18 things you might like to know about Jairam

Jairam Ramesh is the ultimate outsider looking in. Born in Chikamagalur but not quite a Kannadiga. Tam-Brahm but brought up in Bombay. An engineer by education but better known as an economist. A columnist and television anchor, but not quite a journalist. Half-Kannadiga, half-Tamil but now a Rajya Sabha member from Andhra Pradesh.

Yet, while the media likes to count Jairam along with S.M. Krishna, Veerappa Moily, K.H. Muniyappa and Malikarjuna Kharge as part of “Team Karnataka” in the Union council of ministers, little is known about the man from coffeeland who possesses the most over-sized pate in Indian politics and a mot juste for every occasion.

Minister of state for commerce in the previous Manmohan Singh team who had glass doors installed at his office (“because he has much to hide!” in the words of a long-time political observer), Jairam is now minister for environment and forests. In the first 100 days, the wordsmith has already crossed swords with three chief ministers, B.S. Yediyurappa (over the Bellary mines issue), Ashok Chavan (over the location of the new airport in Bombay), and Sheila Dixit (over relaxing the ban on plastic covers).

So, who is Jairam Ramesh?

***

1) Son of Prof C.K. Ramesh, who taught structural engineering at IIT Bombay, where Jairam later went on to study “girlfriend repellent” mechanical engineering. Studious Jairam often was pelted with chalk by his B. Tech classmates. His crime? He wouldn’t walk out with the backbenchers even if the professor wasn’t in.

2) Married to K.R. Jayashree, daughter of former IAS officer K.V. Ramanathan. The couple have two sons, one of whom is studying law at Oxford. Although a devout Hindu, he is also seriously into Buddhism. Suffice to say, Jairam’s personal life is the topic of more than ordinary interest in the family. His mother Sridevi Ramesh lives on Chord Road in Bangalore.

gossip_sujan_park_200907063) Jairam did a brief stint at Business India, once the pre-eminent business fortnightly owned by Ashok Advani. That began his association with tiger researcher Valmik Thapar‘s sister Malavika Singh, the eminence grise of Business India who launched the company’s now-defunct business channel, BiTV. Jairam was part of Malavika Singh gossip sessions with such worthies as Navin Patnaik, now Orissa chief minister, in attendance, and now carries the tag of being an ace gossip.

4) Former planning commission member Abid Hussain has been quoted as saying  “Jairam has the highest IQ I have ever come across in anybody and energy levels that 10 horses can’t match.”

5) Jairam dropped out of a PhD program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) after getting a master of science (MS) in public management at the Heinz College at Carnegie-Mellon University in 1977 to take a job at the World Bank.

Quotable quote: “The rate of growth of any economy is inversely proportional to the number of economists. Look at South Korea, look at India. South Korea produces no economists, but it has three times the growth rate as India, which produces three times the number of economists.”

6) Upon his return, he did a stint as a backroom boy with economist Lovraj Kumar and was an Officer on Special Duty in V.P. Singh government. He became a key fixture in Manmohan Singh‘s finance ministry in the Narasimha Rao regime. As an example of the licence-quota-permit raj that Singh unshackled, Jairam has said his father waited 15 years to buy a car.

As long back as 1979, he gave a clear indication of his main interests by co-editing a book titled Mobilising Technology for World Development.

moodindigo7) Jairam Ramesh and Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, both excellent quizzers, were part of the 1975 Mood Indigo team at IIT Bombay. Jairam was the man Nandan tapped when the Infosys IPO was undersubscribed in 1993. Nandan asked Jairam to put Rs 10,000 in the company; Jairam didn’t and calls the move “the single biggest mistake of my life“.

8) Has a deep interest in history and when he wrote a column for The Times of India, revealingly chose the pseudonym Kautilya. He says he used to spend two-three days researching the topic: “Most columnists in India write for senior government officials to read. They write to be noticed by the government. And they write in a language only they can understand. I am writing for an ordinary person who wants to know more and more about economics. I try to de-mystify economics and issues. It is not an easy thing.”

9) Workaholic Jairam hosted a Sunday evening business roundtable on Doordarshan in the early 1990s called Crossfire produced by the Ananda Bazaar Patrika group, and a daily morning show called Business Breakfast on Star Plus.

The legend goes that for 480 days he woke up at 3.30 am, read the morning papers, and hosted the programme. He would arrive at the studios in a Fab India kurta and pyjama, remove the kurta, and host the show with a shirt and the pyjama. He was also famously known to be addicted to mint with a hole, finishing off a couple of packets a day.

miles-davis10) His North Block office as was famous for the music that emanated from it all day. Jairam, who counts music among his interests, has a huge collection of music CDs, from Kumar Gandharva to Miles Davis.

