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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 8, February 7, 2009

A Tribute to Former President Ramaswami Venkataraman

Wednesday 11 February 2009, by SC

Former President Ramaswami Venkataraman, 98, who occupied the Rashtrapati Bhavan as the country’s eighth head of state from 1987 to 1992 and indeed presided over the transition from one-party rule to coalitions at the Centre, passed away at the Army’s Research and Referral Hospital in the Capital at 2.30 pm on January 27, 2008 following multiple organ failure. He is survived by his wife Janaki and three daughters.
A distinguished public figure of national repute, he enhanced India’s image by his performance as an eminent parliamentarian and an able administrator. His deft handling of key Union Ministries like Finance and Defence as well as his tireless work as the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission made him eminently suited for higher constitutional responsibilities, first as the Vice-President and then as the President.
When he was elected to the office of the President, this journal’s first editor C.N. Chitta Ranjan, in a signed piece in Mainstream (July 25, 1987), recalled R.V.’s interest in the media and particularly journalists to note:
R.V. readily accepted the request of the Indian Fereration of Working Journalists that he be one of the IFWJ’s three representatives on the First Wage Board for Working Journalists in the late fifties. He has always had excellent relations with journalists, though he has always disliked violation of ethics and norms by some members of that fraternity. His emphasis has always been on fair and honest reporting, not allowing non-professional interests override national interests.

C.N.C., who was quite close to R.V., further pointed out :

….even in the Opposition a large number are happy that such a sober, prejudice-free, open-minded, fair and wise man will be the nation’s President…. His association with the Shankaracharya of Kanchi does not affect his total commitment to secularism. Leaders of all sections vouch for this truth. Unlike some others R.V. does not advertise his faith in religion. His faith embraces all communities and castes and ethnic and linguistic groups that make up this great nation. In a sense he is a philosopher-statesman who is capable of serving as a great factor of stability and a factor that can ensure the smooth functioning of democracy.

When he laid down office to retire gracefully five years later C.N.C. was no more, but this writer, on whom R.V. showered boundless affection, wrote in Mainstream (July 25, 1992):

For the last five years, that is, since 1987, he has carried out the onerous responsibilities of the head of state with rare distinction and in the process enhanced the dignity of the institution of President thereby reinforcing the pillars of our parliamentary democracy. It is no exaggeration to describe him as one of the best Presidents this country has had since independence.
Highlighting Venkataraman’s yeoman service to India at “one of the most critical phases in our-post independence history”, it was underscored:
To have successfully charted the national course with sagacity and perspicacity at such a crucial juncture was no mean achievement. That his actions never betrayed any attempt to foist a dual centre of authority speaks volumes of the outgoing President’s foresight, vision, objectivity and integrity that few can match in today’s environment punctuated by the growing erosion of values.

Moreover it was observed as “highly significant" that
at a time when it has become fashionable to deride Jawaharlal Nehru and whatever he stood for, President Venkataraman had the courage of conviction to steadfastly uphold the Nehruvian principles, especially the concept of planning as the principal instrument of development which, he was convinced, would “continue to be relevant to the new economic system being introduced”.

The words sound so apt in the present scenario marked by the global meltdown and its impact on India.

N.C. all along enjoyed R.V.’s confidence. They had high esteem for each other. After N.C.’s death Venkataraman, who was out of station when the latter breathed his last in the Capital, came to personally meet this writer to offer his deep condolences and frankly spoke of the sense of loss and void he felt in his mind on learning that N.C. was no more. He also fondly recalled his close association with Renu Chakravartty when both were in the Lok Sabha in the fifties.

He highly evaluated Mainstream and some months ago, in a letter, requested us not to send the journal to him anymore as he was unable to make use of it due to his failing eyesight; he also returned old issues as he wanted them to be productively used by others including scholars. Such was R.V., a rare specimen in today’s political arena.

While mourning his departure, we offer our sincere homage to R.V.’s abiding memory by reproducing a speech he delivered in March 1995 and published in Mainstream (August 12, 1995), and carrying a tribute by his Press Secretary at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. We also reproduce, on this occasion, a perceptive review by N.C. of R.V.’s My Presidential Years.
— S.C.

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