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Jagjivan Ram

I first met Jagjivan Ram when I was 12 years old in 1952. He was a Minister then in Jawaharlal
Nehru's cabinet, and was living in a bungalow on the same road (Queen Victoria Road, renamed now
Rajendra Prasad Road) as my father, who had been allotted his official residence as a senior civil
servant. Our neighbour was a Bihar MP called Shyamnandan Sahay, who had taken a tremendous
liking to me. On the other side of our house was Feroze Gandhi's residence where I used to see a very
unhappy Indira Gandhi come and go, after a fight with her husband.
Sahay, every evening, used to call me to have tea. He was old and very fat, so he was mostly seated
on a big sofa in his house. During these tea times, I met many politicians who visited Sahay. I used to
ask them questions freely. These VIPs tried to humour my curiosity because they were not used to a
12 year old asking so many questions on current topics.
Jagjivan Ram one day came for tea to Sahay's house. He brought his son Suresh Ram, about the same
age as me, with him. Suresh and I became good friends after that, and played Cricket for the same
team for many years. Because of Suresh, I had a chance to go to Jagjivan Ram's residence often, and
have tea and snacks with his father. Despite being busy, Jagjivan Ram often talked to me on current
topics. Knowing that I was from Brahmin family, he asked me once why I did not wear my thread
(poonal). I told him that at the age of 7 when an upanayam (thread ceremony) was to be held for me,
my questioning mind made me ask the pujari why I should put it on when my schoolmates did not
have it. The pujari's answer did not satisfy me, so I asked him more questions. This embarrassed
everyone in the family. My father was a communist-minded person so although he himself put on the
thread, he agreed to call off the ceremony. My mother was heart broken, but I was adamant that
unless the Pujari answered my questions I would not go through the ceremony or put it on (My
mother however told me that I would have to have the ceremony anyway when I get married. She was
however disappointed because I married a Parsi girl in a registered marriage in the USA. However her
spirit would be happy today because the great soul, the Paramacharya Sri Chandrashekhara
Saraswathi convinced me to don the thread on special occasions. Paramacharya told me that whether I


acknowledge or not, Tamil society has become so poisoned that I would anyway be regarded as a
Brahmin. He also explained to me the scientific basis for the thread in ceremonies.
Jagjivan Ram was mighty impressed with this questioning mind, and thus opened his heart to me. He
told me of the nature of Hindu Society and the atrocities heaped on scheduled castes. I as a city boy
just could not believe these stories, so asked my mother who confirmed these as facts. She even told
me that in my village in Mullipallam, Cholavandan, the shadow of a scheduled caste could not fall on
the path of a Brahmin walking on the road. I was shocked, and resolved never to go to my village.
And till the age of 30, I never visited Mullipallam. But since I entered Tamilnadu politics in 1992, I
not only visited my village regularly but recovered my ancestral house which my grandfather has lost
during the Great Depression of the 1930s, unable to pay his debts. My father was too busy with
Congress politics with Satyamurthi to pay attention to this loss. Later he had moved to Delhi. Of
course my village today is a different society. And because of leaders like Dr.Ambedkar and
Mr.Jagjvan Ram today, the society in Mullipallam also is a better than when I was a little boy. The
Brahmin society perhaps has also come to its senses, thanks to Periyar's movement.
But because of what I learnt from Jagjivan Ram as a young boy, I have never hesitated to come to the
support of scheduled castes. His descriptions of cruelty meted out to SC community are deeply etched
in my mind, When the Kodiyankulam (near Tirunelveli) atrocity took place in 1995. I did not hesitate
for a moment to rush there and fight for them in the High Court to get a CBI inquiry instituted.
Leaders like Karunanidhi who day in day out talk about the poor oppressed classes failed to even visit
Kodiyankulam may be for fear of alienating other castes who voted against the party in the elections.
But because of Jagjivan Ram and my long association with Suresh Ram in my childhood, I did not
care about the consequences, and had rushed to kodiyankulam.
In 1957, after I went to the University, I lost contact with Suresh Ram and his father. Thereafter I
went to USA for studies in 1962 only to return 1970. When I returned to India, Congress had split and
my sympathies were with Morarji and Kamaraj who were in Congress (O). Jagjivan Ram went with
Indira Gandhi to Congress (I). Therefore, I had no occasion to meet him till I entered Parliament in
1974. But because I was in those days a virulent opponent of Mrs.Gandhi, Jagjivan Ram would smile


