
Viewer question from Chennai #2: What's going to happen to all the black money which is stored in the Swiss banks, is it going to find its way back to India or someone else's pockets?
Mr Chidmbaram: I trained as a lawyer and a graduate in Business Administration. Well, I didn't go into business; I came back and started practicing law. I think a Business Administration graduate course in the US helped shape the way I approached a problem, the way I analyzed an issue, the way I reached conclusions. It brought a great degree of discipline into the way one thinks through matters. But then I did reasonably well as a lawyer, so I am not complaining about anything. Now non-academic -- I was interested in debating, elocution contests, that kind of thing and I suppose most people would've called me a book worm. I did play tennis, so I have a great fondness for every kind of sport--cricket, tennis, football, basketball and chess. I used to watch a lot of sport on TV. So I think, I am quite happy the way my childhood and my student days shaped up.
NDTV: You and Prakash Karat were contemporaries in Chennai?
Mr Chidambaram: No, I think he was a year junior to me. I had no contact with him when I was in school and he went to Christian College. I didn't go to Christian College, I went to Presidency College.
NDTV: But from Chennai to Harvard and then the hurly burly of Delhi's politics, which is so often dominated by North Indian politicians, did you find it hard to adjust to the Delhi political circle?
Mr Chidambaram: No, 1984 was an exciting time, there was a new spirit of adventure that a new generation had taken the torch in its hands, and we were going to usher India into the 21st century. I remember Rajiv Gandhi was the first to speak about the 21st century. And many were critical of him and I think many of the things we enjoy today, we owe to him in a large measure, to his vision, that in the 21st century it is possible that India rises to an economic power. I still share that vision and I would still like to work for that vision.
On Black Money...well, I think what he means is tax evaded money, unaccounted money, money has no colour. It is tax evaded and unaccounted. Now, to assume that every account in Switzerland is tax evaded and unaccounted is wrong. Please remember there are nearly 8-9 million Indians living and working abroad. Citizens of other countries, the NRIs are allowed to keep their money wherever they like. So, not all accounts in the fabled Swiss banks, which have an Indian connection, are necessarily illegal or unaccounted for. But if anyone has taken money out of India, we will presume that it is tax evaded, we will presume that it is unaccounted. And wherever it is, Switzerland or any other tax haven, I think it is our duty to see whether it is accounted for, brought to tax and penalty and whatever other consequence will follow. But it is not easy because a number of tax havens are just what they are. They are economies built around the fact that they are tax havens. Until a few years ago, Singapore was very cagey about sharing accounts and I think they are still a bit secretive about it. But I think no one points a finger at Singapore, while we point a finger at Switzerland because many of these countries are tax havens and it's not easy to break through the walls that they build.
Viewer question from Delhi #1: All of us know Indian economy is growing at a tremendous rate but still we are under divide-- Naxal movements, farmer suicides and price of common commodities. How can you analyze this paradoxical growth?
Viewer question from Delhi #2: Greatest achievement and biggest failure?
Viewer question from Delhi #3: Indo-Pak issues sailing on the same boat 20 yrs back and now?
Viewer question from Delhi #4: (UPA) Started so many schemes like mid day meal, NRGA, do you have a track of them being implemented?
Mr Chidambaram: Biggest achievement and failure, I think I am very satisfied with the way we have managed to bring every rebel North East group to the negotiating table. I think that's a major achievement and I don't take the entire credit for it. Credits must be shared with the state governments concerned, especially the Government of Assam and we must also be grateful for the cooperation given by Bangladesh. Today we have ULFA etc... these are simply alphabets for you. But each one has a story behind it. And the fact that these groups are at the negotiating table and the GJM in Darjeeling is coming to the negotiating table, I think is a major achievement of the year 2010-11. My biggest failure, well there may be a bigger one tomorrow, who knows? My biggest disappointment is that we are all still not on the same page as the Naxal, the CPM Maoists. In a large country like India, I expect there will be voices, but ultimately we must recognise the grave challenge of the CPM Maoists. The CPM Maoists aren't the wrongly believed do-gooders. They are simply not an armed NGO or an armed do-gooder. They want to overthrow the democratic system in this country, they believe in an armed rebellion, an armed revolutionary struggle. They want to destroy the Parliamentary system in this country and seize power and they will kill, maim, destroy, and burn anything to achieve that object. I think as a country we haven't quite understood the character of the CPM Maoists.