11) In the early 1990s, Jairam told friends there were four reasons why he thought he wouldn’t make it as a politician: “I am Brahmin, I am South Indian, I am good-looking, I am brilliant.”

12) Jairam is an Iyengar and wags say the line “this website is a public service so that you can leverage my knowledge and experience,” as proof that the three forms of the human ego are I-Iyer-Iyengar. Mani Shankar Aiyar, with whom Jairam fell foul early, is reported to have said, “The only thing Jairam Ramesh is interested in is Jairam Ramesh.”

Both Mani and Jairam later fell foul of Sanjaya Baru, the journalist turned media advisor to the prime minister. Jairam is seen to have played a key role in the installation of Harish Khare as Baru’s replacement this time around.

13) Jairam Ramesh fancies himself as a wordsmith, but is notorious for shooting his mouth off with amazing regularity. Yet, something in his persona endears him to the powers that be in the Congress first family who are famously not known to tolerate dissent.

He told Asiaweek magazine in 2000: “Two years down the line [after the Congress' 1998 election defeat], Sonia Gandhi is seen as a loser and the morale in the party is very low… People who saw her as a ticket to nirvana now see her as a ticket to narak [hell]…. If things go the way they are, the Congress will not come back to power for another 50 years.” He also famously rubbed off Gandhi family retainee, Ambika Soni, on the wrong side on the Ram Sethu issue, but without sustaining any visible injury.

14) Jairam is known to draft many of Sonia Gandhi‘s English speeches. He wrote and re-wrote the UPA’s Common Minimum Programme in 2004 on his Fujitsu notebook at 99 South Avenue six times. He now uses a Sony Viao laptop.

15) Created a diplomatic boo-boo in 2006 by trashing the India-Brazil-South Africa summit in an interview with Patricia Campos Mello of the influential Estado do Sao Paulo daily, even as the prime minister was winging his way to the Brazilian capital. Later, when asked “why” by a veteran political correspondent, Jairam is said to have said: “But she was so beautiful.”

16) Although he served as deputy chairman of the Karnataka State Planning Board, chief minister S.M. Krishna is said to have refused to give him a Rajya Sabha seat, because, according to a well-known quizzer, “SMK has a slight aversion for bright people”.

Quotable quote-II: “The early generation of our founding fathers were all educated in England. Our tragedy is that not many crossed the Atlantic. In fact, there were only two of our leaders who crossed the Atlantic, and they made a substantial difference to India.

17) Although he is 55, Jairam has a formidable reputation as a “whiz-kid” and “backroom boy” in the Congress, and is even credited for having his finger on the political pulse, by pushing the Congress’s aam admi slogan in 2004. However, Jairam, who served as deputy chairman of the Karnataka State Planning Board, is said to have predicted 120 seats for S.M. Krishna‘s Congress in the assembly polls. He got 65.

zheng he18) Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch admiral who headed a Chinese fleet which reached the Malabar coast of India in the early 15th century (some have argued he reached America, before Columbus, as well) is a particular favourite with Jairam. He appears several times in his book Making sense of Chindia.

Photographs: courtesy Bharatwaves, Scott Adams, Outlook, Flickr

Also read: 12 things no one’s telling us about namma Nandu

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33 Responses to “18 things you might like to know about Jairam”

  1. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    Bravo! It is heartening that the mediocrities of the North are finally learning to tap into our rich South Indian intellectual resources.

    Just one minor cavil: If the brilliant Ramesh does not speak Kannada or has no interest in Karnatkans’ well-being, I am afraid we cannot say that he is a member of Team Karnataka.

    Yet another cavil: If Ramesh really thinks that if more of our political scions had been educated in America instead of Britain, India might be much different today, why is his son at Oxford? Ambedkar and JP, both educated in the
    U. S. taught us to have a conscience, but that need not necessarily mean it was their American education that made them the intellectual revolutionaries that Gandhi was not.

    Also it is an insult to Ramesh to include him in a group that contains Krishna, Muniappa and the like.

  2. Mysore Peshva Says:

    I hadn’t read a better profile since Time’s special issue (on Jackson) was published more than two weeks ago. Kudos to Churumuri.

    Jairam Ramesh seems to be accomplished, suave and thoughtful. He has traveled in some of the world’s most beautiful natural areas, and he understands economics and politics — he is just the type we need to fix an incompetent Ministry of Environment and Forests.

    Over the last decade, the ministry has regressed from being a protector of flora, fauna and wildlife — which are all closely connected to human development in every sense — to acting as an agent of corrupt industrialists and “developers.”

