Jairam Ramesh is known as someone who has had many lives. The technocrat from IIT has come unscathed from several controversies.
The Congress party’s Jairam Ramesh has a penchant for courting controversies. And the timing of his book on P.N. Haksar and his speculated appointment as the campaign coordinator for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are providing another setting for a new controversy now.
A hushed campaign is seemingly on in the grand old party to deny Ramesh a pivotal role in manning the Congress war room at 15 Gurudwara Rakabganj Road ahead of elections. All sorts of arguments are being marshalled by party leaders against Ramesh: ranging from him being anti-industry when he was the UPA’s environment minister to his tacit support for Bhima Koregaon accused Mahesh Raut. Rahul Gandhi, one may believe, has been repeatedly told that the party will not be able to attract funds for elections if Ramesh is given the coveted assignment.
TV news channel Times Now recently ran a series of stories pointing out how Ramesh, in 2013, had written to former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, seeking the release of Raut who was detained by the local police for alleged links to Maoists.
In his letter, Ramesh had reportedly told Chavan that he had “independently inquired” into the allegations against Raut and discovered that he was working well as a Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellow (PMRDF).
In addition, Ramesh’s recently released book Intertwined Lives: P.N. Haksar and Indira Gandhi, published by Simon & Schuster, is also causing considerable bad blood for claiming that Indira’s principal secretary had taken on Sanjay Gandhi. The book claims that Haksar lost the battle for supremacy, and Sanjay Gandhi proved to be his nemesis.
Haksar was not merely a principal secretary to Indira Gandhi from the 1967-1973, but acted as her moral compass in her (in)famous Kitchen cabinet.
In 1970, Indira was charged with nepotism when Sanjay Gandhi became the lone applicant to be granted the license to manufacture a small and cheap car in India. Haksar was dropped from his post for opposing the Maruti project.
Sanjay got even with Haksar later during the Emergency when the latter’s uncle was taken into police custody because his shop apparently did not carry individual price tags on towels and napkins (though the bundles did). [The author writes about it his book 24 Akbar Road: A Short History of the People behind the Fall and the Rise of the Congress]
Now, son Feroze Varun Gandhi, a BJP MP from Sultanpur, was quick to take on Ramesh when excerpts of the Haksar biography were published this week.
An accidental politician writing about a failed bureaucrat. Both whining about a man who created the single largest post-independence industrial success, Maruti, and gifted it to the nation. https://t.co/4jfe2liZpj
— Varun Gandhi (@varungandhi80) June 18, 2018
Some Congress leaders claim that Varun even contacted his cousins and complained about Ramesh’s bid to show Sanjay in poor light.
Ramesh is known as someone who has had many lives. The technocrat from IIT has come unscathed from several controversies. He described Sonia Gandhi as a ‘Rabri Devi’ and predicted that the Congress, under her, would not come to power for the next 50 years. Sonia was furious and it required the skills of Ahmed Patel and Ambika Soni to prevail upon her to pardon Ramesh.
In a May 2000 article titled ‘Sonia: no longer the saviour’, Ramesh (AICC economic wing secretary at that time) is quoted as saying: “Two years down the line, Sonia is seen as a loser and the morale in the party is low. The hype generated when Sonia became party president has settled down. The mood has swung from one extreme to another. People who saw her as a ticket to nirvana now see her as a ticket to narak (hell)”.
In 1991, when Narasimha Rao had just taken over as Prime Minister, the otherwise quiet party president had surprised many by blocking Ramesh’s entry at 24, Akbar Road for inexplicable reasons. Ramesh was working as an OSD in Planning Commission at that time.
At the height of the Ram Setu controversy in 2007, Ramesh had attacked his ministerial colleague Ambika Soni, publically demanding her resignation.
How does Jairam Ramesh get away so easily from all the troubles he actively courts? There are several reasons for it. Ramesh’s skill as a draftsman and ability to produce position papers on key economic and technical issues are an asset. Even arch-rival Mani Shankar Aiyar complimented him once, saying if there was a good document in the Congress, it was produced by either him or Ramesh.
Over the years, Ramesh is said to have contributed in Sonia’s speeches, letters and provided other inputs, a role he continued playing when Rahul Gandhi took over as Congress president. More importantly, Jairam Ramesh also shares Rahul’s worldview on many issues.
Rasheed Kidwai is an Observer Research Foundation visiting fellow, author and journalist. the views expressed here are his own