Schemes, I want these young kids to know that, everyone of these schemes is implemented by the state governments. The implementation is not in the central government's hands. We monitor but implementation is in their hands. Therefore how the benefits reach the people will improve quality of the State. PDS has been implemented very well in Kerala, irrespective of the Congress being in power or the communists. Now, to the best of my knowledge, NREGA was implemented fairly efficiently in Tamil Nadu and we had no complaints about people stealing wages. But NREGA is a disaster in Orissa. So this will depend upon the quality of implementation in the states. And who implements them? Not some foreigner who comes and implements them. It's our own people who implement it. If our people who implement them are corrupt, inefficient or negligent, the benefits will not reach the people.
NDTV: We have a Cabinet reshuffle coming up. Would you like to keep the job of Home Minister?
Mr Chidambaram: Do I have a choice? I don't think I have a choice. These decisions are made by two people in our system today. One, the Congress President because I belong to the Congress Party and the other is the Prime Minister. We simply accept their decisions.
NDTV: You stepped down as Finance Minister, right after 26/11 .It's been 3 years now. Would you say this is a job you want to keep or do you want to change portfolio?
Mr Chidambaram: I have been in this job now (for) two-and-a-half years plus 25 days. I don't know if I told you, in the security system we live one day at a time. It is like what Nadal said day before yesterday -- I play one match at a time. I am not looking at meeting Federer or Djokovic in the final. I play one match at a time. So we live one day at a time. So I have a very accurate count of the number of days. But that's not the point. The point is this is a tough job and sometimes one has to be out of your own character in order to do this job. I think many times I act and conduct myself quite contrary to my true character, when I have to deal with the issues that come with this job. This is a physically and mentally challenging job. The Finance Minister's job is an intellectually challenging job. The job of the Minister of the Environment is an emotionally satisfying job, so I think these are different jobs. Now what job I will have, or whether I will have a job at all, I can't say. I may not have a job at all
NDTV: Like many politicians do you aim for the top job?
Mr Chidambaram: I know what I want to do in the remaining years of my life. I want to read, I want to travel and above all I want to write. I think inside me there is a writer. I can't write as felicitously as Arundhati Roy. I disagree with her on everything, but I love the style in which she writes. I think she is the best Indian writer today. What she writes is, of course, highly provocative, but she is the best writer, be that as it may. So I want to read, travel and write. Now if you tell me that there is an afterlife and I can read, travel and write in the afterlife, if I am remain to be political for the rest of my life. Now I don't believe in the afterlife, I have to find the time for doing those things in this lifetime.
NDTV: Is 60s the political prime for Indian politics?
Mr Chidammbaram: No, I think we should have younger politicians. I firmly believe in younger leaders. I firmly believe we should have Ministers including Cabinet Ministers in their late 40's, early 50's. I think those who are over 60 and that includes myself, should step back.
NDTV: But are you skirting dangerously close to Digvijaya Singh's arguement of a young Prime Minister?
Mr Chidambaram: No I have not referred to that argument at all. Every generation will throw up a leader; every 10 years will throw up a Prime Minister. And I'm' sure the Congress Party would be very happy should Rahul Gandhi be Prime Minister at an appropriate time. But today we have a PM who has steered this country for 7 years. We have had remarkable economic growth, remarkable legislature. We have had some outstanding successes and we have had some problems. But the PM and the government are doing the best job (and they) want to do better. I'm sure that's a feeling shared both by the PM and the Congress President, that we must do better.
NDTV: Will you say the Prime Minister is doing a much better job than fairly good?
Mr Chidambaram: Who said fairly good...Digvijaya Singh? I don't know what he meant by fairly good. I think what he meant was the Prime Minister is doing a good job. I think the PM is doing more than a good job. I think he is doing an excellent job?
NDTV: Your opponents sometimes describe you as arrogant; some of your friends may perhaps do that as well. Do you feel you are arrogant?
Mr Chidambaram: Well I sat down one day and made a list of all the people who have been called arrogant over the last 40-50yrs. You'll be surprised to know that on top of the list is Nehru .I've looked at books, read articles... sometime or the other, everybody has been called arrogant. I think Digvijaya called me intellectually arrogant. Others I'm sure have called me un-intellectually arrogant too. I don't know what that means, if you want me to be passive, inactive, silent, quiet, low profile. Well as I said sometimes I put on that act but that's not my true character.
NDTV: Jayalalithaa came to the capital recently and she made a point. She said you had lost your election. That's what she claimed?