at me, and treat me with courtesy but would not let me come near him.
In 1977, Jagjivan Ram jointed the Janata Party. I went to meet him after the elections, having been
elected to Lok Sabha from Bombay. He had been promised by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nana Goray
of the Socialist Party support for the Prime Ministership, so he was hopeful of becoming PM. He
spoke to me about the social transformation that would result by a scheduled caste becoming PM. Of
course Jagjivan Ram was not just of scheduled caste, but one of the most efficient Ministers of
Independent India. No letter was unanswered; no file was not read by him. His grasp was quick, and
he took decision with dynamism. In my opinion, he would have been a superb Prime minister, but at
the same time there was one thing against him in the Janata Party. He was the mover of the approval
resolution on Emergency. Jagjivan Ram's resignation from Congress in February 1977 completely
demoralized Mrs.Gandhi, and she never recovered from the shock during the 1977 election
campaign. Jagjivan Ram made up for the error in his supporting the Emergency resolutions in
Parliament by his beautifully timed resignation. Had he not resigned the sea-change in political
climate to ensure the Janatha victory would have not taken place?
But the problem was that Charan Singh was against Jagjivan Ram becoming PM. Charan Singh told
me that we could not forgive him for supporting the Emergency resolution. Charan Singh also made
an issue of non-filing of income tax returns for ten years by Jagjivan Ram (because he "forgot to").
But besides this I felt, because Charan Singh was a Jat, he did not like the idea of making a scheduled
caste PM. The Jat community in UP, Haryana and Rajastan is a fierce agricultural community like
some of the backward communities in Tamilnadu and Andhra. They are especially harsh the
scheduled castes, who are in rural areas the landless labourers. Charan Singh gave special concessions
to scheduled castes in his party, but for PM post it was something he could not agree although he
would not admit that this was the real reason. In my political and social life I have found surprisingly
a higher percentage of Brahmins than backward castes that are willing to bring up scheduled castes
and other oppressed castes, although in the popular campaign the Brahmins are targets. History is
replete with examples of the Brahmins wanting to challenge the orthodoxy to integrate the scheduled
caste community. Chanakya picked up a young goat herd boy to make him Emperor Chandra Gupta.
Ramanuja's role in reading Vedas to scheduled castes is another example. Mahatma Phule is revered


in Maharashtra by the Dalits. Dr.Bhimrao Ambedkar got his surname Ambedkar because his Brahmin
teacher gave him his own for his college admission.
Today caste prejudice, disregarding merit is the bane of society. The nation lost a great opportunity in
not making Jagjivan Ram Prime minister of India because though he was eminently qualified and an
efficient Minister for decades he was denied because of prejudice. If he could not become PM in 1977
because of some leaders conspiracy, then he could have been in 1980 elections when the Janata Party
projected him as the Party's candidate for Prime Minister. But the Janata Party lost the elections then
because caste-voting defeated Jagjivan Ram. The nation was the loser; Today Kanshi Ram is the other
side of the coin of caste prejudice.
In 1977, Jagjivan Ram was confident of becoming the Prime minister because Vajpayee and Nana
Goray promised him support. The Jan Sangh MPs were 102 in number, the Socialists were 35, and
Jagjivan Ram's Congress for Democracy was 27. That is, of the 318 MPs elected on Janata ticket, a
very slender majority were pledged to Jagjivan Ram. Vajpayee's only reason for preferring Jagjivan
Ram to Morarji Desai was that Morarji was a strict prohibitionist while Vajpayee was regular
consumer of alcoholic drinks (in secret). But when Charan Singh categorically threw his support for
Morarji, Vajpayee became apprehensive because there was a small revolt in the Jan Sangh camp,
especially amongst those who had suffered during the Emergency. He feared that they would switch
sides and vote against party line. Morarji used to jokingly tell me that Vajpayee "roared like a lion but
had a heart of a rabbit". Vajpayee found that after Charan Singh's decision, Morarji was assured the
support of 154 MPs and needed just 11 MPs more to get majority. Thus Jan Singh's MPs revolt would
have ensured victory. Morarji also sternly told Vajpayee that if he (Morarji) becomes PM without his
(Vajpayee's) support, he would not make him a Minister. That was enough to scare him. He
immediately somersaulted, without telling Jagjivan Ram. So on the day of the election of the
parliamentary party leader, Vajpayee quietly went to JP and Acharya Kriplani and told them that he
was switching sides. I was present there because JP had asked me to be at the Gandhi Peace
Foundation with him. JP winked at me with a smile when Vajpayee came rushing in with his change
of heart. JP knew what I thought of Vajpayee. Morarji now had majority.


