After his return from abroad, P.Chidambaram began practising law in the Madras High Court and became a senior advocate by 1984. He also argued cases in other High courts and the Supreme Court.
He started his political career in 1970s. He joined the All India Congress Committee (1972), served as the President of Youth Congress (1973-1976) and became the General Secretary of Tamil Nadu’s Pradesh Congress Committee (1976-1977).
In the general elections of 1984, he got elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time from the Sivaganga Constituency. He won from the same constituency six more times (1989, 1991, 1996, 1998, 2004 and 2009).
In 1985, he was made the Joint Secretary of AICC and later, the same year, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi gave him his first ministerial post by appointing him as Deputy Commerce Minister.
His significant work during this time was to control the price of tea for which he received criticism from the Sri Lankan Government.
Between 1985 and 1986, he also served as the Union Deputy Minister for Personnel, Administrative Reforms, Training Public Grievances and Pensions.
In 1986, his rank was raised to that of Union Minister of State and he handled the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions. Later in the same year, he received an appointment from Ministry of Home Affairs to function as Minister of State for Internal Security. He served in both capacities until the general elections of 1989 in which the Congress party suffered a defeat.
In 1991, the Congress party returned to power, and the then Prime Minister of India, P V Narasimha Rao appointed him as Minister of State (Independent Charge) in the Ministry of Commerce. He held this post from June 1991 to July 1992.
He was re-appointed to the same post in February 1995 and continued till April 1996. During this tenure, he made some sweeping changes in the country’s export-import policy (EXIM).
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In 1996, P.Chidambaram and Congress Party had contrary views regarding alliance with AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. Hence, he, along with group of other state Congress members, broke away to form Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC).
In the 1996 general elections, he fought and won the Lok Sabha seat with the TMC ticket. TMC, along with other regional and national level political parties, was a part of the coalition government led by Janata Party between 1996 and 1998.
In this coalition government, Chidambaram got his first cabinet post and he became the Union Cabinet Minister of Finance. Besides the finance portfolio, he was given the charge of Company Affairs and Law & Justice which he handled till April 1997.
In 1999, he suffered his only electoral defeat in the Lok Sabha elections.
In 2001, he left TMC to establish his own political party, the Congress Jananayaka Peravai. The party, however was a failure and eventually merged with the Congress prior to 2004 Lok Sabha elections.
In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Congress emerged victorious and Chidambaram was back into the government as the Cabinet Minister of Finance in the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He continued in the office till 2008.
When, in 2008, Mumbai came under terrorist attacks, the then Home Minister, Shivraj Patil resigned and Chidambaram took charge of the office and remained in the position till 2012.
As Home Minister, he established institutions like National Investigation Agency (NIA) in an effort to strengthen the security of the country.
In July 2012, (2) he once again became the Finance Minister of India. In his role as the Union Cabinet minister of finance, he is acknowledged for carrying out a series of reforms to prevent economic slowdown, control widening fiscal deficit and attract more FDI to India.
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In March 2014, he declared that he would not fight the Lok Sabha elections and his son would instead stand from his seat. In the forthcoming elections, his son lost the seat.
In September 2014, he, with twelve others, was appointed as senior spokesperson for the Indian National Congress.
In 2016, he was appointed as the Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament from Maharashtra. He will continue in the post till July 2022.
He is also a well-known author and has published a number of research papers, journals and books.
The books that he has authored are ‘Fearless in Opposition: Power and Accountability’, ‘Standing Guard: A Year in Opposition’, ‘Speaking Truth to Power: My Alternative View’, ‘Undaunted: Saving the Idea of India’ and ‘A View from the Outside: Why Good Economics Works for Everyone’.