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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Reddy Story

Even in death it is politics of the day that governs the manner in which a political leader is remembered. He may have held an exalted position at the time of death, but his politics needs to be right, for him to get a fitting memorial. What mattered was the political lineage, the clan to which he belonged, or his relationship with the ruling clique of the day.

A leader whose loyalty was suspect got marginalized. This seems to have been the case with Mr Neelam Sanjiva Reddy. He was A P chief minister twice, AICC president, Lok Sabha Speaker, and the President. Yet Mr Reddy, in death, didn’t get the recognition he deserved from the ruling establishment of the day.

A report in the New Indian Express (Bangalore Edition dated April 12) speaks of a non-descript tomb at Kalapalli graveyard (about two kms from Fraser town Police Station , Bangalore) that carries a plastic signboard, reading ‘President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy’. The media report mentioned that Reddy's resting place had no maintenance budget and was being treated by the authorities as just another tomb.

Those familiar with politics in 1960s or 70s, can recall how Mr Reddy, the then AICC chief, had fallen out of grace with Mrs Indira Gandhi. The 1969 split in the Congress constituted a watershed in Indian Politics; it led to the rise of Mrs Gandhi in power on the strength of her garibi hatao slogan. Masses were mesmerized by her charisma. The Party split into Congress (Organisation), led by Mr S Nijalingappa, and the other Congress (Ruling) led by Prime Minister Mrs Gandhi. Mr Reddy became a suspect in the eyes of Mrs Gandhi, because of his leanings towards Congress(O).

Mrs Gandhi, who had, in fact, proposed his name for the post of President of India, went back on her word, and invoked, what she termed, a ”conscience vote”. She brought forward the then Vice President V V Giri and got him elected as the President. However, Mr Reddy became the sixth President with the support of Janata Party which came to power after Mrs Gandhi lost it in the wake of the Emergency.

On retirement Mr Reddy settled in Bangalore in a bungalow allotted by the State Government. He died at the age of 83 and was laid to rest in Kalpalli graveyard. Neither the State nor the Centre bothered to build any memorial till 2002. As JD(U) General Secretary N S Ravi put it, “it is ironic that the former President was wronged in death. JD(S) supremo H D Deve Gowda was the Prime Minister when Reddy died. We had to run from pillar to post to get sanction from S M Krishna Government to build a tomb.’

The IE reports says the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike had sanctioned Rs 10 lakhs for the tomb in 2002 and the officials took four years to set a stone slab and fence the area. “By no stretch of imagination could the work have cost Rs 10 lakhs” says Mr Ravi.

Speaking of raising a memorial I remember what Mr Devaraj Urs had said in this context. Devaraj Urs, who had served as Chief Minister of Karnataka for two terms, was down-to-earth in his comments; and, like Rajaji, his forte was a solid grounding in Ramayana and Mahabaratha . And unlike the former, Mr Urs relished his “Royal Salute” and was seen occasionally with a pipe in his mouth - an aristocrat with a philosophical bent of mind.

As a reporter of Deccan Herald, I had opportunity to observe Mr Urs from close quarters. Once on a visit to his native village in Periyapatna taluk of Mysore District, he was accorded a grand reception by members of the Urs community; they performed pada puja , in true Hindu tradition. He was served his favourite ragi mudde on a silver plate.

Mr D V Urs, the then Vice-chancellor of Mysore University, in a welcome address referred to Mr Devaraj Urs’ visit as historic and then spoke of a plan to install an edict at the venue, with an inscription describing the visit of Mr Devaraj Urs to the village.

The philosopher in Mr Urs responded by quoting Purandaradasa. This gem of a composition in effect speaks about the futility of such inscriptions. With the generations of rulers who haughtily claimed vast assets as their own, go with empty hands when once they are dead, and even their bodies are brought out of their dwellings they claimed as their own. Mr Urs wiping tears with a handkerchief said, what was remembered was one’s good work.


  • I recollect reading newspapers in 1950s that Sanjeeva Reddy was first spotted by Rajaji during those integrated Madras State days which included Andhra. He had his good years. I remember that when he was President, he was treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Institute in New York for lung cancer (he was a smoker?)?.

    What Indian Presidents did not do was to establish libraries in their names holding personal papers and associating them in some ways to the main stream of the society, just as the American Presidents do. These are the real memorials. I have used President Johnson's library a few times. British Prime Ministers do slightly differently.

    I cannot help commenting on D V Urs the Vice Chancellor of Mysore University in 1970s. I had to return to Mysore during 1970s, for a couple of years after my studies and work in America. There was some kind of exhibition in Manasagangothri, and D V Urs was going round making some comments. There were nearly 15 of us, an agriculturist friend who was an agriculturist of some distinction with hands-on experience of tens of acres of his land for decades, myself and a few students who had put up posters on the benefits of including fruits in every day diet. DV Urs came near us with a posse of his minions, and started criticising the posters, not a single good word was said. After he finished, my agriculturist friend asked him why he did not appreciate the work done by students, and continued that he was going to give them to his class mate who would be coming to stay in his farm for a few days, and he would like the posters. D V Urs asked who the class mate was. My agriculturist replied ‘Devaraj Urs’! Hearing this, DV Urs’s stood frozen for a time and he was uttering something very incoherent!!

    By Anonymous Guru, at 6:48 AM  

  • Tata,
    read deepti's blog--it's a poem about cutting a tree. It's really good and tell her how it is!

    By Blogger Lakshmi Bharadwaj, at 10:46 PM  

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