Mr Chidambaram: Is she the Election Commission? There are 111 election petitions following the 2009 election, so maybe in some cases there is more than one. At least a 100 elections in 2009 have been challenged. Last time I won by 1, 70000 votes. That election was challenged by an AIADMK candidate. This time I won by a very small margin and it was challenged by an AIADMK candidate. How does that make the election fraudulent? Immediately after the results were declared, somebody made this complaint to the State Election Commissioner Mr Naresh Gupta, known for his absolute integrity and fearlessness, and he made a statement that there was nothing wrong in the counting in that constituency and the result was given correctly. The result was delayed only because the defeated candidate made such a shindig there that he would not allow the returning officer to declare the results. The result was known by half past two, but he was creating such a noise that they had to declare it by half past six. Anyway, I don't think these are matters on which you can comment when the matter is before a Court.
NDTV: With Congress-DMK ties in a flux and Jayalalithaa making an open invitation, do you think we will see a change in the alliances and something you would personally oppose with the AIADMK?
Mr Chidabaram: Congress had an alliance with AIADMK in 1977, '84, '89 and '91, so an alliance with AIDMK was not an unusual thing. But I was a member of the Congress Party then. We had differences later when I and others formed a new party. Now I am not dealing with Tamil Nadu. I don't decide Tamil Nadu alliances. At the moment we have a strong and stable alliance with the DMK. The DMK is a part of the UPA and I can only speak for what I have now, namely a strong and firm alliance with the DMK, which is the member of the UPA. In Tamil Nadu the alliance can only be with the DMK or the AIADMK. So anyone who is fairly acquainted with Tamil Nadu politics knows that swings have taken place, but for the last 7 years our ally in Tamil Nadu is the DMK.
NDTV: Nalini Chidambaram...from your experience, is it the best thing to marry a lawyer because she will only argue for money in court because she knows she is being paid to argue in the house?
Mr Chidambaram: Well I'm quite happy to have an earning member in the family because I don't earn much these days and in the last 26 years when I first became an MP. I have not been a very earning member for nearly 15-16 years. So I think it is good to have an earning member, whether they are a lawyer, doctor, and businessperson. I think it is good to have an earning member. It gives you a sense of security.
NDTV: Mrs Chidambaram, I'm going to ask you, who wins the arguments in a marriage of two lawyers, and is there one thing about Mr Chidambaram that no one else knows, that you would like to tell us?
Nalini Chidambaram: There is no argument in the house .I only argue in courts. Therefore there is no question of anyone winning over the other person.
NDTV: Who is the better lawyer?
Nalini Chidambaram: That you ask him, the clients and the Judges.
NDTV: One thing you would like to say that no one else in India knows about him?
Nalini Chidambaram: Everybody knows he is very honest. The worst part is he is a perfectionist and he expects everybody to be a perfectionist and that is his drawback.
NDTV: Srinidhi, I'm told the only weakness, the Home Minister has is his granddaughter. Would you agree?
Srinidhi Chidambaram (Mr Chidambaram's daughter-in-law): Absolutely
NDTV: What is he like as a grandfather? Is he less of a disciplinarian as he is as a husband and a father-in-law?
Srinidhi Chidambaram: No, even as a father-in-law, he is hardly a disciplinarian. As a grandfather, he is absolutely indulgent and we have some great times together.
Mr Chidambaram: Srinidhi is my favourite adult friend and Aditi is my favourite child friend.
Srinidhi to Mr Chidambaram: I know you've always had a hectic and punishing schedule and when I read your schedule I feel exhausted. Where do you find the energy to cope after all these years of hard work? What moments have made all these years of hard work worth it and made you feel proud?
Mr Chidambaram: Well, I think the most satisfying moment was after the international financial system collapsed with the Lehman Brothers failing on the 15th of September 2008. I was really worried that the tsunami will overwhelm every one of us and we will collapse too. Those 3 months, Sept 15-Nov 30 were very critical months. The Prime Minister took over the portfolio and I was involved too, and then Pranab took over. Those 6-8 months that we tided over the crisis and returned to a 6.7 growth, that year. Not one bank in India failed, not one private sector bank was allowed to fail, when a thousand banks collapsed in America. Those 6 months were the proudest moments of my life and I was very happy that I could steer the crisis. It's like the golden hour after the accident.
Aditi Chidambaram (Mr Chidambaram's granddaughter to him): Which animal do you like the best?
Mr Chidambaram: I like horses the best, because I rode them as a child. The answer she expects is dogs and therefore I shall say dogs. I'm not a political animal .I didn't plan to have a life long political career. I'm basically a lawyer and I was a lawyer/politician until the age of 39. Then I became more of a politician and less of a lawyer. I don't expect to be a politician, as I said a little while ago, for the remaining years of my life. I will remain politically aware, I will remain politically active, but I don't expect to remain a politician for the remaining years of my life.