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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 35 August 17, 2019

Jaipal Reddy — A Tribute

Monday 19 August 2019, by Suhas Borker

by Suhas Borker

S. Jaipal Reddy, veteran parliamentarian and former Union Minister, passed away on July 28, 2019 at Hyderabad. He was 77. This is a tribute to him from a friend, close associate and “comrade-in-arms”.

November 12, 1997. 3.00 pm. Broadcasting House, New Delhi. The Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Gandhiji’s one and only live broadcast on All India Radio is to begin.

On November 12, 1947, Deepawali Day, Gandhiji was scheduled to address more than two lakh refugees from Pakistan gathered at the camp in Kurukshetra located about 160 kilometres north of Delhi. Since he could not get away from Delhi due to pressing political developments, Gandhiji was persuaded to address them over All India Radio. AIR stepped in and organised a special address from its studios where a prayer meeting-like ambience was created and a takhthposh was placed for Gandhiji to sit on and broadcast. Gandhiji specially came to Broadcasting House to keep his date with the refugees. Gandhiji held no public office or position in the government and it was truly a public service broadcast by the All India Radio that carried the Mahatma’s message of love and fortitude to the suffering refugees—some of whom were even without shelter—bringing them succour on that cold and bleak November day.

Jaipal Reddy, then the Information and Broadcasting Minister, comes to launch the Commemoration by unveiling two plaques, one in Hindi and the other in English, in Broadcasting House. The plaque unveiling is to be followed by presentations by choirs drawn from schools and colleges of Delhi and AIR. Jaipal Reddy insists that the plaques be unveiled not by the Minister, but by two safai karamcharis, one a lady and the other a gentleman, employees at the very bottom of the hierarchical structure at Broadcasting House. This simple act of Jaipal Reddy was typical of the man wedded to his ideological moorings right till the end. Moorings of inclusion and social justice.

Three years later, in 2000, November 12 was declared as Public Service Broadcasting Day by Sushma Swaraj, then the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, to commemorate the first and only Broadcast by Gandhiji on AIR. When Jaipal Reddy again became the Minister of Information and Broadcasting in 2004, he not only attended the Public Service Broadcasting Day Commemoration at Broadcasting House (which subsequent I&B Ministers have all failed to do) but revived the active participation of civil society in the event.

In fact, when Jaipal Reddy became the Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the Gujaral Government in 1997, the GOI issued the notification for enforcing the Prasar Bharati Act to give autonomy to the AIR and DD. The Act had been passed by both Houses of Parliament and had received the Presidential assent on September 12, 1990 but was notified only on September 15, 1997. That the autonomy and independence of the AIR and DD is still nowhere from being achieved is of course another story.

I was present at his swearing-in ceremony as the Information and Broadcasting Minister in 1997 and I distinctly remember his telling me to drop by later that day to brief him about the AIR and DD’s autonomy and independence question. He realised that he had very little time to push through all that had to be done.

As the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Jaipal would often say that his Ministry had no place in a democracy and if he had had his way, the Ministry would have been wound up a long time ago. This narrative embodied his firm belief in a free media to empower the public and speak truth to power.

During his second stewardship of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, on September 12, 2004, Jaipal Reddy launched the 10th anniversary commemoration of Jan Prasar which strongly advocated an independent AIR and DD. We gave a presentation of what was to be done. Jaipal gave a dismissive one liner reply : the plan was “grandiose”. We were truly disappointed that day. A plan for a public broadcaster if it had to empower and transform the lives of the poor and marginalised had to be grandiose, to start with, if nothing else. Jaipal of course had his compulsions.

In 2005, I was appointed as a member of the Executive Committee of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC)—my alma mater, the first time an old student had been done the honour. When I started taking a keen interest in the various activities of my old Institute—setting up of the Community Radio—‘Apna Radio’, IIMC International Alumni Network etc. Jaipal Reddy told me one day in his inimitable tongue-in-cheek humour: “If I had known you would take your work so seriously, I would have thought twice before appointing you.” Later I was appointed by him on the three-member search committee to look for a new Director to head the IIMC.

Jaipal Reddy studied at Osmania University, Hyderabad where he completed his Masters in English and Bachelors in Journalism. It was here that his leadership qualities shone as the President of the Osmania University Students Union.

Jaipal Reddy became a member of the Congress Party and then the President, Andhra Pradesh Youth Congress and later the General Secretary, Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee, till the declaration of Emergency in 1975, when he resigned from the party as a protest against it. He then joined the Janata Party. He was the General Secretary of the Janata Party from 1985 to 1988.

When he was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1984 from Mahabubnagar, he was already known for his oratorical skills in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly where he was heard with rapt attention as an MLA of Kalwakurthy constituency for four terms from 1969 to 1984.

Jaipal Reddy was subsequently elected to the Lok Sabha four times and in 1998 he won the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award. He was also a member of the Rajya Sabha on two occasions, 1990-1996 and 1997-1998, and leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha from 1991 to 1992.

Some called him a wordsmith but his speeches in parliament were not only meaningful but were backed with well-researched homework. When he raised an issue, alarm bells would start ringing in the Treasury Benches. He could quote from Plato, Mill, Laski and Russell from memory at the drop of a hat. He added many a word and phrase to the Indian parliamentary lexicon. His transition from an Opposition leader to the Treasury Benches was smooth. He had the unique distinction of being the spokesperson of two distinct political formations but both secular in their outlook. He was one of the few politicians of our times who discouraged his family from entering politics.

During the Janata Dal’s Gujaral Government, he was the Information and Broadcasting Minister but upon the disintegration of the Janata Dal, he rejoined the Congress Party in 1999 after a gap of 24 years. He would talk of his last days in the Janata Dal and say that he had stood “like the Casablanca boy on the burning deck until the deck itself collapsed”. He was targeted for joining the Congress, especially by his erstwhile socialist colleagues of the Janata Dal. He would say that he had no option but to rejoin the Congress for he had “staked his reputation at the altar of ideology”.

During the two successive Manmohan Singh Governments, 2004-2009 and 2009-2014, Jaipal Reddy held many Cabinet positions—he was Minister Information and Broadcasting, Minister of Culture, Minister of Urban Development, Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Minister of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences.

In May 2004, when he was given the Culture portfolio, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reportedly told him that he could not have found a more cultured person to head the Culture Ministry.

In October 2012, when he was shifted from the Petroleum Ministry to Science and Technology it raised a political storm. Differences had risen over gas allocation to Reliance and Jaipal refused to budge.

Jaipal was a very humane and caring person. One day I got a call from socialist thinker and activist Surendra Mohan’s family that he was critical and needed to be admitted to the Cardio-Thoracic Sciences Centre of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. I promptly rang up Jaipal, then a Minister in UPA 1, who not only got the admission done immediately but himself rushed to AIIMS to see that the socialist leader was being well taken care of.

 During his entire eventful and challenging political life he stuck to his Nehruvian socialist and secular ideology, never compromised on values and he truly led by example, keeping to the adage that he must not only be above suspicion but must be perceived by the people to be above suspicion.

As a child, Jaipal Reddy had been stricken by polio and used crutches to walk but he never allowed that affliction to deter him and from a student leader of Osmania University he rose to become one of the most outstanding parliamentarians of India.

The author is the Convener of Jan Prasar and Working Group on Alternative Strategies. He can be contacted at suhasborker[at]gmail.com

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