Babu Jagjivan Ram holds the world record for being a parliamentarian for 50 uninterrupted years, from 1936 to 1986. And through those years he worked tirelessly to promote equality and without any rancour or bitterness.
Babu Jagjivan Ram was allowed entry into the Jagannath Puri temple, but only because he was an important public leader. Many others, including his wife, weren’t. So, even Jagjivan Ram refused to go. His wife, Indrani, wrote in her diary-“This incident dried up the wish to have darshan of the Lord in my heart. How can he be a Jagannath, Lord of the world, if he discriminates between his devotees?”
The founder of Benares Hindu University (BHU), Madan Mohan Malviya, was so impressed with Jagjivan Ram’s proficiency in Sanskrit – when he attended a school function in Arrah – that he invited him to study at the university. Jagjivan Ran did take admission and studied there for a while, but he faced caste discrimination at every level there – in the hostel, in the mess and while in class. Therefore, he left BHU and did his graduation from Calcutta University where his leadership flowered and impressed even Subhash Chandra Bose.
Jagjivan Ram was a hero, calm and strong as a rock. He chose the route of harmony and peace and was never angry and never spread hatred against anyone, including against perpetrators of atrocities on dalits. He showed a great amount of resilience and forgave those who wronged him or his community.
Its very difficult for so-called high caste leaders and writers to imagine what it means to belong to a caste that is considered the lowest among the Hindus, and therefore discriminated against in every walk of life. Until today, especially in rural areas, dalits don’t get to build their homes near ‘high caste’ habitats, they are discriminated against at school and college hostels, in class rooms, in offices and even in public places like temples and restaurants.
In many parts, dalits have to take their dead to a different crematorium, and they aren’t given tea in glasses used by higher castes. There was an incident reported in Uttarakhand where a newly married police constable visited a temple with his bride only to find that the priest had locked up the temple and gone away, all so he didn’t have to let the couple – who was dalit – enter the temple. When we took some dalits to help them enter the temple in a remote Uttarakhand village, the so-called high caste people wanted to stone us to death. And they were all well educated people. Still, no one was arrested nor was any FIR lodged against them.
In Haryana, a groom going to a bride’s house astride a pony was rebuked and made to get off the horse by so-called high caste people, because they couldn’t stand a low caste person using a pony when even they didn’t use one. In Tamil Nadu, Shankar was hacked to death because he married a higher caste girl, Kaushalya.
If such incidents are happening in 2016, think of the situation in the 1930s and 1940s, when Jagjivan Ram founded the All India Depressed Classes League to raise their voices nationally.
There is an incident that his daughter, the famous Lok Sabha speaker, narrates. When he stood first in Class 10 and didn’t have money to further pursue his studies, his mother was approached by local nuns who not only offered a free education at their Lucknow-based Christian school but promised to send him to the US for higher studies. This was an offer that was too difficult to reject in those times . But his mother paused for a second and politely refused to send Jagjivan Ram to a Christian school, saying, “You will educate my son but you would also change his religion. I will be fine taking care of him as I can.”
This shows a very strong foundation of Hindu dharma in the house of Jagjivan Ram. His father Sobhi Ram was in the British army, but left and became an ascetic. He was elevated to be the Mahant – a spiritual head – of a Shiv Narayani reformist Hindu sect. His handwritten books on spiritualism became very popular and some of them are still preserved. These early life impressions must have made a permanent impact on Jagjivan Ram’s mind.
Jagjivan Ram was a fighter and a winner always. It was while he was defence minister that India won the Bangladesh war and a new nation was created. We witnessed the green revolution when he was India’s agriculture minister.
Until Indira Gandhi imposed the draconian emergency, Jagjivan Ram remained a staunch Congress loyalist, representing old Gandhian values. Under Janata Party’s rule, when Morarji Desai was Prime Minister, he became Deputy Prime Minister and defence minister.
He achieved so much, did so much and contributed so much towards social equality. Still, he remains a forgotten, hardly talked about hero of our times. It’s no surprise that the Congress never considered him for the highest award. Being a dalit and that too not a ‘family loyalist’ reduces the chances to get proper recognition. But now, we are in a different age and time, and corrections can be made.