But Jagjivan Ram did not know this. He was so sure of his majority that he had already ordered
sweets and fire crackers to celebrate his becoming PM, little realizing Vajpayee's betrayal.
When the news reached him of Morarji being chosen by JP, Jagjivan Ram was wild with grief. He
threw chairs and tables in disgust. He refused to attend Morarji's swearing in ceremony. Later in the
evening I went to Jagjivan Ram's residence to see him. He was still a broken man; now in full know
of the betrayal. He looked at me and said "My friend, this is a great Brahmin conspiracy". I did not
want to contradict him because he was so upset. But it was Charan Singh's open revolt that had
changed the scene. Vajpayee is no Brahmin. He drinks alcohol and publicly claims that he is a
bachelor but not a Bramachari. How can he be called a Brahmin with those 'qualifications'? Besides
JP and Acharya Kriplani were not Brahmins. But I had the confidence of Jagjivan Ram, so I could
talk to him freely. I really felt sorry for the betrayal even though the man I respected, Morarji Desai,
had become PM. Soon Jagjivan Ram got over his grief, and joined the Morarji Cabinet as Defence
Minister. He then appointed me as the Party MP's Defence Committee Chairman, and regularly took
me into confidence on Defence matters over dinner at his residence. When Mrs.Gandhi attacked him
for choosing the Jaguar fighter bombers over the French Mirage planes, Jagjivan Ram asked me to be
the lead speaker in Lok Sabha to defend the government.
The years that I got to know him as a young boy helped me to get close to him. He often requested me
to keep Morarji informed so that the Prime Minister does not listen or is influenced by his detractors.
Morarji later made a gesture by making Jagjivan Ram as Deputy Prime Minister on par with Charan
Singh.
Morarji resigned from the Prime Ministership in July 1979 bringing the government down. Charan
Singh became Prime Minister. What surprised us all at that time was, those who used to swear by
Mrs.Gandhi, and were at her beck and call (and even today parade themselves as supporters of
Mrs.Gandhi) went rushing to Charan Singh to seek Ministership. Among them was C.Subramanian
who in Lok Sabha bitterly criticized Mr.Charan Singh's budget only months ago, but abandoned
Mrs.Gandhi and joined Charan Singh's cabinet as Minister of Defence. That is of course not
surprising behaviour for CS. Later in the 80s he abandoned Rajiv Gandhi to accept V.P. Singh's offer


to be Governor of Maharashtra. How hurt Rajiv Gandhi was, only I and few others know. But today
on TMC plat form he eulogizes Rajiv Gandhi.
But Charan Singh's government was to fall because he refused Mrs. Gandhi's demand to abolish the
Special Courts trying cases against her and Sanjay. So she refused to extend him support in
Parliament. By now Jagjivan Ram had replaced Morarji Desai as leader of the Janata Party in
Parliament. The Janata Party was however 18 MPs short of majority, but AIADMK had 19 MPs.
Earlier MGR had supported Charan Singh, but thanks to the efforts of some common friends, MGR
was ready to extend support to the Janata Party. MGR informed Jagjivan Ram that if I came on
behalf of the Janata Party to Chennai, he (MGR) would finalize with me the alliance. Now it looked
as if finally Jagjivan Ram would become Prime Minister.
Jagjivan Ram called me to his residence one evening 36 hours before the deadline set by President
Sanjiva Reddy, to prove his majority. He told me about MGR's message, and said I should fly to
Chennai with a letter from him to MGR requesting support. He said putting his affectionate hand on
my shoulder "Swamy, phone me from there as soon as you get the letter from MGR pledging support.
We must beat the deadline set by the President." Then he said in an emotionally choked voice:
"Hurry, because this is a chance I do not want to miss". For me it was a pleasure. I knew if Jagjivan
Ram because PM, he would make me a Minister. Morarji could not make me Minister because of
Vajpayee's jealousy. But Jagjivan Ram would not care for Vajpayee's opinion since he would never
forget the betrayal of 1977.
When I reached the airport next morning to catch the flight, Vajpayee was therefore to catch the same
flight. I asked him what he was doing there. He sheepishly said "The parliamentary party has asked
you to meet MGR, while the organizational wing has told me to go and meet MGR." How petty! He
probably did not want me to get all the credit, so he must have persuaded Chandrasekhar to send him.
Anyway I had Jagjivan Ram's letter, so it did not really matter, whether Vajpayee came or not.
From Chennai airport, we were driven straight to MGR's Thottam house since there was no time to
lose. There MGR had laid out a huge breakfast, and he personally insisted that we eat everything.


