Ever the insider, Jairam Ramesh is the ultimate outsider. Born in Chikmagalur, yet a chaalu Chemburite. An engineer by education but better known as an economist. A columnist, but not really a journalist. Half-Kannadiga, half-Tamil but a Rajya Sabha member from Andhra Pradesh. Urban and urbane, but in charge of rural development. If the word ‘Smart’ needed a logo, the most oversized, overflowing pate in Indian politics has a headstart.
The late diplomat, Abid Hussain, once said “Jairam has the highest IQ I have ever come across in anybody”—and anybody who chooses Kautilya as his nom de plume for a newspaper column is making little effort to hide that. His now-defunct homepage unabashedly said, “This website is a public service so that you can leverage my knowledge and experience.” Mani Shankar Aiyar, with whom the Iyengar fell foul, is reported to have said, “The only thing Jairam Ramesh is interested in is Jairam Ramesh.”
In the early ’90s, 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.” He forgot to say he was also a motormouth. After the 1998 Congress defeat, he said in an Asiaweek interview that Sonia Gandhi “was seen as a loser”. Yet, his is the hand behind her speeches and her party’s slogans. He squabbles noisily with the PM, yet is elevated as a full minister.
At IIT Bombay, where his father taught structural engineering, Jairam’s subject was what he called ‘girlfriend-repellent’ mechanical engineering. When the Infosys IPO was undersubscribed in ’93, his quizzing partner Nandan Nilekani asked him to put Rs 10,000 in the company. ‘Smart’ Jairam made “the biggest mistake of my life”—he didn’t. But guess who coined the slogan ‘aapka paisa aapke haath’ for the direct benefits transfer that will use Nilekani’s Aadhaar platform?