    Never before has India’s wildlife — particularly reptiles, amphibians and small mammals (but also larger, more famous ones such as the tiger and elephant) — been under such a terrible assault by polluters, encroachers and poachers while the ministry obsesses with “developers.”

    Jairam, please make sure your ministry obsesses with wildlife, not with industrialists. You must appreciate that protecting wildlife — whether elephant or sparrow — offers a key to protecting the larger environment including habitat.

    Currently, Jairam’s ministry is an enemy — not an advocate — of Articles 48 and 51-A (particularly their forest clause).

    Jairam may want to shun legislative activity in his first two years; the hour’s need is not any new laws but a strict enforcing of existing law/policy. Jairam must reestablish our faith in the rule of law in a context of the environment.

    Some suggestions for the good man:

    1. Prosecute poachers without favor or fear, under the Wildlife Act of 1972 but also under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960, particularly when the poachers have used cruel methods such as setting jaw traps or sawing off tusks/horns while a beast is alive.

    2. Chase not a chimera of “sustainable use” — E.g., there can be either tigers or humans in a given area, not both. The biologists Thapar, Karanth and others have established that wildlife is “wild” for that reason — it cannot live with humans as a dog or cow can. Jairam must give humans, whether tribals or tourists, high incentives to move out of core areas of sanctuaries. Strictly prosecute encroachers of forest and sanctuary land. Quell the “fence eating crop” regularly happening in wildlife-rich states such as in the Northeast, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand.

    3. Ban mining in wildlife-rich areas; ban all mining for export of iron ore (which is not only killing habitat for wildlife but also throttling the domestic steel industry). Close highways and railway tracks passing through wildlife migration territory (many elephants have been killed by trains in the Northeast and even in eastern Maharashtra; recently Outlook reported that wild animals, including a tiger, have been killed in Bandipur reserve of Karnataka because of vehicular traffic).

    4. Prosecute industrialists who fail to protect water sources, particularly industrialists in high-density industrial areas such as Baroda-Surat-Ahmedabad, Noida-Delhi, Mumbai-Thane-Belapur, etc.

    5. Keep the politics of “tribal rights” out of the forests. Given the precarious — and crucially important — state of our environment, concessions to wildlife must, as a matter of policy, take precedence over those to humans in every conflict. For example, Jairam must explore whether there’s other land owned by government to “redistribute” without stealing wildlife habitat.

    All the best to Jairam!

  3. Sanjay Says:

    Wow Churmuri, Kudos to you !!! I think I’ve just learnt something.. the way this literary piece is written.
    Thank you

  4. Madhu Rao Says:

    Kudos Churumuri. An amazing and interesting distillation of Mr.Ramesh. This was as refreshing as a Chikkamagalur filter coffeer !

  5. Anonymous Guy Says:

    Mysore Peshwa,

    Noble thoughts.

    Wonder if they can be put to practice in our country – especially where a choice has to be made between what is right in the long run and what is convenient in the short run. It would probably require superhuman efforts to implement 2,3,4 and 5. Wish Jairam Ramesh will give it a try – even if it means he is tilting at windmills. Even if it does not work fully, it will inspire the young. Best of luck to him in his efforts.

  6. reddy janardhan Says:

    hopefully he will do something about dwindling lakes in cities…and
    dwindling tiger population.
    He did a good job talking straight to Hillary…….though no hot brazilian journalist was around this time.

    http://news.rediff.com/slide-show/2009/jul/19/slide-show-1-jairam-shows-the-spine-on-climate-change.htm

  7. Doddi Buddi Says:

    An interesting profile! I hope J. Ramesh can deliver in his new role.

  8. VASANTHA HOSABETTU Says:

    Interesting things which are compiled. Thanks a lot for the same

  9. Anonymous Guy Says:

    He has begun on the right foot:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/20/world/asia/20diplo.html?hp

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/NEWS-India-India-will-not-take-on-emission-cut-targets-Jairam-tells-Hillary/articleshow/4796258.cms

    The right person to inform the US that it is not going to be as easy as it used to be, imposing their lopsided ‘rules’, couched in environmental talk but setup to ruthlessly further for their own economic interest at our cost. And a kautilya like move – doing it during the US secretary of state’s much publicized visit.

  10. balaji Says:

    just curious. do you hate iyers/iyengars?

  11. Khan Says:

    Revelation!!!
    #“I am Brahmin, I am South Indian, I am good-looking, I am brilliant.” the most unlikely combination???

    The most obvious thinking..
    #“this website is a public service so that you can leverage my knowledge and experience,”

    It takes one to know one..

