Even as the BJP accused Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh of being a “lobbyist” for China, an agitated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pulled him up for terming India’s China policy “alarmist.”
Ramesh sent the government and the Congress into a tizzy, stating in Beijing on Saturday that the security drill that applies for Chinese companies in India is “overly defensive”.
<b1>Ramesh’s comments came in the backdrop of renewed attempts by China and telecom major Huawei to push for security clearances that have held back their contracts with Indian phone operators. Chinese Ambassador and Huawei representatives are slated to meet home ministry officials this week.
“The Prime Minister and the PMO do not appreciate any minister commenting on other department or ministries, especially when they are on foreign soil,” Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said.
A PMO source said the PM spoke to Ramesh on phone and “expressed his displeasure.”
Ramesh had earlier written to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Singh, “explaining” the context of this statement, but that did not cut ice, according party sources.
While Ramesh habitually takes potshots at his ministerial colleagues, this time the tolerance levels of the leadership is stretched, said party sources.
India’s China policy is formulated and driven by the PMO, particularly by the National Security Adviser (NSA).
The security concerns thrown up by the increasingly expanding presence of some Chinese companies with doubtful credentials have prompted the government to be more cautious while letting them in. Ramesh’s statement came in this context.
“There is a large security establishment which is uncomfortable even with the Copenhagen spirit,” Ramesh told Indian journalists in Beijing.
“They keep asking me ‘Why are you collaborating with China on climate change?’” Ramesh said. Gandhi spoke to the PM requesting him to rein in the minister and home minister P Chidamabaram wrote to him expressing his displeasure over the statement.
However, the PM had already made up his mind that Ramesh had clearly overstepped his brief and embarrassed the government. PMO sources said, the PM’s message to Ramesh was meant for other ministers too.
“Ramesh’s comments are highly objectionable. An Indian minister lobbying for Chinese companies notwithstanding the security threat to the country is unbecoming of a minister,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said. “Ramesh’s utterances establish that lobbyists also operate from within the government.”
The home ministry rejected this contention, saying, it is wrong to say that the security establishment was biased against the Chinese companies.
“Chinese companies are present in India in a big way. They are working in a variety of sectors, including in telecom sector. I don't think there is any discrimination happening from the government's side,” Home Secretary GK Pillai said.