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PC will abandon Sivaganga, shift to new seat

The Union Finance Minister is getting ready to contest from Puducherry.

MADHAV NALAPAT  NEW DELHI | 20th Apr 2013

Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram | REUTERS

nion Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has put together an informal think-tank to map out a strategy in the post-2014 situation. The team is being supervised by Chidambaram's son Karthik, who has — according to senior Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) sources — persuaded Chidambaram to change his constituency from Sivaganga to Puducherry, regarded as a safe Congress seat. Chidambaram has been the MP from Sivaganga from 1984 to 1999 and again from 2004 to the present. However, in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, a TNCC office-bearer smilingly said that in 2009 "it took a miracle worthy of being classified alongside Diego Maradona's 'Hand of God' goal in the 1986 FIFA World Cup to enable Chidambaram to get himself declared elected in the Lok Sabha elections. One minute he was trailing and the next, the Returning Officer declared him elected," the TNCC leader said, refusing to elucidate further on a matter which he says is now before a court of law.

However, the man whom foes in the TNCC believe is aiming to be Sonia Gandhi's post-Manmohan choice for the Prime Ministership is clearly unwilling to trust overmuch in the good sense of returning officers a second time around. Hence, the word from the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee is that Chidambaram is abandoning Sivaganga and migrating to the Puducherry seat in the 2014 elections. The Union Territory has been a Congress stronghold and Chidambaram is hopeful that his sunny nature and affable disposition will ensure that he wins by a comfortable margin. Within the TNCC, a nominee of Chidambaram's rival in Tamil Nadu Congress politics, Shipping Minister G.K. Vasan, has been appointed president of the TNCC. Clearly, the Congress high command recognises that Vasan has significantly more clout at the grassroots than Chidambaram, who is much better at handling bureaucrats than fellow politicians. The change of guard at the TNCC may have been a factor in Chidambaram's decision to shift to the UT, say Congress office-bearers.

"Chidambaram has the same strengths as Manmohan Singh, only better. He too is trusted by the West and is an economic expert. Hence he will be the obvious choice for PM in case Rahul Gandhi declines the job," a prominent businessperson from the state said, mentioning that "it is no secret that the many endorsements from abroad and within Tamil Nadu (including Time magazine and M. Karunanidhi himself) for him to take the top slot have shown that he is the next in line after Manmohan Singh steps down next year."

Trouble-shooter Karthik has, according to TNCC leaders, been in touch with Puducherry Congress Committee office-bearers to ensure a friendly reception for his powerful parent. "Chidambaram's promise is that he will be able to do much more for the constituency than the sitting MP, who wields scant influence in either Delhi or Chennai, both cities that affect the Union Territory's fortunes substantially. This is despite the Naidu-caste politician, V. Narayanasamy, being Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office. "When Manmohan Singh himself has no power, what influence can a lowly MoS have?" asked a TNCC office-bearer, who favours Chidambaram's move to the Union Territory.

While the Finance Minister's shift from Tamil Nadu politics into the Puducherry backwater may leave a few local leaders of the party in the UT fuming, there is little doubt that the Chettiar legal eagle can get any seat he wants in the next elections, so complete is the faith reposed in him by the Congress First Family. Meanwhile, voters in Puducherry are looking to see if Chidambaram throws a few goodies their way via the Ministry of Finance before the elections get announced. Son Karthik is, as always, tireless in winning friends and influencing people to ensure that come 2014 his father gets his chance at the top job. Said a Chettiar community leader, "Our community knows how to ensure fast growth, and Chidambaram will do a much better job of making India a strong economy than Manmohan Singh, who comes from a different background." He is looking forward to the day when the "first Tamil PM" will take office.

 
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