    #“The only thing Jairam Ramesh is interested in is Jairam Ramesh.”

    The same kind repel…

    #“SMK has a slight aversion for bright people”

    The indoctrination…
    #revealingly chose the pseudonym Kautilya

    Thanks Churumuri for insight into what goes to make ….

  12. Shiva Says:

    Congrats Churumuri! Excellent ferreting of trivia, first about Nandan and now about Jairam. He did a good job yesterday in his reply to Mrs H R Clinton on climate change and India.

  13. Andy Says:

    Nice post, great triva, well written profile…

    Yella ok, but focus on Jairam Ramesh yaake ?

  14. Coffee addict Says:

    Jairam Ramesh wanted to contest 2004 Lok Sabha polls from his home town Chikmagalur. He was a secretary of the AICC and used sit in a 8X10 size room near AICC office canteen.

    He used to tell everybody that he is a Kannadiga and not a Tamilian.

    He also used to gather information about Chikmagalur politics from a young journalist. That journalist told him that Jairam Ramesh would lose his deposit and it was better to allow B L Shankar to contest and lose!

    Jairam didn’t consult that journalist till the end of polls.

    After B L Shankar lost miserably, Jairam thanked him for that ‘ valuable ‘ advice !

  15. Padma Says:

    Would be nice if he also keeps in mind always that he needs a visa to set foot on another country!

    http://ibnlive.in.com/news/jairam-ramesh-crosses-indiapak-border-lands-in-trouble/56978-3.html?from=search-relatedstories

  16. Siraj Ismail Says:

    Yella ok, why Churumuri holding bucket for Ramesh out of blue?

  17. kannadahero Says:

    the picture supposedly of the barizilian reporter used is actually of “Natasha del Toro” and not Patricia Campos Mello

  18. Baloo Says:

    Jairam Ramesh wrote his column under nome de guerre of Kautilya in India Today, not ToI, and the collection of columns was published in book form in 2005. It was released in B’lore by Nandan Nilekani.

    Jairam Ramesh was also the Economic Advisor to P.Chidambaram when the latter was Finance Minister in VP Singh government.

  19. Coffee addict Says:

    P Chidambaram was finance minister in the Gowda – Gujral Govt. Not V P Singh. The late Madhu Dandavathe was the late V P Singh’s finance minister.

  20. Chanakya Says:

    Jairam mania! What has he done to be the recipient of this adulation?
    Sonia’s chela I suppose. The madam from Turin is roadmapping India’s destiny!

    These grabbed my attention:

    1.The couple have two sons, one of whom is studying law at Oxford. Although a devout Hindu, he is also seriously into Buddhism

    ****Law schools in India are not good enough for his son? Oxford Law
    school is elite and very very expensive for a foreigner. Of course Rahul Ghandi was sent to Harvard*********

    Jairam dropped out of a PhD program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) after getting a master of science (MS) in public management at the Heinz College at Carnegie-Mellon University in 1977 to take a job at the World Bank.

    ***** The truth may be different. One cannot be a PhD candidate until one completes the taught courses successfully and passes the PhD qualifying exam which at MIT is very tough*******

    He is not some wunderkind but a person of a retiring age. If he is so accomplished how come we read about him only now when he is 55 and confronts H Clinton with some epithets sounding not very clever as every country is destined to suffer if our planet heats up. India particularly is not in a strong position to counter the environmental effects.

    Jairam ( this is Hindi way of calling him Should it be Jayaram?) needs a haircut. The other Jayaram- Jayalalitha Jayaram comes to mind!!!

  21. Mysorean Says:

    Why so much fuss about this person? My prediction-he will not last in his position.

  22. Ravi Says:

    C.V. Raman did not cross any ocean. Still he made such a large difference as the first Nobel prize winner in science, and is still making it long after his death through Laser-Raman spectroscopy area. His nephew Chandrasekhar and Khorana are the two others and both studied in England, one at Cambridge and the other at the University of Liverpool and later moved to North America (Canada and USA) after unsuccessful in securing jobs in India. Jindal prides as an Oford U graduate. Jairam Ramesh, the elderly 55 is a passing phase.

  23. mayura Says:

    This is a known pattern. You have a bunch of journo’s/hustlers who write articles in reputed(?) magazines like india today,sunday,outlook etc.

    Soon enough their writing skills are recognised and they are nominated for a Rajya Sabha post. Thereafter they are promoted as a minister miraculously. Having proximity to the Gandhi-Nehur family or better still being spoons for the family helps a lot.

    Mani Shankar Iyer, Jairam Ramesh, M J Akbar etc come to mind who have taken this route to the minister(the last one fell foul with the family and was discarded).

