Come clean

Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh virtually opened a pandora’s box, when on a tour of China, by making a statement that the home ministry’s ‘alarmist’ and ‘paranoid’ policies towards Chinese companies and projects in India were threatening to derail the post-Copenhagen warming of ties between the neighbours. Emanating from foreign soil, the minister’s remarks were rightly seen by many as out of turn and it put the UPA government in an embarrassing position, just when it was recovering from the Shashi Tharoor episode which ended in the forced resignation of the junior minister for external affairs.

Most agree that Ramesh, a pro-active minister known for his intelligence and effective handling of official work, had no business to make the remarks about a ministry that he does not handle and comment about the policies of the government while on a foreign visit. What appeared in the press was that following Ramesh’s statement, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pulled him up. However, till today, there is no official clarification on the minister’s statement as to whether he was right in making them or not and what the Singh government’s stand about it is. There is talk of Ramesh being punished by way of denying him a Rajya Sabha renomination — his term ends in July — but that’s not really the issue. He may or may not get Upper House renomination. The issue is the government should have clarified its stand over his statement. At least, the Congress, to which the minister belongs, was candid enough to point out that Ramesh’s remarks were “not at all appropriate”.

There is a section of the intelligentsia which is of the opinion that if talented people have to be in government, those like Ramesh must be tolerated. There are no two opinions about the fact that Indian politics needs talent and integrity which it so badly lacks. Having said that, it must be asserted that the ministers should know what their limitations are and where to draw the ‘Lakshman rekha’. Ramesh had got embroiled in many controversies earlier, be it regarding Bt brinjal, environment clearances to roadbuilding schemes and river projects in Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand. In these cases, the government found it prudent to make clear its stand, though it has preferred to maintain a studied silence on the home ministry’s China policy, a point that the government must clarify without being ambiguous.

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