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Babuji

Sunday April 5 marks the 102nd birth anniversary of Jagjivan Ram. One of the great tragedies of modern India has been that Babu Jagjivan Ram never became Prime Minister. Had Babuji been allowed to lead this country, the course of our nation could have been different. VN Dalmia writes.

india Updated: Apr 02, 2009 22:22 IST

Sunday April 5 marks the 102nd birth anniversary of Jagjivan Ram. One of the great tragedies of modern India has been that Babu Jagjivan Ram never became Prime Minister. Unfortunately, Jayaprakash Narayan endorsed Morarji Desai for PM in 1977. Desai lasted little more than a year. In late 1978, Charan Singh outmanoeuvred ‘Babuji’ with the help of Sanjay Gandhi only to be let down by him within three months. Had Babuji been allowed to lead this country, the course of our nation could have been different.

An outstanding administrator, Babuji held every conceivable Cabinet post between 1946 and 1979. Significantly, he was Agriculture Minister during the Green Revolution and Defence Minister during the victorious Indo-Pak war of 1971. He won 10 consecutive elections, spanning half a century, from the same constituency — a world record.

Much of the reason for Babuji’s great competence was his quick grasp and ability to penetrate matters deeply. He was ideologically a pragmatist. Regarded with awe by subordinates and colleagues, he was the man to go to in order to get the job done. Babuji began his career in 1936 from Sasaram in Bihar. Mahatma Gandhi, too, had high praise for him for his achievements despite belonging to the Dalit classes, commenting that he had “emerged from fire as burnished gold”.

I got to know Babuji through my father. As I entered the family business and as my father’s health declined, Babuji came to know me and I began to meet him alone. Babuji liked meeting young people and when my father died in 1978, I inherited the relationship.

I lost touch with Babuji in the early 80s when I left for America. When I returned, I was delighted to receive a call from him summoning me to his residence at 6, Krishna Menon Marg. Babuji wanted to know what my future plans were. I was pleased to see in how much esteem Rajiv Gandhi, the then PM, held Babuji, consulting him occasionally on important matters.

When Charan Singh’s government had fallen, no one could have denied Babuji the opportunity to lead. In 1979, President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy finally invited Babuji to prove his majority. Babuji would have been able to muster the requisite numbers. But Reddy, inexplicably, without waiting for even an hour after inviting Babuji, dissolved the Lok Sabha and called for elections. Thus ended the saga of India’s first non-Congress government.

VN Dalmia is Executive Vice-President, Babu Jagjivan Ram National Foundation