When Indira Gandhi suspended democracy with the 1975 Emergency, it was the green light for him to openly oppose her.
I first met Sudini Jaipal Reddy in 1964 when he was the president of the Osmania University Students Union (OUSU), the omnibus union of all student unions, and I was the general secretary of the Nizam College Students’ Union. That year there was a major struggle on the issue of university autonomy between the then CM, K. Brahmananda Reddy, and the vice-chancellor of Osmania University, well-known educationist, D.S. Reddy. The CM wanted full control of the university, at that time one of the two big universities in Andhra Pradesh, as the state government financially supported the university. The vice-chancellor felt that ceding control to the government would mean a progressive dilution of standards and discipline. Jaipal was supporting the CM. It was well known that Brahmananda Reddy thought highly of him and was grooming him for high office. He chose well.
However, Nizam College students had taken a contrary position and were with the V-C. Jaipal came over to Nizam College’s famous Rajiah Canteen, where we effectively ended up having a debate in front of a canteen full of students. Jaipal was then studying for his second master’s degree and his fellow district students adored him. As Jaipal and I debated the issue, I realised how well read and articulate he was. He turned the general notion about a college student from the districts with school education in the vernacular struggling with English on its head. Here he was in full flow quoting Rousseau and Russell literally storming my pre-analytic cognitive vision of a university free of political meddling. His followers had no doubt that he had won. But Nizam College didn’t join the strike.
Later in life, when he would bemoan the falling standards of university education, I would always remind him of the debate in Rajiah Canteen. Jaipal was always gracious to admit he was wrong and it was a mistake. When I read on Saturday about the KCR government in Telangana appointing eight IAS officers as vice-chancellors of the universities in the state, I was reminded about how it began. Jaipal was on my mind, and when the phone rang at 3 am on Sunday morning, I knew it was his time. I had spoken to his brother-in-law Laxma Reddy and his long-time secretary Venkatram Reddy last on Saturday night and my instinct was that the end was near.
That first encounter with Jaipal turned into a lifelong friendship that grew stronger with the years and even when we were in opposing trenches. Jaipal became an MLA in 1969 and his small apartment in the old MLAs’ quarters became an adda for long political discussions and gossip over endless cups of tea. In those days Jaipal was an admirer of Morarji Desai and approved of his liberal economics and austere life. Most of us, his friends and followers, admired Indira Gandhi, while Jaipal felt she was destroying the inner-party democracy of the Congress.
Jaipal would always recall the tussle between the Neelam Sanjiva Reddy and Brahmananda Reddy factions in the party elections for a PCC president. When Indira Gandhi and her immediate court took complete control of the Congress Party after the split in 1969, Jaipal stayed on with the Congress (I), because that’s where his mentor KBR was. But he felt stifled. It was during this period that Jaipal became well acquainted with the leading light of the Congress Young Turks, Chandra Shekhar. He became a fervent admirer and his fascination for him took many of us towards him.
When Indira Gandhi suspended democracy with the 1975 Emergency, it was the green light for him to openly oppose her. He did it with gusto and his MLA quarter’s front yard resonated with his criticism of Mrs Gandhi. I used to caution Jaipal to go easy lest he be arrested. But he would scoff at the fears and would loudly say that Vengala Rao (then CM) did not have the courage. He was right, for Vengala Rao was afraid that putting Jaipal in jail would become a cause celebre and Osmania University would become a hotbed of resistance.
The end of the Emergency saw the emergence of Jaipal Reddy as a national figure. The Congress swept Andhra Pradesh, winning 41 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats, but was virtually wiped out in the Hindi-speaking states. He became the leader of the Janata Party in Aandhra and was the new party’s leading voice in South India. The Congress won the 1978 state elections in Andhra, but the Janata Party under Jaipal’s leadership emerged with 60 seats and almost 30 per cent of the popular vote, about nine per cent behind the Congress. The rump Congress (Reddy) won 30 seats, with 18 per cent of the vote. It is conceivable that if the Janata Party and Congress (Reddy) joined hands together, it might have been the end of the Congress Party. But history gave Jaipal another chance.
In 1984, when Rajiv Gandhi won in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination with 404 seats, and the Opposition front benches were bare with leaders like Chandra Shekhar and Atal Behari Vajpayee defeated in their bailiwicks, Jaipal, a first-timer in the Lok Sabha, became the Opposition’s leading voice in Parliament. He used to torment Rajiv Gandhi with his razor-sharp wit and incisiveness. When V.P. Singh fell out with Rajiv Gandhi in 1988, Jaipal Reddy emerged as the main spokesman for the Opposition. He revelled in this role. I had returned from Harvard in early 1984, and Jaipal quickly co-opted me into the Opposition’s attack team. I would write position papers and would work with Jaipal on how to dominate the newspapers the next morning. Jaipal would tell me that since the Opposition did not seek a revolution, but only a reformation of the political process with an electoral victory, the task was to chip away at Rajiv’s ankles every day with issues and criticisms.
When the Janata Dal imploded in 1991, Jaipal persisted with the Opposition despite P.V. Narasimha Rao’s standing invitation to rejoin the Congress. Interestingly enough, the stint as an Opposition front-bencher took Jaipal more leftward politically. He would chortle over my description of Dr Manmohan Singh’s reforms and trickle-down economics as feeding imported oats to racehorses so that the sparrows could eat the dung. Jaipal would also point to his own inconsistency in opposing the Congress Party’s dynastic rule when all the Janata factions became dynastic parties themselves. He swallowed his pride and rejoined the Congress.
In 2004 he emerged as a minister in the Manmohan Singh government, but the ideological fires still burned within. When Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi wanted him to agree to the Reliance plea that gas excavated by Indian producers be paid international prices, and not at a fixed rate, Jaipal dug in his heels. He lost the coveted petroleum ministry and was reassigned to the science and technology ministry, generally seen as a sideline. By now Jaipal was tired. He fought for his beliefs for long, and now was not willing to strike back. The coming of Narendra Modi and Jaipal’s intense antipathy for the RSS only cemented his roots with the Congress.
Only two people have made an impression on my political and economic thinking. One was Chandra Shekhar and the other was Jaipal. Chandra Shekhar died in 2007. A dozen years later Jaipal has followed. When I told my wife about his demise early on Sunday morning, she told me that now you will not have anybody to talk to.