  24. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Ravi,

    CV Raman crossed the ocean and discovered the Raman Effect.

  25. Ravi Says:

    DB,
    I knew some one will raise this. His research was at a mature stage then on stokes and anti-stokes lines in spectroscopy when he was a professor at Calcutta. You are thinking about the blue sea when he travelled by ship and crossed the ocean for a visit. It was not what I meant as he did not study abroad. Similarly his cousin another Nobel prize winner, Chandrasekhar had already formed ideas in stellar dynamics which formed the “chandrsekhar’s limit” at Cambridge under Dirac when he was a student at Madras university.

    India should stick to its people who are educated at home and who have passion about how India should develop. Not like this Jairam or any others bringing in their fancy Western ideas. In case you want to comment, I left for the West in 1960s and live here, and feel strongly that India should not depend on people like us or ideas we brng but let them emerge and solidify within its own borders like it happened thousands of years ago when it lead the world in every field.

  26. Ravi Says:

    DB,
    When Chandrasekhar was awarded Hon DSc at Mysore U in early 1960s, we the engineering students met him briefly then and discussed various things including Raman’s research and his influence. Hence my posting above and my comment. If you look at Khorana, the reason why he had to go abroad after his doctorate at the U of Liverpool , he could not get a proper job in India and was that computation power for unravelling genetic code his research area was available only in the West. I strongly feel that the best brains are still educated in India and live in India. Hence Jairam’s glory about MIT ( where I am sure he failed his PhD candidacy) sounds so hollow.

  27. V.Natarajan Says:

    Good. Keep my email ID in your mailing list. Anything about Nandan Nilekeni, NR Narayanmurthy, Mani Shankar Iyer, Man Mohan Singh etc.

  28. Hema Maira Says:

    Enjoyed reading this article – trivia and other details!
    Wish Jairam all the best for being the most effective environment minister to date. Keep it going strong, Jairam…..for the continuance of humanity!

  29. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    Ramesh is from Chikkamagaluru? Please call him Jairamu bin Ramesu.

    Why must we think everybody educated abroad is full of goodies for us? They do just as they want to and we the non-phorin think that they are godly. Gandhi did not go to Middle Temple to learn about satyagraha anymore than Nehru went to Cambridge to learn how to disastrously copy the Soviet Master Plan for India. If India were to be still in Gandhi-Nehru haze, we just wouldn’t be what we are or where we are.

    It is a strange proposition indeed when we have to go to Harvard to learn Sanskrit or the U. K. to study the conjugation of verbs in Hindi at Oxford from R. S. McGregor.

    I want to see a genius from Tumakuru University whose professional existence need not vallidated by his or her stint in phorin.

    Look at our obsession with the white folks’ world. S. Gandhi still has not been brought to bear any kind of responsibility for making us ignorant Injuns think that she is Cambridge educated. Her husband did not get his degree in mechanical engineering from Cambridge. Sanjay Gandhi was a repairman at Rolls Royce. His nepew did not qualify for a degree at Harvard. Rahul, our prince, was failed by Harvard although I don’t know how in God’s name he got a post graduate diploma from Oxford, where his grandmother could not pass muster. Zulfikar Bhutto used to take great pleasure in telling people that Indiramma was no Oxonian (any more than Rajivappa was a Catabrigean). What phorign degree Rain Gandhi has is anybody’s guess. His mother, after being defenestrated from a ministerial position in the BJP government of yore said she was going to accomplish what no one in after Jawahar in the Nehru Gandhi nexus had accomplished–getting a degree. Did she ever get that degree?

    For us Dr. Ramesappa, the dentist Dhanwantari, is better anyday than Jayaramu Ramesu.

  30. Prashanth Says:

    Amazing documentation. Thanks very much. Although, I knew a lot about his work of late, your post gives me a great background to the man.

  31. shefali Says:

    Is this a paid publicity?! Who knows this man may rule the roost in the near future with his extraordinary calibre and credentials.Wait and see!

  32. Chanakya Says:

    And with all wisdom and fan following this man single handedly landed UPAII and India in biggest crisis as Environment and Forest Minister and later as Rural Development Minister

  33. dr ramesh Says:

    INSPITE of series of bad decisions and misgovernence by UPA 2 , if there is a feeling that UPA 2 would be far better than NDA in some sections of society, it is because of able ministers like JAIRAM RAMESH, MANI SHANKAR. They put India first over MNC temptations. Protection of resources is the prime duty of Indian govt, jairam ramesh has done it with great conviction.
    no harm if mining data is negative, IIP number is going down if dirty business practices are being stopped and establishment of law of the land is done.

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