Jairam Ramesh, the flamboyant environment minister is used to hearing others praise him for rejuvenating the environmentalist movement in the country. Sharp and witty, he’s also almost impossible to beat when it comes to repartees and retorts; until on Monday.
Ramesh, who introduced Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwali and Water Resources minister Salman Khurshid as the two threats facing the Tiger population of India at the unveiling of the Tiger Census, was smartly countered by Khurshid when his turn came.
“Tigers are not just found in the forests.. We also have a tiger in the group of ministers,” Khurshid, a close friend of Jairam, said after Jairam had introduced him as a ‘threat.’
“They are tigers because they show the characteristics of tigers,” Khurshid went on in the style of others who had praised Jairam Ramesh to the skies. “They [tiger ministers] also share another characteristic of a tiger. If you don’t treat them well, they become man-eaters,” he said, an obvious reference to the many feuds Jairam has running with many business groups and politicians.
Then came the coup de grace. “However, like real tigers, they are also facing the threat of extinction,” Khurshid went on as the room rocked with laughter. Jairam, who has many enemies, has been the target of several political machinations and pressure tactics to get him removed.
Like a good friend, Salman Khurshid also let it be known that this ‘tiger’ was not going to go extinct. Khurshid, who is one of Jairam’s core advocates in the group of ministers, let it be known that his own efforts at saving the “endangered tiger” was no less laborious than those of the scientists who scour the jungles with camera traps, scat analysis.
“We keep our own camera traps for him,” he said, hinting at the considerable counter-lobbying that he and other Jairam well-wishers have to do to save his skin.
Jairam, always generous, obliged by acknowledging that Salman has always been a good friend. “He has always been a great supporter of mine in all my battles, both rational and irrational,” he said.
Interestingly, among those who expressed admiration and gratitude for Jairam’s invigorating stint in the ministry also included the two BJP chief ministers present at the tiger conference in Delhi today.
BJP-ruled Karnataka’s environment minister Vijay Shankar, who was an Parliamentarian in Delhi during 1998-2008, said he was indeed grateful to Jairam for bringing the environment ministry back on track.
Shankar, who grew up in the forests that have the most tigers in India, said he had seen directly how previous environment ministers used to work, a reference to the tenures of ministers like A Raja and TR Baalu.
Under the DMK, the environment ministry, which issues clearances for large projects to corporates, had become notorious for corruption.
“Now, I have seen how you have re-invigorated the forest force,” he said, adding that he has seen the impact among his cadre in Karnataka. While funded mostly by the Centre, forest departments are set up and run by the state governments in India.
On his part, the Rajasthan environment minister — again a BJP leader — said Jairam’s tenure is a milestone that can only be compared to the time of Indira Gandhi, who started many of India’s most successful conservation efforts including ‘Project Tiger.’
“He has again brought environment close to the heart of the people,” he said.
Jairam too, did not forget to take pot-shots at others. Calling Salman Khan the “Rambo of Indian film scene,” Jairam Ramesh recounted how the strong ethos of the Bishnoi community of Rajasthan led to the prosecution of the bollywood star for allegedly hunting down a black buck in Rajasthan.