Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh is coming under increasing fire from his own party colleagues for quite a few reasons, says Anita Katyal
While most Congress leaders have been taking potshots at the minister in private, it was left to All India Congress Committee general secretary Janardan Dwivedi to give voice to their growing anger on Thursday for constantly speaking out of turn.
In an unusual move, Dwivedi openly disapproved of Ramesh’s recent comments on the Aam Admi Party. Berating the minister, without naming him, Dwivedi remarked that people who suddenly acquire a special identity in a party cannot understand the anguish of political workers who have put in years of struggle.
Ramesh had said that established political parties could not ignore the AAP as they yield considerable influence in cities, adding that the party may be poor in administration but it is brilliant in campaigning. He also predicted that the AAP would poll a substantial percentage of votes in the Lok Sabha elections.
As for Ramesh’s controversial remark that the AAP would not have emerged had the Lokpal Bill been passed two years ago, Dwivedi wondered about the contribution made by those who were now talking about the Lokpal Bill in helping the government when it was facing difficulties in getting all political parties to agree to this legislation.
“Given the problems faced by the government, we should be happy that the Bill was ultimately passed,” Dwivedi added.
Ramesh has riled his party and cabinet colleagues with his comments but the minister has always escaped unscathed because of his proximity to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. In fact, this is one of the reasons for the growing resentment against the minister.
Senior party leaders are particularly upset about Rahul’s excessive dependence on Ramesh in the preparation for the coming Lok Sabha elections.
“People who have no base and have never contested elections are deciding poll strategy while those who have been working in the field are being ignored,” remarked a senior Congress minister.
Clearly, Ramesh is omnipresent in the party. He was named as the convener of a 'special group' of the party to serve as the secretariat for the existing Rahul-led coordination committee for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
He has also been roped in to give suggestions on the effective implementation of the United Progressive Alliance government’s flagship schemes like the Direct Transfer Scheme and the Right to Food programmes.
In addition, the minister is Rahul’s speech writer, is a member of the party’s manifesto committee and the Congress panel set up to draft the resolution for the January 17 AICC meeting.
Ramesh is said to be a key member of Rahul’s strategy group and was entrusted with key responsibilities before the recently-concluded assembly polls. He is heading the party’s coordination committee in Jharkhand and was also given charge of the implementation of the party manifesto in Arunahcal Pradesh, Manipur and Mizoram.
Congress leaders who participated in the recent consultations held by the party to elicit suggestions for its 2014 election manifesto pointed out that the entire exercise was conducted by Ramesh, while others played a peripheral role.
In fact, the minister is also learnt to have told his party colleagues privately that the consultations being convened at Rahul’s behest were a formality as he had already finalized the manifesto.
“No wonder there is such a disconnect between the leadership and party cadres… it’s bound to happen when the rank and file is not involved in party affairs,” a senior Congress leader told rediff.com.
This anger against Ramesh is partially a reflection of the growing frustration in the Congress after the party’s humiliating defeat in the recent assembly elections, it also points to a growing divide between the old guard close to party president Sonia Gandhi and members of the Rahul’s core team.
Ramesh is among the few leaders who has made a successful transition from being a key member of Sonia’s strategy group to become an important figure in Rahul’s team. He even got away by once describing Sonia as the Congress party’s “Rabri Devi”.
It is perhaps this proximity to Rahul which has emboldened Ramesh to speak out of turn in public. His excessive arguments in Cabinet meetings are also well known.
In fact, Ramesh had even provoked mild mannered Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar to remark on one occasion, “We have to learn from Ramesh given his vast experience in electoral politics.”
There have been innumerable instances in the recent past when an embarrassed Congress had to distance itself from Ramesh’s public statements.
Similarly, Ramesh created ripples when he told media persons that Rahul should apologise for his remarks on the Inter-Service Intelligence getting in touch with Muzaffarnagar riot-hit youth.
The party was pushed on the backfoot again when the minister told Reuters in an interview that Rahul was ignoring the immediate challenge of elections and that he was more focused on the long term future of the party.
In an interview to Reuters, Ramesh had said: “If Mr (Rahul) Gandhi does not do well in 2014, he is still going to be around. My frustration is that he is too forward-looking. He is talking of structure, systems; he’s talking of building up Congress in the long term whereas we are now faced with fighting an election in the short term. Certainly, Mr Modi is somebody whom we have to contend with. We can’t just airbrush him aside.”
The Congress was most unhappy when Ramesh publicly acknowledged that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi posed a challenge to the Congress and had described his party as a giant elephant which moves slowly as compared to the BJP which, he said, is a jackal.
Jairam had also incurred the wrath of Finance Minister P Chidambaram for criticisng him outside the country. On a visit to China in his capacity as environment minister two years ago, Ramesh had described the Chidambaram-led home ministry’s policies towards Chinese companies as "alarmist" and "paranoid".
He was reprimanded by Sonia and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for criticising a cabinet colleague on foreign soil.
The Congress had also been quick to react. "It is not right to air such differences in public. The Congress disapproves of such statements made on foreign soil," party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi had told media persons.