New Delhi: Think of a minister who can publicly say politicians are “wild animals” who need to be kept in check. Probably none today, not after former union minister S. Jaipal Reddy passed away Sunday morning.
Many of his colleagues remember his witty remarks — often blended with quotes ranging from Italian poet Dante and German philosopher Immanuel Kant to English playwright William Shakespeare and many more. But the cerebral politician was equally known for his convictions.
He had quit the Congress after Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency in 1975 and even unsuccessfully contested against her in 1980 from the Medak constituency in what is now Telangana.
He rejoined the Congress in 1999 and went on to hold many portfolios in the Manmohan Singh government. But he never changed his views about the late Indira Gandhi.
On a sultry afternoon in the summer of 2017, he was hosting a few friends in Delhi when someone told him about Congress leader Jairam Ramesh’s book, Indira Gandhi: A Life in Nature. “Really! A book on Indira Gandhi as an environmentalist! It’s like writing a book on Hitler as a painter,” Reddy chuckled.
Grudging admiration for Indira the politician
Reddy, however, always held Indira Gandhi in high esteem when it came to her political acumen. Asked by a journalist to compare the former prime minister with Sonia Gandhi, he said Indira’s politics was like Garry Kasparov’s daring chess moves that showed his conviction to turn any adversity into an advantage, whereas Sonia’s politics is like banking, a serious business in which she takes a decision after taking everyone’s views.
Most Congressmen would agree to his observation today as Sonia Gandhi loyalists continue to hold consultations for two months over the appointment of her son Rahul Gandhi’s successor as the party president. Reddy was always a keen observer and practitioner of politics.
Having spent about two decades in Janata Party and the Janata Dal, including a stint as a minister in the I.K. Gujaral government in 1997-98, he realised that the Third Front was a “mirage”.
It continues to be a mirage even today.
A second run in the Congress
Though a Congressman in his early days, it was only a reluctant Reddy who returned to the party in 1999 when the Janata Dal split for the fifth time in four years. But he had a good run in the Congress after his return.
In December 2000, when former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee said that the Ram temple movement was an expression of “national sentiments” and a task that remained “unfinished”, the opposition parties predictably erupted in protests. The Congress then fielded Reddy to launch the offensive on Vajpayee government.
What Vajpayee said was not a slip of tongue but a slip of mask, said Reddy, adding how the then prime minister had completed “Pilgrim’s Progress from hypocrisy to theocracy”.
Moving a motion in the Lok Sabha to drop L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti for their alleged involvement in Babri mosque demolition, Reddy was at his eloquent bess: “I have always admired his (Advani’s) ability to articulate his medieval ideology in a modern idiom, his mildewed worldview in a mellowed way…
“I have always regarded Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi as sui generis scholar scientist but my philosophical problem with him is that he confuses history with mythology, philosophy with theology, astronomy with astrology… Our saffron sister Uma Bharati… her soul keeps alternating, transmigrating from ministry to monastery, from monastery to ministry, from kamandalism to mandalism, from mandalism to kamandalism.”
But Reddy was not just about wit and sarcasm. As information and broadcasting minister in Gujral government, he implemented the Prasar Bharati Act. It’s another matter that he never believed that Doordarshan or All India Radio could ever become autonomous in a true sense.
The Petroleum ministry regret
Reddy also held many portfolios in the Manmohan Singh government. What he regretted the most about those days was his removal from petroleum and natural gas ministry and shift to science and technology ministry, allegedly at the behest of a corporate house.
Reddy was deeply pained by his unceremonious ouster from the petroleum ministry but he never let this frustration get to him. Just as the dependence on crutches — he was polio-stricken when he was 18 months — never deterred him from going wherever he wanted to.
His close aides would tell then that whenever he felt depressed by his physical conditions, he would shut himself in his house for four-five days and wouldn’t meet anyone. He would spend this period reading literature and philosophy and then emerge from his house glowing and replete with quotations from the literary greats.
During one of his meetings with this writer, he was in his Shakespearean moments as he started off (from Macbeth): “Life’s but a walking shadow; A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more….”
Jaipal Reddy was a fantastic player, though.