‘Don’t Write Off Congress in Delhi Polls So Soon’: Jairam Ramesh
Jairam Ramesh gets candid on Congress’ chances in Delhi polls, economic crisis, & his latest book on Krishna Menon.
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Before the Delhi elections, and shortly after the release of his latest book, The Quint caught up with senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh.
Jairam Ramesh’s latest tome, A Chequered Brilliance: The Many Lives of VK Krishna Menon, is based on the lesser-known aspects of the life of diplomat and politician, VK Krishna Menon, who was largely viewed in his time as ‘second most powerful after Jawaharlal Nehru’.
Below are excerpts from the interview with the economist and former Union minister:
‘What You See in Delhi is a Legacy of 15 Years of Congress’
Q. In the next few weeks, Delhi is going to face the Assembly elections. Where do we find the Congress in that election?
Well, the Congress party was in power in Delhi for 15 years. What you see in Delhi, the modern physical infrastructure, is a legacy of those 15 years of Sheila Dikshit and the Congress regime and administration. We had a severe setback in the last two elections but we will bounce back, and mark my words, the election result in Delhi will be a surprise. Don’t write the Congress off in Delhi prematurely.
‘Inflationary Pressures Building Up In Economy’
Q. Coming to the economy, had the Congress been in power, what could it have done differently?
Well, I think what has happened in the economy is, we have had six consecutive quarters of GDP growth decline. Six consecutive quarters. This is quite unprecedented. We have come down from 8.1 percent to 4.5 percent. The government has worked very hard to achieve this retardation in growth. Demonetisation, a botched-up implementation of GST, and most importantly, I think an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that governs the investors. And no country is going to be growing rapidly only on the strength of foreign investment. It is not FDI, it is DI, it is Domestic Investment that counts. But I think there is a great deal of uncertainty, there is a great deal of fear in the domestic investors, and till this sentiment becomes positive, I don’t see the economy reviving. Now we are seeing a new phenomenon; we are seeing inflationary pressures building up in the economy. People are beginning to use the word ‘stagflation’. I won’t go so far as yet but certainly in terms of food item inflation – onions, potatoes, tomatoes for example,we are looking at how inflation is increasing, and inflation is increasing at a time when growth is decreasing.
‘This is a Govt that Doesn’t Like to Listen’
Q. You had said that ‘blindly opposing’ Narendra Modi won’t help, but is there any other way out for the Opposition?
We made our voices heard within Parliament. There are public protests, particularly universities, particularly among the students and the younger generation. I think there is general fear, there is genuine anger, there is consternation, and this is a government that clearly doesn’t like to listen. It is a one-way traffic; it is a one-way communication. ‘Mann ki Baat’ is mann ki baat. It is not listening to people; it is only hectoring to people.
‘Nehru & Krishna Menon Were Ideological Soulmates’
Q. Coming to the subject of your latest book, VK Krishna Menon. Krishna Menon was often criticised within the Congress for taking the party too much to the ‘left’. Is there a ‘left vs right’ divide within the Congress today?
Well, you know, Mr Krishna Menon was a creature of his times — a creature of his times both in England as well as in India. He was very much a product of Fabián England, of a Socialist England, and indeed, so was Pandit Nehru, and that was one of the reasons why Nehru and Menon became so close; they became ideological soulmates as it were. But he was never a Communist, although he was elected as an independent candidate in 1969 and 1971 with Communist support. He was not a Communist, but the Communists loved him. Of course, he was a left of centre, you know, left of centre ideologue — deeply ideological, believed in the public sector as the commanding heights, deeply suspicious of the US, much more forgiving and much more accommodating of the UK, and of course, certainly enamoured of the Soviet Union. But this was, we are talking about the 40s and the 50s, completely different times. The geopolitics was different, the Cold War was at its peak, and I think he really wanted an India which was not wedded to any of the big powers — and India that was not wedded to the two superpowers or two blocs, but was able to have an independent voice. And the fact is that when Mr Menon was our UN envoy, he spoke independently. He was, what I have described in my book, an ‘equal opportunity offence-giver’. Nobody was spared the power of his tongue or his pen.
‘Krishna Menon Was Nehru’s Confidante’
Would you say Congress shuns ownership of Krishna Menon for some follies like India’s debacle during the 1962 war?
Well, Krishna Menon left the Congress in 1967. He resigned from the Congress because he was not given a ticket to contest from the seat in Bombay which he had won in 1957 and 1962. He then contested as an independent candidate in 1967. He lost and then he contended as an independent in 1969 from Midnapore, West Bengal. And then he contested in 1971 as an independent from Trivandrum, the same seat that Shashi Tharoor now represents, and he won with Communist support. His relationship with Congress however, was much deeper than what happened in 1967. His relationship was with Nehru; his relationship with Congress came through the relationship with Nehru. He was, as I said, Nehru’s confidante, he was his aide, he was his minister, he was his envoy – but he was his soulmate.
‘Krishna Menon Was Contradictory & Controversial’
“They (Nehru and Menon) wrote numerous letters to each other, they bared their souls, they spoke freely to each other, and yes, when Krishna Menon was the Defence Minister in 1962 at the time of the Chinese war, the debacle that India had, and finally on 7 November 1962, Nehru was very reluctant — but he was forced by his party to seek and obtain and approve Krishna Menon’s resignation from the Union Cabinet as Defence Minister. But Krishna Menon has not been forgotten, because I think to look at him only from the lens of 1962 does grave injustice to this many-splendoured personality. He was a consequential personality; he achieved much both in the pre-1947 period and in the post-1947 period. He was contradictory and he was controversial, but I think he was eminently ‘biographable’, because he left behind a treasure trove of archives which is what I have really used to write this book.”Jairam Ramesh to Indira Basu, The Quint
‘Govt’s Domestic Environmental Policies Leave a Lot to be Desired’
As we face the climate crisis, what are some of the immediate policy changes and reforms — which are also practicable — that you would recommend to the government today?
I think one of the things that I would like to stress is that this is a government that would like to appear internationally as to be very responsible in terms of its contributions to combating global warming, but its own domestic policies for the environment leave a lot to be desired. There has been a lot of loosening of environmental laws, a lot of liberalisation of environmental regulations, and therefore, there is a split personality as far as the government is concerned. Internationally, it speaks the language of environmental stewardship, but domestically, in the name of ease of doing business, it is actually giving a go-by to many worthwhile and very badly-needed environmental regulations and standards and institutions.
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