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Jairam: Green activist, technocrat and no-nonsense politician

Jairam Ramesh, who made headlines as a crusading green minister, is set to bring in his intellectual heft and training as an engineer to his new job as India's rural development minister.

delhi Updated: Jul 12, 2011 14:32 IST

Jairam Ramesh, who made headlines as a crusading green minister, is set to bring in his intellectual heft and training as an engineer to his new job as India's rural development minister.

With the Manmohan Singh government desperate to salvage its image as pro-aam admi, the rural development ministry is a critical job that requires a man of stature. Ramesh, known to be close to the Gandhi family, fits the billing.

A mechanical engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Mumbai and an alumnus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Congress politician, who sports a trademark white khadi churidar and kurta, is set to bring his considerable energy and intellectual prowess to the task of rural reconstruction.

In over two years as environment minister, the suave 57-year-old technocrat-turned-politician transformed a low-key ministry into headline-hunter, saying no to big industrialists and multi-million dollar projects on account of their perceived impact on the environment.

Be it mega projects like Vedanta and Posco, the Navi Mumbai airport, GM foods or tortuous climate change negotiations, Ramesh, who also served as India's chief climate change negotiator, habitually hogged headlines.

In the process, he was excoriated by his opponents as an obstructionist and an arrogant intellectual who was stalling the country's industrialisation and globalisation drive.

In his variegated career, Ramesh has performed multiple roles that include a brief assignment at the World Bank in 1978, two stints as a Planning Commission adviser, an officer on special duty during the VP Singh government and as an official in the finance ministry headed by Manmohan Singh in the 1990s.

In recent years, he has emerged as a pet intellectual of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and is said to be closely involved in mentoring party general secretary Rahul Gandhi.

In the first United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, he was minister of state for commerce and industry and minister of state for power.

Armed with this formidable resume, Ramesh is expected to shepherd the UPA's multifarious rural development programmes that will have a crucial bearing on the re-electability of the alliance in the next elections in 2014.

He also has a well-earned reputation for being a no-nonsense politician who does not mind taking on vested interests if they militate against his beliefs.

His visit to Bhopal in September 2009 put the spotlight on the toxic waste lying there since the 1984 Union Carbide plant gas leak. In April 2010, he announced the setting up of the first National Green Tribunal.

In the global climate change negotiations, Ramesh eloquently argued India's case and challenged the West's agenda by tirelessly advocating the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities of developing and developed countries for cutting down greenhouse gas emissions.

Known for his outspoken views - he recently stirred a controversy by saying the faculty od IITs and IIMs are not world class - Ramesh made powerful enemies as well as enduring friends.

Whatever critics may say, his tenacity and green activism also earned him much praise and notoriety.

Historian and writer Ramachandra Guha described Ramesh as "a true environment minister". It is hoped that Ramesh will prove himself as a rural development minister by extending the India rising story to its rural hinterland.

First Published: Jul 12, 2011 14:31 IST