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Shooting from the lip

delhi Updated: May 14, 2010 00:44 IST
Saroj Nagi
Saroj Nagi
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Much like Linus and his security blanket in Charles Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts, Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh and his laptop are inseparable.

But even stronger perhaps is his association with controversies.

The technocrat-turned-politician has made news as much for the environmental causes he espouses as for shooting his mouth off on issues and colleagues. The most serious of these in recent days are perhaps his remarks in China that the government was being “needlessly alarmist” over the entry of Chinese companies.

Until now, Ramesh (56) — who with his book crafted the term ‘Chindia’ to emphasise India and China’s growing importance — has escaped action for his indiscretions and foot in the mouth remarks. Will he survive again?

The Congressman would be keeping his fingers crossed. More so, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Gandhi could, as a lesson to others, drop him when a cabinet reshuffle takes place sometime after the May 22 first anniversary celebrations of UPA II. With his Rajya Sabha term ending in June, Ramesh — who represents Andhra Pradesh in the Upper House — would also be worried about a renomination.

“What he did in Beijing was very serious,” a Congressman said, hinting of some action against Ramesh. “But he is brash and it’s a habit with him to shoot his mouth off,” said another.

Should he lose his ministerial post, Ramesh may be brought back to his previous assignment as member of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council, which drafts policy papers for the government.

After all, the man had managed to weather the storm over his remarks dubbing Gandhi as the Congress’s Rabri Devi and was roped in to help in the party’s aam aadmi campaigns in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

The basic question remains: why did the Congressman, who has been a minister since 2006, exceed his ministerial brief with his China talk? Is it because he epitomises the latest ‘abuse’ in the party — intellectual arrogance?

For Ramesh has often taken on his seniors with a pugnacity that may have stemmed partly from his confidence in his own intellect or his reported proximity to Singh, Gandhi and Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi.

Once considered an understudy of Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni, Ramesh did not hesitate to throw a dart at her when she was embroiled in the Sethusamudram controversy (the issue was making navigable the waters between the tip of the Indian peninsula and Sri Lanka. Religious sentiment came in the way because Lord Ram is said to have built a bridge there. Soni was then culture minister).

“I would have resigned if I was the cabinet minister,” Ramesh claimed, leaving his former mentor shell-shocked. Ramesh found enough reason as MoS of environment and forests to take on senior Cabinet ministers including Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar (on Bt Brinjal), Roads and Surface Transport Minister Kamal Nath (construction of roads through environmentally sensitive areas) and HRD Minister Kapil Sibal (by putting the proposed Vedanta University on hold over environmental clearance).

That the leadership rapped him on certain occasions should have been a warning to him. The Prime Minister rapped him for saying that India would match China in emission cuts — in what is now being referred to Ramesh’s Copenhagen goof-up. The junior minister had to backtrack. In another setback, the government gave a go ahead to resume partial work on the Maheshwar hydroelectric power project (in MP) despite his ministry’s ban. The Prime Minister as well as Gandhi recently reprimanded him over his China remarks. The big question now is whether the minister who claims to be a student of Buddhism has learnt anything from his latest experience.


Ramesh’s remarks and dust-ups

Ramesh and the PM’s Special Envoy on Climate Change Shyam Saran held opposing views on issues on environment. Saran was against India announcing voluntary cuts in carbon emissions ahead of the Copenhagen summit. The dispute ended when Shiv Shankar Menon’s elevation as national security advisor saw Saran exiting the government.
At a Cabinet meeting, Road Transport Minister Kamal Nath accused Ramesh of blocking projects because environment clearance hadn't been taken.

3. Because of Ramesh’s intervention, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal’s Vedanta University in Orissa put on hold.