Column : Bend it like Jairam

Written by Rituparna Bhuyan | Updated: Jan 31 2010, 03:12am hrs
Junior ministers in the UPA-II regime recently marched up to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to submit that they are largely under-employed, if not totally unemployed. Their common grouseCabinet ministers kept the cake and the icing, leaving them with crumbs for work.

Ideally, senior ministers must talk to their juniors before assigning responsibilities. But usually junior ministers work allocations include the most low-key and unglamorous aspects of a departments duties.

Among the youth brigade that met the PM, minister of state for commerce Jyotiraditya Scindia was apparently the most forthcoming. The PM simply asked them to work harder on propagating the UPAs work rather than air grievances in public.

While GenNext may consider the PM unsympathetic, there is good reason for his stand. Consider Scindias predecessor in UPA-I, Jairam Ramesh, who now has independent charge of the sensitive environment ministry.

With exactly the same work allocation as Scindia, Jairam was one of the most active members of the ministerial council, not just among the juniors. While his then-boss Kamal Nath cornered headlines over high profile issues like SEZs and World Trade Organisation, Jairams work profile included the spices, tea and coffee boards; handicrafts and marine exports and a few administrative procedures.

Yet, Jairams Udyog Bhawan office with a transparent glass door became a routine stop for commerce reporters. With limited international work, the minister travelled extensively in the hinterlandone day in Aizawl, the next in Moradabadand came up with many new ideas for reviving sagging sectors like tea, handicrafts and even coir.

Jairam even went to all the key borders with neighbouring nations and got the Cabinet to sanction Rs 850 crore to modernise their checkposts so as to facilitate easy trade.

Young ministers need to take a cue from Jairams proactive approach rather than expect everything on their platter. Nothing stops them from summoning an official or convening a review meeting on any issue related to their ministry. Scindia, who replaced Jairams glass door the moment he took charge, and his peers, may please take note.