Giving the Bharat Ratna to Sachin Tendulkar was so easy, so hurriedly done and he is still appearing in advertisements selling various consumer items. But the man who stood firm on faith and the values of equality, and led an entire section of our society to newer goals with enhanced confidence, was never even considered for that coveted award. That’s how politics works in this progressive nation.
How ironic that one who deserved a Bharat Ratna years ago, is yet to find the right support and the right voice to make decision-makers listen and act.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.
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Jagjivan Ram (5 April 1908 – 6 July 1986), known popularly as Babuji, was an Indian independence activist and politician from Bihar. He was instrumental in foundation of the All-India Depressed Classes League, an organisation dedicated to attaining equality for untouchables, in 1935 and was elected to Bihar Legislative Assembly in 1937, after which he organised the rural labour movement.
In 1946, he became the youngest minister in Jawaharlal Nehru's interim government, the first cabinet of India as a Labour Minister and also a member of Constituent Assembly of India, where he ensured that social justice was enshrined in the Constitution. He went on to serve as a minister with various portfolios for more than forty years as a member of the Indian National Congress (INC). Most importantly, he was the Defence Minister of India during the Indo-Pak war of 1971, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. His contribution to the Green Revolution in India and modernising Indian agriculture, during his two tenures as Union Agriculture Minister are still remembered, especial during 1974 drought when he was asked to hold the additional portfolio to tide over the food crisis.
Though he supported Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the Emergency (1975–77), he left Congress in 1977 and joined the Janata Party alliance, along with his Congress for Democracy. He later served as the Deputy Prime Minister of India (1977–79), then in 1980, he formed Congress (J).
Early life and education
Jagjivan Ram was born at Chandwa near Arrah in Bihar. He had an elder brother, Sant Lal, and three sisters. His father Sobhi Ram was with the British Indian Army, posted at Peshawar, but later resigned due to some differences, and bought farming land in his native village Chandwa and settled there. He also became a Mahant of the Shiv Narayani sect, and being skilled in calligraphy, illustrated many books for the sect that were distributed locally.
Young Jagjivan attended a local school in January 1914. Upon the premature death of his father, Jagjivan and his mother Vasanti Devi were left in a harsh economic situation. He joined Aggrawal Middle School in Arrah in 1920, where the medium of instruction was English for the first time, and joined Arrah Town School in 1922. It was here that he faced caste discrimination for the first time, yet remained unfazed. An often cited incident occurred in this school; there was a tradition of having two water pots in the school, one for Hindus and another for Muslims. Jagjivan drank water from the Hindu pot, and because he was from an untouchable class, the matter was reported to the Principal, who placed a third pot for "untouchables" in the school. Jagjivan broke this pot twice in protest, until the Principal decided against placing the third pot. A turning point in his life came in 1925, when Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya visited his school, and impressed by his welcome address, invited him to join the Banaras Hindu University.
Jagjivan Ram passed his matriculation in the first division and joined the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in 1927, where he was awarded the Birla scholarship, and passed his Inter Science Examination; while at BHU, he organised the scheduled castes to protest against social discrimination. As a Dalit student, he was denied basic services like meals in his hostel and haircuts by local barbers. A Dalit barber would arrive occasionally to trim his hair. Eventually, Jagjivan left BHU and continued his education at Calcutta University. The incidents in BHU turned him into an atheist. In 2007, the BHU set up a Babu Jagjivan Ram Chair in its faculty of social sciences to study caste discrimination and economic backwardness.
He received a B. Sc. degree from the University of Calcutta in 1931, where again he organised conferences to draw attention toward issues of discrimination, and also participated in the anti-untouchability movement started by Mahatma Gandhi.
