P. Chidambaram

Palaniappan Chidambaram (Tamil: பழனியப்பன் சிதம்பரம்) (born 16th September, 1945) is an Indian politician and present Union Minister of Home Affairs of the Republic of India. He is among the most prominent cabinet ministers of the ruling-United Progressive Alliance (UPA) union government led by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. From May 2004 to November 2008, he was the Finance Minister of India. However, after the resignation of Shivraj Patil, Chidambaram was made the Home Affairs Minister.

P. Chidambaram was also a cabinet minister with the finance portfolio for a brief period in the United Front coalition government from 1996 to 1998. Prior to this, he was Minister of State (Deputy Minister) in the Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao led Congress-party governments, holding other portfolios. He hails from a business community,Nagarathar or Nattukotai Chettiars of Tamil Nadu.

Chidambaram a former staunch socialist, ushered in full-on market reforms and liberalisation. He has been fully supportive of the calibrated economic reforms, ushered in since 1991. He was a trade union activist in his early years. He was a critic of Friedrich Hayek and the free-market and was a proponent of the economic theory by which banks must set apart 15% of all loans to poor Muslims. Chidambaram was also instrumental in implementing the ideas of Friedrich Engels by banning futures trades in wheat and rice. As an ideologue opposed to the free-market and as a firm believer of the planned economy, he forced the steel industry to cut its exports and threatened the cement manufacturers to cut prices or face punitive action. Chidambaram, as finance minister under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Deputy Chairman of India's Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia is a part of the Planning Commission of India that is based on the Soviet body that planned the economy of the erstwhile USSR.

Early life

Chidambaram was born to L. Ct. L. Palaniappa Chettiar and Mrs. Lakshmi Achi in Kanadukathan in the Sivaganga District, in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. He was born into the royal family of Chettinad, an affluent business family.

Chidambaram did his schooling from the Madras Christian College Hr.Sec.School, Chennai. After graduating with a B.Sc. degree in Statistics from The Presidency College, Chennai, he completed his Bachelor of Law (B.L.) from the Madras Law College, and his Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Harvard Business School, Harvard University.

Career as a lawyer

In 1969, he enrolled as an Advocate in the Madras High Court. He was designated as a Senior Advocate in 1984. He has chambers in Delhi and Madras and practices in the Supreme Court and in various High Courts in India. He has also appeared in a number of arbitration proceedings, both in India and abroad.

Politics and ministerial portfolios

Chidambaram was first elected to the Lok Sabha (Lower House) of Indian Parliament from the Sivaganga constituency of Tamil Nadu in general elections held in 1984. He was re-elected from the same constituency in the general elections of 1989, 1991, 1996, 1998 and 2004.

He was inducted into the Union (Indian federal) Council of Ministers in the socialist government headed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on 21 September 1985 as a Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Commerce and then in the Ministry of Personnel. His main actions during his tenure in this period was to control the price of tea. He has been criticized by the government of Sri Lanka for destroying the Sri Lankan tea trade by fixing the prices of the commodity in India using state power. He was elevated to the rank of Minister of State in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions in January 1986. In October of the same year, he was appointed to the Ministry of Home Affairs as Minister of State for Internal Security. He continued to hold both offices until general elections were called in 1989. The Indian National Congress government was defeated in the general elections of 1989.

When Chidambaram was first given a ministerial post, he was one among a relatively young, well educated class of men brought into government by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1984. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in May 1991 during an election campaign appearance in the state of Tamilnadu; in the general elections the following month a wave of sympathy for the assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, and a disunited opposition brought the Congress party back to power. Manmohan Singh, a socialist economist who had advised the Indian government on many socialist policies and who was a former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (India's central bank) was made Finance Minister in the new government headed by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, essentially the first bureaucrat on the job in post-independent India. Manmohan Singh implemented Narasimha Rao's reforms just as he had implemented Indira Gandhi's socialist policies and these reforms began taking India away from the erstwhile Soviet-style centralised planning, into a liberalized, free market economy.

In June 1991, Chidambaram was inducted as a Minister of State (Independent Charge) in the Ministry of Commerce, a post he held till July, 1992. He was later re-appointed Minister of State (Independent Charge) in the Ministry of Commerce in February 1995 and held the post until April 1996 . He made some radical changes in India's export-import (EXIM) policy, while at the Ministry of Commerce.

In 1996 Chidambaram quit the Congress party and joined a breakaway faction of the Tamilnadu state unit of the Congress party called the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC). In general elections held in 1996, TMC along with a few national and regional level opposition parties formed a coalition government. The coalition government came as a big break for Chidambaram, who was given the key cabinet portfolio of Finance; this put him in the limelight. The coalition government was a short-lived one (it fell in 1998), but he was reappointed to the same portfolio in the government formed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2004.

In 1998 the Bhartatiya Janata Party (BJP) took the reins of government for the first time and it was not until May 2004 that Chidambaram would be back in Government. Chidambaram became Minister of Finance again in the Congress party-Communist Party United Progressive Alliance government on 24 May 2004. During the intervening period Chidambaram made some experiments in his political career, leaving the Tamil Maanila Congress in 2001 and forming his own party, the Congress Jananayaka Peravai, largely focused on the regional politics of Tamil Nadu. The party, however, failed to take off into mainstream Tamil Nadu or national politics. Just prior to the elections of 2004, he merged his party with the mainstream Congress party.

On November 30 2008, he was appointed the Home Minister following the resignation of Shivraj Patil who had come under excessive pressure to tender his resignation following a series of terror attacks in India.

Political traits

Chidambaram is a member of the former semi-royal family and has fulfilled multiple roles as a politician, moving from the highly-charged politics of his home state Tamilnadu, to addressing the financial media in Mumbai, and presenting India's views at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland.

He is a trustee of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, and also a trustee of the Tamil ‘Ilakiya Chintanai’ (Tamil Literary Foundation - literally, Tamil Literary Thoughts), Chennai, India. He is also fond of literature and sports. He has delivered lectures at many universities, both at home and abroad.


He represented the bankrupt American energy giant Enron, as a senior lawyer in India, and is again set to revive its Dhabol power project.

He resigned on 10 July 1992 from minister position owning moral responsibility for investing in Fairgrowth, a company allegedly involved in securities scam.

In 1997, he announced a controversial voluntary disclosure of income scheme which granted income-tax defaulters indefinite immunity from prosecution under the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1973, the Income Tax Act, 1961, the Wealth Tax Act, 1957, and the Companies Act, 1956 in exchange for self-valuation and disclosure of income and assets. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India condemned the scheme his report as abusive and a fraud on the genuine taxpayers of the country.

It should be noted that Chidambaram also represented the controversial British mining conglomerate Vedanta Resources in the Bombay High Court until 2003 when he became the finance minister of India. He was also a member of the board of directors of that company.

In August 2006 the then President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam gave permission to enquire into the allegations that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Finance Minister P. Chidambaram had been holding office of profit at the time of elections. It has been alleged that they both had been the board members of Rajiv Gandhi Trust Foundation. The Election Commission will enquire into the allegations.

In February 2008, he announced a $15 billion farm loan waiver scheme triggering a public interest litigation.

Personal life

He is married to Nalini Chidambaram who is a Senior Advocate and a tax lawyer practicing in the Madras High Court and the Supreme Court, primarily in litigation related to the Central Excise department of the Government of India. He has a son, Karti P. Chidambaram, who graduated with a BBA degree from the University of Texas, and a Master of Law from Cambridge University.



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