Calcutta: Despite having been a Central minister for nearly three decades, P.Chidambaram remains an upstart. He has been an unsuccessful finance minister (he does not understand economics to the extent that anyone can) and a superficial home minister. He was a failure tackling Maoism, going to the extreme of seeking military intervention, which the armed forces had the good sense to resist. The chief ministers also opposed his plan for a National Counter Terrorism Centre which encroaches upon the rights and powers of states.

Apart from being generally upstartish, Chidambaram has been downright foolhardy in demanding the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers’ Act (AFSPA) from Jammu and Kashmir. AFSPA is a Central law, enacted by Parliament, and extended to J and K after the onset of terrorism. Without AFSPA, the armed forces cannot operate in J and K. Without the immunity that AFSPA provides, the army cannot go all out against terrorists. This is amply clear to anyone who has witnessed firsthand the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, which of course Chidambaram hasn’t, insulated by ministership.

J and K has an incompetent chief minister, Omar Abdullah, who operates from behind a high wall of security. Omar’s father, Farooq, could be maddening. But he was a politician of the people. He was natural in the midst of crowds. He was popular. When in doubt, he always trusted to the judgment and good sense of the electorate. Of his nationalism, there can be no question.

His son, on the other hand, rules J and K from a remove. He had to be urged to prosecute those terrorizing the all-girls band, and then, it was late. He does not get along with his partymen. He has given a free hand to the bureaucracy to administer the state, whilst leaving no opportunity to be part of the Delhi social scene. His private life is his own affair, but in public life, there are certain responsibilities and obligations to meet.

Scrapping the AFSPA has been an old chestnut with Omar Abdullah. This step, he believes, will make him popular in the state. He refuses to consider its adverse impact in counter-terrorism operations. He had an outlandish scheme to replace the Central police forces, the CRPF, etc, with the local police, which is both mixed up in terrorism and is less trained and equipped for an anti-terror role. Chidambaram backed Omar Abdullah’s scheme till this writer warned of the dangers. Off and on, Chidambaram has supported Abdullah on scrapping AFSPA, despite the objections of the army and the defence minister, A.K.Anthony. Now, Chidambaram has repeated the demand, although he is not even the home minister.

The Justice J.S.Verma committee set up after the Delhi gang-rape tragedy recommended a revisit to AFSPA. Chidambaram is speaking up once again against it presumably at the instance of Omar Abdullah. He must be told in no uncertain terms to remain within his remit, which requires political-economic sagacity which he lacks. This is a bad time to tinker with the security grid or cover laws in J and K, especially after the gruesome incident on the LoC.

As such, P.Chidambaram is highly irresponsible to dredge up the AFSPA issue now, and charge the army with obstructionism. He has no business to attack the armed forces, and does not deserve to remain in the Union cabinet.