MGR would not let me talk, but kept feeding us one dish after another.
After sometime, I pulled out Jagjivan Ram's letter to give to MGR. Then MGR handed me his letter to
Jagjivan Ram, with a demand that we accommodate two AIADMK MPs as Ministers. That was no
problem. Then from there I telephoned Jagjivan Ram to tell him the good news, that now he had
majority, and also about MGR's demand for two nominees in the Cabinet. Jagjivan Ram was thrilled,
and asked me to return immediately by the next flight. He said he would inform the President
immediately. I was beaming with pleasure when I put the phone down. Then MGR softly asked me in
Tamil "Do you think Sanjiva Reddy will ever allow Jagjivan Ram to become PM". "What not?" I
retorted. "If we have majority, he has to call him" I added. "My information is that Reddy will
dissolve the House the moment he learns that Jagjivan Ram has majority" MGR said to me gently.
I had a press conference to attend before going to the airport and some sleep to catch before that so I
took leave of MGR, who had a strange sarcastic smile as if to say how innocent I was of the facts of
life. Two hours later, I went to address a press conference. By then Jagjivan Ram would have gone to
the Rashtrapati Bhavan and informed the President of the Janata Party's majority. As I reached the
press conference, I wondered what portfolio Jagjivan Ram would give me as Minister.
Before I could declare to the press the Janata Party's prospects, pressman jumped on me to ask my
reaction to Sanjiva Reddy dissolving the Lok Sabha without giving Jagjivan Ram an opportunity! The
news had just come on the PTI ticker. I was dump founded. MGR was right. Sitting in Madras he
seemed to know more about Delhi than me! After giving the press my reactions, I left for the airport.
What did MGR mean that Reddy would dissolve the House after learning about Jagjivan Ram's
majority?
I understood later. Reddy belonged to a zamindar's family in Andhra. They have a proverbial lack of
respect for scheduled castes. So Reddy did not want a scheduled caste PM, or alternatively he had
some other personal hatred for Jagjivan Ram. In either case, he denied Jagjivan Ram his just chance.
This time it was clearly not a "Brahmin conspiracy?
I felt sad when on the flight back to Delhi, not only that I lost my chance to be a Minister, but since a


truly capable experienced and efficient person could not become the Prime Minister because of some
silly petty prejudice. The nation lost twice in 2 1/2 years (1977 -79) in having the services of a great
administrator.
Jagjivan Ram never recovered from this low. He became cynical and bitter about it. Although in the
1980 elections, Janata Party projected him as the party candidate for PM, his heart was not in the
campaign. I was elected to the Lok Sabha again from Bombay. So I used to see him in Parliament, but
Jagjivan Ram was mostly silent in Parliament. Then one day he left Janata Party and joined Congress.
Mrs. Gandhi welcomed him but clearly did not forgive him for the 1977 shock. She gave him no
importance in the party. One day in 1984, Jagjivan Ram died, broken hearted. With him died a dream
of social revolution that is yet to be realized. It is difficult to visualise an able administrator of
Jagjivan Ram's calibre of any caste, coming up in the near future.
Jagjivan Ram had many personal faults. But that is not important if it does not affect his public life or
does not compromise him to black mail. But as a person he was warm and despite all the prejudice,
Mahatma Gandhi was right in picking him up from nowhere to make him a Minister. Even if he did
not become PM, he was Minister from 1946 to 1980, holding at sometime all the important portfolios.
He served mother India as a great son.