We were earlier told that "When the going gets tough, the tough get going". I grew up when this saying meant something. Then I saw a variant of this in a TV advertisement. It said "When the going gets tough, the tough go naked." I felt amused, but thought how apt the underlying message was. After all, this is what the film actresses and models do nowadays.
I think we will have to carve out another version for the ministers who do not blindly tow the line of the Big Business. I am talking of such ministers (even if they are handful) all over the world, more so in new emerging economies like India, China, Brazil and South Africa. In India, which claims to be the world's biggest democracy, Big Money has now taken over the control over politics. There are of course a few ministers, honourable exceptions, who have stood up and refused to cow down.
These ministers do feel the heat. It is certainly going tough for them, and I don't think it is easy for the tough to emerge any stronger given the kind of money that floats around. I wonder how many of them will survive the deadliy sting of Big Money. I am not that imaginative and have little creative skills to rephrase the adage. But if anyone of you can give it a try, I am all ears.
When I read an editorial "Lost and not found" in the Hindustan Times today (Mar 26, 2010), expressing the plight of India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh in the face of a mounting attack from his Cabinet colleagues, I realise how tough it must be for him. First, he took up the courage to hold national consultations on a controversial technological product -- Bt brinjal. The 19-page report he submitted, based on the series of national consultations and direct responses, is one of the best I have ever read, and should put India's agricultural scientists and economists to shame.
He invited the wrath of three of his Cabinet colleagues -- Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Science & Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan, and the Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal. So much so, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to step in to call for a truce.
Knowing what happened to another tough Environment Minister Michael Meacher, who was eased out by Tony Blair, I heaved a sigh of relief when I did not see Jairam Ramesh being shifted to another ministry. It is not easy to stand up to the might of the biotechnology industry, and Jairam Ramesh needs to be applauded for his exemplary courage to protect good science.
Media reports tells us that Jairam Ramesh is also under immense pressure from his colleagues in Parliament. With over 300-crorepatis (millionaires) now sitting in Parliament, obviously they have their business interest to be pushed. They didn't come to Parliament for only making empty speeches in favour of poor and hungry. I can therefore understand how tough it must be for Jairam Ramesh to smile at them, and yet not sign on the dotted line.
Big Business will not take it easy. As the Hindustan Times editorial says: "The latest round of squabbling that the Prime Minister has to arbitrate features the Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh (the born-again environmentalist) on one side and Road Transport Minister Kamal Nath, Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Water Resources Minister Pawan Bansal on the other.
"The trio has complained to Mr Singh that Mr Ramesh's ministry has been delaying environment clearances for key infrastructure projects. The PM has now asked the Planning Commission to formulate a procedure that will help fast-track environment clearances. While the trip must be celebrating their win, Mr Ramesh is sulking." The editorial then goes on to say: "Just when he was savouring his sudden jump in the popularity stakes, his colleagues ruined it all. And Mr Ramesh is hurt too. Only a month back, he told all and sundry that the PM was his only support in the Cabinet. But now the referee has backtracked too."
Not that all is well with the Environment ministry. I know it is not going to be that easy for Jairam Ramesh to sweep the inert dirt into a dustbin. Kanchi Kohli has been tracking the business of environmental clearances, and I do follow her writings. You can read one of her latest exposes: Environment clearance: A sham again at http://indiatogether.org/2010/mar/env-bhad.htm
Nevertheless, let us also accept it that the Mininster for Environment & Forests Jairam Ramesh does look into the complaints whenever these have been brought to his attention. His other Cabinet colleagues would never care to respond. They are so petrified with Big Business that they fear they will lose their jobs if they ever dare to open the files. Most of Jairam Ramesh' colleagues have already succumbed to Big Business and gone naked. The Empire certainly has no clothes to cover its ministers.
I think there is no reason why Jairam Ramesh should sulk. I too have faced this kind of dilemma a number of times in my career. I have a couple of suggestions for Jairam Ramesh. Take out time from your busy schedule every fortnight, and drive to Rajghat. Just at the gate of the entrance to Mahatma's samadhi, there is a famous statement of his engraved in stone. I am talking of Mahatma's Talisman. Read it loudly, and spend a few quiet moments in the sprawling laws of the samadhi.
You will get the strength.
Secondly, and most important is to forge an alliance with good people, wherever they are. Globalisation has brought the rich and crooked together from across the globe. Real globalisation will happen only when good people come together.