Jairam's foot in mouth puts govt in tight spot

Prime Minister rebukes Union minister for remarks over China

Jairam's foot in mouth puts govt in tight spot

The prime minister on Monday told Ramesh that he had no business to speak about functioning of other ministries in the government. It was “advisable for Cabinet colleagues not to make comments on the functioning of other ministries, especially with regard to relationship with important neighbours like China,” the PMO sources said about the Prime Minister’s advice to the environment minister.

Ramesh, who was on a three-day visit to China, had remarked in Beijing that the policies of the Union Home Ministry, led by P Chidambaram, towards China were “alarmist and paranoid”.

He had stated that the “overly defensive” approach in the security establishments in India was putting “needless” restrictions on Chinese investments in India as “we are imagining demons where there are none”.

Embarrassment
The minister’s comments came in the context of recent reports that India had barred import of telecom equipment from major Chinese firm Huawei, especially in the border areas, following security concerns.

Ramesh’s comments have hugely embarrassed the government as what he said were exactly on the lines of the views that the Chinese have been airing over the last two years regarding Sino-Indian economic ties.

An upset prime minister called up Ramesh and bluntly told him that there was “no confusion” in the government over its approach towards China, a country with which India wanted to have “constructive engagement”.

Soon after his statement appeared in the press, the home ministry snubbed Ramesh for his comment, saying no discrimination was meted out to Chinese companies. “It is wrong to say that the security establishment was biased against the Chinese,” Home Secretary G K Pillai said.

“Chinese companies are already present in India in a big way. They are working in a variety of sectors, including in telecommunications sector. I don’t think there is any discrimination happening from the government’s side,” Pillai asserted, countering Ramesh’s remarks.

Third in a row
This was at least the third time Ramesh had embarrassed the government by publicly airing views that are contrary to government policies. Three years ago, just when the prime minister was to visit Brazil, he had made remarks that were critical of that country.
Last December, just ahead of the Copenhagen Climate Change summit, he had openly proposed that India should make voluntary emission cuts. He had to retract his remarks after the prime minister told him to restrain himself.

More recently, Ramesh was at odds with Union Surface Transport Minister Kamal Nath over environmental clearance for roads and with Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar over the Bt brinjal issue.  

The prime minister’s rebuke came a day after the Congress  strongly disapproved of his Beijing remarks.

“The ministers should avoid making any such remark, not only when they are on a tour to a foreign land, but also when they are in the country,” Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said.

“An adverse comment against the policy and functioning of a ministry as sensitive as Ministry of Home Affairs, that, too on a foreign land, cannot be justified,” Shakeel Ahmed, another Congress spokesman, added.

BJP demand
Expectedly, the Opposition BJP demanded his sacking for speaking in such tone in a foreign country.

“The comments of Ramesh in a foreign country which were critical of the Government are highly objectionable...It is unbecoming of a Union Minister. The prime minister owes an explanation the internal squabbling within ministers and take action against him,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.

Meanwhile an apex students’ body of Arunachal Pradesh has demanded the immediate dismissal of Ramesh for advocating Chinese investment and equipment for mega hydro-power projects to be developed in the state bordering China.

“Ramesh should resign immediately or else the students would start a democratic movement throughout the state,” Takam Tatung, president of the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union, said in Itanagar.

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