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HindustanTimes Sat,19 Apr 2014

Gay right stand shows changed Congress: Jairam

Varghese K George, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, December 14, 2013
First Published: 21:28 IST(14/12/2013) | Last Updated: 00:48 IST(15/12/2013)

The Congress support to decriminalising homosexuality is a break from its usual approach of maintaining ambiguity on issues, and part of a new approach of taking the right political positions regardless of their electoral impact, said union minister for rural development Jairam Ramesh.

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Ramesh attributed this change to Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. "Mr Gandhi is saying that we need to take positions. He is rejecting ambiguity. I think, what he is saying is 'stand up and be counted'."

Ramesh said he did not support the ordinance route to reverse the impact of a recent SC intervention that made homosexuality a crime.

"The ordinance route should be resorted to only under the most extraordinary of circumstances. May be when parliament meets for the vote on account later, we should bring in the legislation for that," he said.

In an uncharacteristically firm view for a party like Congress, Gandhi had rejected the SC interpretation of the validity of section 377 of the IPC, and called for decriminalising homosexuality.

Ramesh was among the first ones take up the issue. "Today it is homosexuals, tomorrow it could be some other groups. It could be Muslims or Sikhs. Or a linguistic minority. We cannot have a harmonious society without accepting diversity," Ramesh said.

'PC no fiscal fundamentalist'
On his differences with finance minister P Chidambaram on cutting the expenditure on flagship welfare programmes, Ramesh said: "He would not be a responsible finance minister if he didn't look for ways to cut expenditure. I would not be a responsive rural development minister if I did not fight for our flagship programmes."

Ramesh had last month shot off a letter to prime minister Manmohan Singh protesting against what he termed as "savage cuts" in the funds for schemes such as the one for rural employment guarantee, but refused to term Chidambaram a fiscal fundamentalist.

"I don't think he is a fiscal fundamentalist. I have worked with him, seen him at close quarters, he is genuinely concerned about the credibility of the government's economic stance.

"Having made a public stance, he is striving hard to maintain that. I have to help him, and at the same time, I have to protect the flagship programme.

"I have to protect the social sector programmes. And things such as rural roads, where we cannot expect the private sector to invest. Or build housing for BPL families; or give funds to women's self-help groups.

"It is after all a political choice we must make. I am sure that we will ultimately come out of this, without compromising on the fiscal stance of the government, and at the same time maintaining our flagship programmes."

Ramesh also said the finance minister's commitment to keep the fiscal deficit under 4.8% of the GDP was not a personal commitment, but one of the government of India.

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