Thursday, October 8, 2015

Review on Jairam Ramesh’s new book : ‘To the Brink and Back – India’s 1991 story’

Politicians earn celebrity status for many reasons. Books become bestsellers for many reasons too. Jairam Ramesh is a man of many hats. He is of course a dynamo of activity. The Congress leader is in news these days for his book ‘To the Brink and Back – India’s 1991 story’. Notably, during 1991 turbulent period of economic crisis, Jairam was appointed in the PMO under P V Narasimha Rao but was later shunted out to the Planning Commission as OSD in September 1991. 
In his own words, “I was convinced that I was being sacked. What  baffled me completely was that just forty eight hours back, the Prime Minister had asked me to attend his meetings”.

There are dozens of books on contemporary politics penned by those who rule and see things unfold from the other side of the table – the former babus, former ministers and so on. That’s another debate. But Jairam’s book in focus will be considered an exception for couple of reasons. One is Jairam, an ambitious Congress neta, still has many more years to go and thus his offering and more so the timing of it is actually strategic. The book perhaps would help Jairam to position himself in intra-party politics of Congress and those of us who still doubted his role in 1991 revolution called liberalizing India’s economy. Thus, one is not surprised that the book is in first person with deliberate emphasis more than once.

Secondly, and that’s perhaps more importantly, he wants to give a good impression to P V Narasimha Rao admirers in Andhra Pradesh that he (Jairam Ramesh) was close to the then Prime Minister. A man with fantastic journalistic instinct, Ramesh generally speaks highly of Rao and also admits that “Rao-Manmohan Singh duo happened to be at the right place at the right time”. As a reviewer/blogger I also do not grudge when he says, “They (Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh) had neither bargained nor lobbied for the responsibilities they found themselves with…”.
But as a writer, he has been perhaps economical with truth at certain places as he dwells minimum how Narasimha Rao was later ill-treated by the Congress party. For reasons, we understand clearly, Jairam also focused less on the dynasty’s role vis-à-vis the treatment meted out to Rao. Jairam is forthright in his assessment of the former PM, whom press unhesitatingly crowned as being Chanakya; when he writes, “Rao was a complex personality…”. 
Blogger and journo Manish: Never in Jairam inner circle
But his take: “I was simply in no position to know what went wrong between him and his own party….” remains an unacceptable nugget of information. No Congressman can stir the hornet's nest. Moreover, Jairam is fond of being understood in party circle as someone close to Rahul Gandhi and thus as Environment Minister he worked so closely with Congress vice president that everywhere Rahul was supposed to go, environment clearance did not come.

Personal Account:
Jairam Ramesh kind of politician knows pretty well the art of self-promotion. During his stint as union Minister for Rural Development he cultivated a few not so famous journos of famous newspapers – both Hindi and English. One journalist's beat was changed by the paper later and another is reportedly ‘jobless’ today ! With my limitation and working for The Statesman, I was hardly in his good books. So there used to be ‘no backroom’ emails to me or some of my friends. But Jairam continues to be ‘a friend’ and like George Fernandes and Rajesh Pilot would wave hands when we cross roads and he (Jairam) in his official car.
Tail Piece:  Thanks to his NGO-variety approach to life. Even Jairam's mother once disapproved of his ‘toilet-temple’ remarks. Some of us too protested for his unwarranted remarks and he dismissed these as “your upper caste inclination”. Jairam’s first person approach is also often funny. Here’s a sample of what he wrote in the concluding page of the book: “The hand of destiny took me close to Rao and Singh (Dr Manmohan) as they began saving the country…I was privileged to play a small role in setting history in motion”.  Moral of the story: 'the first person' disease is not a mere Narendra Modi phenomenon.

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