Chennai’s own: P Chidambaram, Union Minister of Finance
One of the people that Chennai can call its own, and be justifiably proud of, is P Chidambaram, India’s Finance Minister. Originally from the Sivaganga District, Chidambaram did his Bsc. at the Presidency College, Chennai before going on to complete his Bachelor of Law degree at the Law College, University of Madras. He then went on to complete his Masters in Business Administration at Harvard University. He began his Law career as an advocate in the Madras High Court in 1969, while his law practice today covers the Supreme Court and various High Courts in India. But what he is best known for, of course, is his contribution to India’s economic growth with the sweeping financial reforms he has ushered in. Today, according to the Wikipedia, Chidambaram is regarded by financial gurus, investors, the financial press and people across India as a qualified and highly competent minister of finance, carrying forward the economic reforms started in 1991 by then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh. Chidambaram, together with present Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Deputy Chairman of India’s Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia is a part of what the Indian financial press calls India’s economic ‘Dream Team’.
In fact, many believe his ‘Dream Budget’ for 1996-97 was the tipping point in terms of India’s economic growth with the many reforms it ushered in, particularly with regard to discipline in Government spending and tax reforms for greater collections to manage the fiscal deficit. His initiative to halt tax evasion, or Voluntary Income Disclosure Scheme, has resulted in rising revenues for the exchequer with greater compliance. A progressive technocrat, Chidambaram believes in free trade, and that countries which are open, competitive societies have succeeded in removing poverty, while those which remain closed and controlled have not. He is a strong supporter of the World Trade Organization, as he strongly believes that a rule-based global trading system will benefit developing countries such as India. One can read more about him, and even interact with him, from his website.
What many may not know is that Chidambaram has always been an independent thinker, and has established a reputation for being arrow straight, working hard for the national interest. In fact, according to an article in the Business Standard, he believes rules should be changed if necessary, not bent. So industrialists meeting him for concessions, for any purpose other than adding to national wealth, will not be successful This, after all, is the man who wrote a charter for his law practice for himself and his colleagues which excluded any practice that could be considered sharp. Perhaps what impressed me most about him, other than his career achievements, is that he married a friend and classmate, Nalini, despite opposition from the family because she came from a different caste. A scion of the diversified MA Chidambaram group, Chidambaram chose to practice law rather than join the family business. He was among a crop of young Indians who went to the US in those days to study, but didn’t stay back and chose to return to India. He was hand-picked by Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 because of his credentials and focused on party work in his early years in politics. There has been no looking back for this high-profile lawyer from Chennai ever since.
At a recent interaction with the public and the media at the Landmark Book Store at an interactive reading of ‘A view from outside, why good economics works for everyone’, he made some of his views clear. He wants to see the country become more prosperous, competitive, safe and a civilized place to live for everyone. As reported in The Hindu, h said the experience of the last 16 years showed that it was possible to create jobs and make India more globally competitive. According to him, “India is now the flavour of the world. Ten years ago, the world used to mention only China, but today India and China are mentioned in the same breath”. His biggest goal, he said, ws to wipe out abject poverty from the country. While the event was organized by the Indian Express Group, Chidambaram stressed that his visit and participation was as a private individual, and not as a Minister. ‘A view from the outside’ incidentally, is a compilation of the articles that he wrote that appeared in The Indian Express and Financial Express between 2002 and 2004, and covered social issues, reforms, forex reserves and agriculture.