India That is Bharat
The living icon, R. Venkataraman is 95. From the law courts in Chennai to the presidential palace in the capital was a long journey for him. Throughout his life he championed the cause of the working class. It was his close association with law and trade union that brought him into politics.
Born on December 4, 1910 in Rajamadam village of Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu, RV, as he is popularly known, is in perfect good health as this scribe saw him recently in New Delhi. The growing beautiful grey hair does not lie heavy on him. A regulated life coupled with daily walks, and vegetarian, controlled diet have helped him maintain the body and mind well; really, too well.
With clarity of thought and rich personal experience of nearly eight decades of blotless public life, RV is even today forthright in his answers to questions put to him in an interview. He had the distinction of working closely with a galaxy of over three generations of Indian leaders starting from Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai, Rajiv Gandhi, V.P. Singh, Chandrashekhar, Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee, notwithstanding Rajaji and Kamaraj Nadar.
In his opinion, Nehru laid down invaluable democratic traditions in the formative years of India'sIndependence. He cited the case of T.T. Krishnamachari, one of the ablest Finance Ministers, who was not directly responsible for any lapse in the Mundhra case, but was indicted by the Chagla Commission. Nehru accepted his resignation on the principle of ministerial responsibility for administrative lapse though it caused great anguish to him.
Lal Bahadur Shastri, according to him was the most realistic, practical and down-to-earth, Prime Minister. ?Never getting ruffled, Shastri took cool and calculated decisions. His handling of the 1965 Pakistan ?incursion? elicited the admiration of the entire country, particularly the defence forces,? he said.
Speaking with emotional attachment to the legendary Kamaraj, RV said, ?A genius, that is, a person with common sense with an uncommon degree,? he was the architect of the all-round development of Madras state as Chief Minister. Kamaraj had no conventional education but possessed mental capacity to absorb every abstruse and intricate area of knowledge. Kamaraj, RV said, had the smallest cabinet of eight ministers for the entire state. Kamaraj had the knack of dealing with problems. Whenever people insisted on his doing something immediately, he would calmly say, ?let us see?. In fact, people used to cut jokes about his ?let us see answers?.
Venkataraman, who is a great votary of coalition governments, said that the time of one-party rule in the country is over. During his tenure from 1987 to 1992 as President, he had to deal with four Prime Ministers (Rajiv Gandhi, V.P. Singh, Chandrashekhar and Narasimha Rao). His relations with each one of them, though coming from different parties, were very cordial. Sounding a note of caution in governance, RV said that India should follow the cabinet form of government. Even though composed of different political outfits, they should abide by collective responsibility for all acts of the government. While parties could discuss different points of views within the cabinet, no party in the coalition should criticise or disassociate itself from cabinet decisions. He expressed with great anguish that the coalition partners in successive regimes did not follow this basic principle.
Often his tenure as the eighth President of India is described as ?copybook President?. He must however be credited for having restored good relations between the Head of the State and the government. He never allowed his relations to be vitiated with any one of the Prime Ministers. Political pandits who had closely watched the Rashtrapati Bhawan precincts say that RV possessed the intellect and wisdom of Dr S. Radhakrishnan and the humility and sacrifices of Rajen Babu.
Thoughout his tenure as President, RV visited one state or more each month to maintain close touch with the people. Efforts were made to club more than one state while finalising the tour programme, depending on the engagements. Planning was always made much in advance. During all the visits, interviews were granted freely to the people who met him at noon in groups.
RV has been a popular leader. He is his own PR and a PR man par excellence. This scribe had no difficulty whatsoever in working with him because he was a man of understanding and his understanding of situations was unparalleled. As Chairman of Rajya Sabha, he enjoyed the singular distinction of being equally respected by all sections of the House. It was well known in the corridors of Parliament that should a member wish to meet him, he could easily do so. He held a kind of open house from 10 a.m. to 10.55 a.m. when anyone could walk into his office in Parliament House. This practice greatly endeared him to all members. In the House, however, he was very strict and the Statesman once described him as a school teacher.
It is said that there is a woman behind every successful man. In 1938, he married Janaki Devi and has three daughters. There is a perfect understanding between both of them. They share many common interests, like music. Both at the Vice-President'sHouse and later in Rashtrapati Bhavan they organised classical music and other programmes at regular intervals. Both of them have encouraged a large number of established as well as budding artistes. Artistes feel at home in their company. His personal stamp was visible in the unique relationship that he developed with the artistes. Both of them were ably assisted by their daughters to set up a museum of presidential gifts in Rashtrapati Bhavan. The family with a smile on their faces parted company with some of the prized and valuable pieces of art received by them at home and abroad as personal gifts.
He is a very sensitive leader. The September 2001 terrorist attack on the US shocked him so much that he pushed out a long article providing concrete suggestions to meet the menace. He said, ?Terrorism has become a threat to the future of society itself. If the intellectuals want to make a contribution to the solution of the menace, they will have to strengthen the moral and spiritual approach rather than try to quell violence with violence. At the same time international organisations, like the UN, should be urged to initiate steps to curb terrorist activities.?
(The author was press secretary to the former President, R. Venkataraman.)