Sudini Jaipal Reddy, who passed away today, belonged to a generation of politicians to whom many things mattered. And among things that mattered were conscience. He may not be known to a generation that grew up old enough to vote in the elections recently to the Lok Sabha. They were, after all, born just about the time Reddy led the charge against Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government on a no-confidence motion in 2003. His speech overshadowed that of the mover of the motion – Sonia Gandhi – in all aspects.
Even those who had voted, for the first time a decade before 1999 may not be familiar with Reddy’s intervention in the Lok Sabha during the debate of a Bill to set up the Special Protection Group (SPG) to not restrict such special protection to Prime Ministers alone and extend it to former Prime Ministers too.
Reddy had taunted the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, for being arrogant and suffering from the illusion of permanence and fervently argued that he too may require such protection because the possibility of losing elections and the Prime Minister’s job stares at anyone and everyone in a democracy. Reddy’s words were prophetic and the law was amended only after the tragic events of May 21, 1991, when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated.
Reddy suffered some embarrassing moments when Prabhunath Singh, Janata Dal (U) MP then from Maharajganj, sought to disarm him by reading out from a speech Reddy had delivered in the House on Italian marbles and other expensive building material that Satish Sharma was found to have used in a farmhouse he had constructed in Delhi’s outskirts. Reddy, in the 1980s, was anti-Congress and among the handful who managed to win in 1984 from the opposition. And he, like many then, loved to take potshots at Rajiv Gandhi for having a wife who was Italian born.
Prabhunath Singh certainly was incapable of fishing out an earlier speech to embarrass Reddy; he was only a tool, and Reddy suspected yet another MP from the Samata Party and a Minister in Vajpayee’s cabinet to have got Singh to do what he did. Reddy told friends and I was among them, that he was hurt that George used Prabhunath Singh to hit him below the belt. Well. I know it was not George who drafted Singh for that job and I will not disclose who did that now because I had not disclosed that to Jaipal any time.
I had come to know of Jaipal, a politician traversing across Chikmagalur in Karnataka in the by-elections in 1978. He, along with George Fernandes had led the charge against Indira Gandhi then and spent a lot of their energy to defeat her. It was in vain. Reddy had been a Congress leader, elected to the Andhra Pradesh State assembly and was evolving into Brahmananda Reddy’s protégé. And yet he stayed with Indira Gandhi’s Congress even while Brahmananda Reddy left to make the Congress(O) in 1969
Jaipal, however, was committed to democracy and the constitutional scheme and he left Indira’s Congress in the midst of the Emergency proclaimed in June 1975. He joined the Janata Party hence in 1977 and remained in one or another splinter of that until the experiment collapsed in a substantial sense after 1998. Reddy returned to the Congress, ahead of the 1999 general elections and remained there until his death.
My early interaction with Jaipal was when he was the Janata Dal’s spokesman and I had taken to journalism as a profession. The party then, I mean since 1991, was a quagmire of factions, leaders who would quarrel with themselves if they did not find anyone to do that in their party and the Mandal Commission’s recommendations were already an essential part of the political discourse. Reddy’s ability to gloss over most of these and yet engage the media professionals was impressive.
Well. My association with Jaipal was not about his media briefings or my interactions with him on affairs of the day. I was exposed to one of the tallest philosophers of our times and perhaps among those of all times hitherto – Bertrand Russel – by Jaipal. A scholar politician, as I would describe Jaipal Reddy would become my companion to discuss Russel and to re-read Russel’s works in the light of our discussions. Jaipal’s residence in Lutyen’s Delhi was home to me too and late evenings there meant delicious methi curry, chicken and rice; Reddy did not drink as far as I knew him.
I recall him telling me that it was necessary that we switched off lights whenever we were stepping out of the room and Reddy would do that himself, without fail, walking across the hall on his crutches. I learnt this from my guru, Brahmananda Reddy he would repeat every time he did that. He did not lead a Spartan life as some other from his times did. But Reddy was not known to make up his drawing-room look like the lounge in a posh hotel as did many of his colleagues in the Janata Dal.
As is what happens to those who read and internalise Russel, Jaipal Reddy too was bitten by a bug. The bug of rational thinking and its inseparable twin, secularism. He, however, was unwilling to reduce his ability to conceptualize matters to an academic exercise; nor did he agree with some of his friends that thou shall not compromise. This, perhaps, is what led him to join the Congress ahead of 1999, a party that he had quit on a matter of principle after the emergency was imposed.
Among a lot of knowledge that I gained out of my interactions with Jaipal was his conceptual clarity over the alliance between Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, newly minted then, with Kanshi Ram’s Bahujan Samaj Party in September-October 1993 ahead of the assembly elections in November that year. Jaipal held that there was a potential for taking the Mandal discourse to its next decisive stage – a unity in the social sense between the OBCs and the Dalits – that Ram Manohar Lohia envisaged in the mid-1950s.
And when the alliance fell apart, marked by ugly scenes, Jaipal lamented that an opportunity for a substantial social transformation and a political idea close to the constitutional dreams was lost. One does not know what Reddy must have felt when Mulayam’s son, Akhilesh Yadav and Kanshi Ram’s legatee, Mayawati struck an alliance ahead of the last general elections; he had pushed himself into the oblivion by then.
Farewell Jaipal. You have left me with a lot of memories and most important of them being you pushed me to read Russel and it made a difference to me.
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V Krishna Ananth teaches History at Sikkim University, Gangtok. .