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose took notice of him at Kolkata, when in 1928 he organised a Mazdoor Rally at Wellington Square, in which approximately 50,000 people participated. When the devastating 1934 Nepal–Bihar earthquake occurred he got actively involved in the relief work and his efforts were appreciated. When popular rule was introduced under the 1935 Act and the scheduled castes were given representation in the legislatures, both the nationalists and the British loyalists sought him because of his first-hand knowledge of the social and economic situation in Bihar, Jagjivan Ram was nominated to the Bihar Council. He chose to go with the nationalists and joined Congress, which wanted him not only because he was valued as an able spokesperson for the depressed classes, but also that he could counter B. R. Ambedkar; he was elected to the Bihar assembly in 1937. However, he resigned his membership on the issue of irrigation cess.
In 1935, he contributed to the establishment of the All-India Depressed Classes League, an organisation dedicated to attaining equality for untouchables. He was also drawn into the Indian National Congress, in the same year he proposed a resolution in the 1935 session of the Hindu Mahasabha demanding that temples and drinking water wells be opened up to Dalits. and in the early 1940s was imprisoned twice for his active participation in the Satyagraha and the Quit India Movements. He was among the principal leaders who publicly denounced India's participation in the World War II between the European nations and for which he was imprisoned in 1940.
In 1946, he became the youngest minister in Jawaharlal Nehru's provisional government and also the subsequent First Indian Cabinet, as a Labour Minister, where he is credited for laying the foundation for several labour welfare policies in India. He was a part of the prestigious high-profile Indian delegation that attended to attend the International Labour Organization (ILO)'s International Labour Conference on 16 August 1947 in Geneva, along with the great GandhianBihar Bibhuti Dr. Anugrah Narayan Sinha, his chief political mentor and also the then head of the delegation, and few days later he was elected President of the ILO. He served as Labour minister until 1952.He was member of the Constituent assembly that drafted India's constitution.Ram also served in the interim national government of 1946. Later, he held several ministerial posts in Nehru's Cabinet – Communications (1952–56), Transport and Railways (1956–62), and Transport and Communications (1962–63)ref>Haqqi,, Anwarul Haque ,Indian Political Science Association (1986). Indian Democracy at the Crossroads I. New Delhi: Mittal Publications. p. 122. </ref>.
In Indira Gandhi's government, he worked as minister for Labour, Employment, and Rehabilitation (1966–67), and Union Minister for Food and Agriculture (1967–70), where he is best remembered for having successfully led the Green Revolution during his tenure. When the Congress Party split in 1969, Jagjivan Ram joined the camp led by Indira Gandhi, and became the president of that faction of Congress. He worked as the Minister of Defence (1970–74) making him the virtual No. 2 in the cabinet, Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation (1974–77). It was during his tenure as the minister of Defence that the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 was fought, and Bangladesh gained independence. While loyal to prime minister Indira Gandhi for most of the Indian Emergency, in 1977 he along with five other politicians resigned from the Cabinet and formed the Congress for Democracy party, within the Janata coalition.
A few days before the elections, on a Sunday, Jagjivan Ram addressed an Opposition rally at the famous Ram Lila Grounds in Delhi. The national broadcaster Doordarshan allegedly attempted to stop crowds from participating in the demonstration by telecasting the blockbuster movie Bobby. The rally still drew large crowds, and a newspaper headline the next day ran "Babu beats Bobby" . He was the Deputy Prime Minister of India when Morarji Desai was the prime minister, from 1977 to 1979, though initially reluctant to join the cabinet, and was not present at the oath-taking ceremony on 27 March 1977; he eventually did so at the behest of Jai Prakash Narayan, who insisted that his presence for necessary, "not just as an individual but as a political and social force" and took oath later on. However, he was once again given the defence portfolio. His last position in government was as Deputy Prime Minister of India in the Janata Party government of 1977-1979, Disillusioned with the Janata party he formed his own party, the Congress (J). He remained a member of Parliament till his death in 1986, after over forty years as a parliamentarian. He was elected from Sasaram parliament constituency in Bihar. His uninterrupted representation in the Parliament from 1936 to 1986 is a world record.
- He holds the record for being the longest-serving cabinet minister in India for 30 years. (Ref. Kendriya Mantripraishad 1947–2004, published by Loksabha Secretriate)
- Union Minister of Labour, 1946–1952.
- Union Minister for Communications, 1952–1956.
