Congress circles are perplexed over the spate of critical statements made by Jairam Ramesh. The rural development minister has not spared even the Union government's flagship programme: the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. He has questioned the wisdom of pumping in thousands of crores of rupees for just digging pits and refilling them. He is busy shooting off letters to the Prime Minister, expressing his strong views on issues like rural sanitation, and the contents become well known. Jairam misses the high-profile environment ministry, where he could bring private and public sector industries to a grinding halt with his no-go orders on mining and industrial activities in forests.
Jairam is bewildered by the way the government is handling the issues in Maoist areas. He has been pressing the Prime Minister to set up a group of ministers, including himself, to work out a comprehensive strategy, as he does not want the powers to be concentrated with Home Minister P. Chidambaram. However, Manmohan Singh, who has constituted a GoM even for salt pans of Maharashtra, is reluctant to dilute the powers of his home minister.
Jairam has shown courage to travel to the most violent areas to meet with politicians, social activists and officials. He appointed an IAS officer who had been kidnapped in Orissa as his private secretary so that his ministry is sensitised about development challenges in Naxal zones.
There is speculation in Delhi on whether Jairam has resorted to low-intensity prodding of the Prime Minister with some prompting from the Congress high command. He is very close to Sonia Gandhi and has been crafting her English speeches since 1998. He had run the Congress war room when the party triumphed in the Lok Sabha elections of 2004 and 2009. He has also closely worked with Manmohan in the economic affairs department of the Congress. When Manmohan was its head, Jairam was its secretary.
Jairam is also credited with the suggestion of a new version of Kamaraj Plan whereby some ministers, including himself, would be drafted for party work, if the Congress has any hopes of achieving a hat-trick in 2014. It is also known that Sonia has not been happy with the way the government has dragged its feet over key recommendations of the National Advisory Council, of which she is the chairperson. A former member, Jairam still provides inputs to Sonia.
But some Congressmen argue that it is in Jairam's nature to keep throwing up ideas. They refer to his streak of impatience with status quo. They say if he feels the Prime Minister and the government must move fast, he will say it, without bothering whether he is stepping on any toes. But his critics feel he is being outspoken and brash, courtesy Sonia's protective umbrella.