Walking the tight rope of Indian politics, Indira Gandhi was a great example of how a politician and policy maker balances development with environment, said Jairam Ramesh during his interaction with a select group at the Kalam event organised by Prabha Khaitan Foundation and Cultural Rendezvous at Radisson, Udaipur yesterday.
5pm at the Rooftop Dome, Radisson was a perfect setup for talking about the diva of Indian politics and her love for nature and the environment. Indira Gandhi – a Life in Nature by Jairam Ramesh was the genesis of the interaction with Jairam Ramesh (JR), led by Swati Agarwal, after the welcome note by Shubh Singhvi of Cultural Rendezvous.
JR took the audience through the largely unknown past and flow of events in the life of Indira Gandhi, the Iron Lady who had a soft corner for the environment, nature and all that is around us. Project Tiger, Project Lion, Sariska Reserve, Gir Forest, Bharatpur Bird Santuary, conservation action for crocodiles and ghariyals, were all the work of Indira Gandhi, who is unfortunately also ill-famed as an instinctive politician responsible for the Emergency which happened in 1975, albeit for a variety of reasons.
He said that his book on the much hitherto unknown facts about the childhood and student life of Indira, flows chronologically as age, maturity, aptitude, relations, experiments, and responsibilities of the former Prime Minister of India progresses.
Indira, an only child born into a core political family, had seen all and multiple influences developed her love for nature during her early child hood days – four factors were responsible for the cultivation of her affinity towards nature, says JR.
Mother: Indira’s mother, Kamla Nehru had been predominantly unhealthy for a long duration before her demise. This led to Kamla staying at hill stations like Mussoorie, Nainital, Simla, Dalhousie, etc. upto 6 months in a year to recuperate in the clean environment – being an only child Indira accompanied her always. This led to her being very close to hills, gardens and nature as such – observing birds, animals during her stay with her mother. Her education in Switzerland happened when Kamla Nehru was taken to the Swiss region and met with her demise there. Indira stayed back and studied, further augmenting her relationship with all things natural.
Father: Jawaharlal Nehru, being an activist and core politician and at the forefront of the Indian freedom movement, spent a large part of his parenting years in jail, and being there he would read books, live with nature and form opinions while understanding and appreciating the importance of environment. Nehru sensitized Indira to nature.
Maternal Uncle: Kailash Kaul, Indira’s maternal uncle was a naturalist, a botanist and her relationship with him was close. This closeness added fuel to her affinity for the environment.
Shantiniketan: Indira’s education years also included a stint at Shantiniketan, where studying in the open gardens, under the sky, living with plants, trees, pet animals, birds and interacting with Gurudev, Rabindra Nath Tagore consolidated and deepened her affinity. Climbing trees while getting away from people was her child hood play zone. Shantiniketan brought her close to the Arts – music, literature, painting, sculpting, etc.
Entering politics was a natural transition for Indira Gandhi, and while she was at it, she ensured that policy and development go hand in hand with environment sustainability and nature conservation. Project Tiger, her brain child, stemmed from her philosophy that saving tigers, is just not saving one animal species – it is saving the top of the food chain, saving the other animals, saving the water resources and ultimately saving the forests. The roots for Project Tiger, which began in 1973, were sown in 1969, when she was presented with a report that only 1,400 tigers remained in India – a figure that was in thousands earlier. This mission was so well received globally, that the World Bank sought to implement such across other countries. This was followed by conservation missions for the lion, bird, crocodile, ghariyal – Sariska, Bharatpur, the Tal Chappar Black Buck sanctuary were all her endeavors.
In parallel, being a policy maker and development of the young country in her hands, she also saw to it that her love for the environment does not overpower her duties as the country’s leader. The Mathura Refinery was one such example, says JR. When building the wall around Bharatpur, she faced protests from the Maharaja of Bharatpur, which she overcame and while approving the Mathura Refinery project, she faced opposition from the environmentalist faction – giving an example of how a balanced policy maker works. Indira, says JR, was one of the “Abhimanyu’s” of politics, pulled in, but unable to get out.
India has plenty of laws, rules and regulations – but it is important for them to be implemented in the correct manner. The public needs to support the government and law makers in the implementation. Take the example of Singapore – where the citizens support the government in environment conservation. Discipline is needed and for discipline, strict rules need to be laid and implemented – Jairam Ramesh
The interview was followed by a Q&A session, where JR supported the Congress stance on the current governments initiatives.
Speaking on the current scenario in the country, JR said that most action plans being implemented today, had already been undertaken by the UPA government. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan is nothing but the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan which Jairam Ramesh has initiated in his tenure in the Ministry. He says that he had faced opposition from the very group of people who have now launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan.
Taking a jibe at the massacre being created in the name of Cow slaughter, he reminisced that way back in 1966, a large group of Sadhus attacked the Parliament, which resulted in the police taking action and 7 persons being killed. The attack was to ask the government to take action against cow slaughter and close the butcher houses. This resulted in a dilemma for the Indira government, which took a diplomatic step. A committee was formed to understand and moderate the matter and come to a conclusion. The committee consisted of members from varied backgrounds – Guru Golwalkar, head of RSS was made to head the committee. Members included Ch. Charan Singh, and the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and also Shankaracharya of Puri. Interestingly, the committe deliberated on the matter for 12 long years, and was finally dismantled by Morarji Desai, when they failed to present a consolidated report. After 50 years, the government has again started harping on the same tune.
Further talking about the current emphasis on development being laid by the government, JR said that the BJP faction is more interested in a Congress Mukt Bharat rather than a Khule mein Shauch Mukt Bharat. Focus on development is overshadowing the concerns for the environment. Bullet trains, industries being given free land, industrial growth, stock market, highways, have become the core focus areas of the policy makers and environment conservation is hitherto ignored and has taken a back seat.
The session with Jairam Ramesh was attended by a closed group of 50 people, with the Cultural Rendezvous team consisting of Shubh Singhvi, Swati Agarwal, Mumal Bhandari, Ridhima Doshi, Shraddha Murdia and Kanika Agarwal coordinating the event and ensuring that the guests have a pleasant interactive session with Jairam Ramesh.External pictures courtesy: Hindustan Times, Indian Express