- Union Minister for Transport and Railways, 1956–1962.
- Union Minister for Transport and Communications, 1962–1963.
- Union Minister for Labour, Employment and Rehabilitation, 1966–1967.
- Union Minister for Food and Agriculture, 1967–1970.
- Union Minister of Defence, 1970–1974, 1977–1979.
- Union Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, 1974–1977.
- Founding Member, Congress for Democracy party (aligned with Janata Party), 1977.
- Deputy Prime Minister of India, 23 March 1977 – 22 August 1979.
- Founder, Congress (J).
- He served as President of the Bharat Scouts and Guides from September 1976 to April 1983.
In August 1933, his first wife died after a brief illness. In June 1935, he married Indrani Devi, a daughter of Dr. Birbal, a well-known social worker of Kanpur. The couple had two children, Suresh Kumar who was infamously reported in Menaka Gandhi's Surya newspaper, having marital relationship with a 21-year-old woman. and Meira Kumar, a five-time Member of Parliament, who won from his former seat Sasaram in both 2004 and 2009, and became the first woman Speaker of Lok Sabha in 2009.
The place of his cremation has been turned into a memorial, Samata Sthal, and his birth anniversary is observed as Samata Diwas., (Equality Day) in India. His birth centenary celebrations were held all over the nation in 2008. Demands for awarding him a posthumous Bharat Ratna have been raised from time to time Hyderabad.Andhra University which had conferred an honorary doctorate on him in 1973, and in 2009 on the occasion of his 101st birth anniversary, his statue was unveiled on the university premises .
To propagate his ideologies, the 'Babu Jagjivan Ram National Foundation', has been set up by Ministry of Social Justice, Govt. of India in Delhi.
The training academy for Railway Protection Force officers is named after Jagjivan Ram.
The first indigenously built electric locomotive, a WAM-1 model, was named after him and was recently restored by the Eastern Railway.
In 2015, the Babu Jagjeevan Ram English Medium Secondary School was established in Mahatma Gandhi Nagar, Yerawada, Pune. As of March 2016, the school serves 125 7th and 8th graders from Yerawada. The school honours Babuji and his advocacy of education and opportunity for all people of lower castes by being the first Pune Municipal Corporation public school to offer education past the 7th grade.
- ^M. S. Swaminathan (7 February 2008). "Jagjivan Ram & inclusive agricultural growth". The Hindu.
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- ^ abJagjivan ram Research Reference and Training Div., Ministry of I & B, Govt. of India.
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- ^Brass, Paul R. (1994). The Politics of India since Independence (The new Cambridge history of India.) (2. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. p. 249. ISBN 978-0521453622.
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Further reading and bibliography
- Ram, Jagjivan; Shachi Rani Gurtu (1951). Jagjivan Ram on labour problems. Ram.
- Ram, Jagjivan (1980). Caste challenge in India. Vision Books.
- Sharma, Devendra Prasad (1974). Jagjivan Ram: the man and the times. Indian Book Co.
- Chanchreek, Kanhaiyalal (1975). Jagjivanram: a select bibliography, 1908–1975. S. Chand.
- Singh, Nau Nihal (1977). Jagjivan Ram: symbol of social change. Sundeep Prakashan.
- Ram, Jagjivan (1977). Four decades of Jagjivan Ram's parliamentary career. S. Chand.
- Ramesh Chandra, Sangh Mittra (2003). Jagjivan Ram And His Times. Commonwealth Publishers. ISBN 81-7169-737-2.
- Secretariat, Lok Sabha (2005). Babu Jagjivan Ram in parliament: a commemorative volume. Lok Sabha Secretariat.
- Maurya, Dr. Omprakash. Babu Jagjivan Ram. Publications Division, Govt. of India.
- Dr.U., Subramanian. Babu Jagjivan Ram. Tamilvendanpathippagam.
- "Valedictory Centenary Lecture by President of India on Jagjivan Ram Centenary Function". President of India website. 5 April 2008.
- "PM's Address at Babu Jagjivan Ram Centenary Seminar on Agriculture". ICAR. 7 February 2008.