Last year, at the height of a debate on a proposal for a Monetary Policy Committee or MPC to set interest rates, many argued for a veto for the RBI governor. But then, last August, an unconventional view suggesting that the central bank’s chief should have a casting vote rather than a veto was put forward by an influential commentator.
It was a view that was ultimately shared by the government when a decision on the composition of such an MPC was to be taken. And that argument came from former Union finance minister P Chidambaram while writing on the MPC in his Sunday column for The Indian Express.
Over the last 18 months, Chidambaram — the guest at Friday’s Express Adda in Mumbai — has been seen trying to bring about a bi-partisan approach, especially in his writings on economics, appalled as he says by the level of public discourse and the need to influence people, and their thought and behaviour.
That has been reflected in his views on a diverse range of issues, such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, NJAC, foreign policy, on refugees, ethical issues, governance and the state of the country.
Known as one of the original economic liberalisers, having been part of the Narasimha Rao government of 1991, when the trade regime was opened up, and for the “dream” budget of 1997, when tax rates and peak tariffs were slashed, Chidambaram has been a supporter of an open economy for long.
One of the prominent ministers in the last UPA government, as well as the United Front government in the late 1990s, it was to Chidambaram that the government turned to after the 2008 Mumbai blasts to take charge of the home ministry and later the finance ministry at a crucial juncture in 2013.
He is no stranger to corporate India and Mumbai, either, having engaged deeply with top industry doyens, regulators and chiefs of financial sector firms and the security apparatus during his ministerial assignments over a long political career.
Away from the pressures of office, Chidambaram has sought to enhance the public discourse as reflected in his assessment of the fiscal math of the NDA government’s 2016 budget, when he pointed out what was missing in the documents which accompany it.
What makes him an engaging speaker is not just his clarity of thought and articulation but the fact that he doesn’t hold back. For, he has indicated to his own party that it needs to start offering alternatives if they wish to replace the BJP in three years from now. He has also been vocal on issues that concern the industry such as the GST and national security — issues which he is well equipped to address.