By: Er. Prabhat Kishore
World has seen a number of personalities, who born in a downtrodden family, struggled for even basic amenities in early life, faced social discrimination at every step, but finally rose in power politics. Prominent one of such personalities was the renowned Dalit leader, parliamentarians for record eight times, and former Deputy Prime Minister Babu Jagjivan Ram.
Born in a downtrodden family of Chamar by caste on 5th April 1908 in Chandwa village of Rohtas District in Bihar, young Jagjivan has to struggle against prevailing social system of untouchability. In 1922, he joined Town School, Ara (Bihar), where he has to face cruel caste discrimination of Indian society. The school has tradition of two water pots, one for Hindu and other for Muslim students. Once, Jagjivan drank water from Hindu pot, upon which objections from a section of casteist people were raised and a third pot for untouchables was placed. Jagjivan broke the third pot, whenever placed and ultimately the school management have to withdraw the third pot.
In 1925, Madan Mohan Malaviya occasionally visited in his school and being impressed by Jagjivan’s welcome address, he invited him to study in Kashi Hindu Vishwavidyalaya. In 1927, after passing matriculation, he got admission in Kashi Hindu Vishwavidyalaya, where too caste hierarchy was at its pick. The Dalits were denied even basic amenities like food in hostels, hair dressing by barbers etc. Jagjivan Ram left Kashi Hindu Vishwavidyalaya after passing I.Sc. and took admission at Calcutta University for graduate course.
Jagjivan Ram was a long time crusader for social justice and a visionary leader. In 1935, he was instrumental in the establishment of “All India Depressed Classes League” to fight for equality and prosperity of untouchable sections of the society. Lateron, as a member of Constitution Assembly, he advocated for reservation of Dalits in the elected bodies and government services.
The political career of Jagjivan Ram was very hectic. He was nominated to Bihar Vidhan Parishad in 1935. On persuasion of Sardar Patel, he joined Congress and elected to Bihar Vidhan Sabha in 1937 and appointed as Parliamentary Secretary in Ministry of Education and Development. In 1946 he was induced as labour minister in first Interim Government. Later he held several ministerial posts in Central Government, namely – Communication (1952-56), Transport & Railway (1956-62), Transport & Communication (1962-63), Labour, Employment & Rehabilitation (1966-67), Food & Agriculture (1967-70), Defence (1970-74 and 1977-79), Agriculture & Irrigation (1974-77). In 1969, when spilt in Congress took place, he joined Indira Gandhi led faction and became its national president. In 1979, he along with Chaudhary Charan Singh was given position of Deputy PM.
Initially Jagjivan Ram supported Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during Emergency (1974-77), but on 2nd February 1977, he along with H. N. Bahuguna, Nandini Satpathy & others parted away with Indian National Congress. He formed “Congress for Democracy” (CFD) and contested Lok Sabha election on Janata Party’s symbol “Haldhar”. Indira Gandhi always termed CFD as “Congress for Defectors”. In 1977 general election Janata Party bagged 298 seats and together with its allies total 345 seats. Jagjivan’s CFD faction had 28 seats, and it is said that after internal assurance of support from 102 MPs of Jansangh faction and 35 MPs of Socialist faction, he emphasized on open election for leadership. JP and his Sarvodayan associates was not in favour of election but wanted conscious choice and ultimately Morarji Desai’s name was preferred for PM post. After resignation of Morarji Desai in 1979, he was elected as leader of Janata Parliamentary Party, but could not succeed to become Prime Minister. In 1980, Janata Party, contested Parliament general election with Jagjivan Ram as its Prime Ministerial candidate, but got just 31 seats. Lateron, he formed Congress (J) after separating away from Janata Party.
Jagjivan Ram’s greatest achievement of his political career was India-Pakistan war in 1971, during which bifurcation of Pakistan took place and a new nation “Bangala Desh” appeared on world map. His contribution to green revolution in India and modernizing Indian agriculture is also appreciated.
Jagjivan Ram faced same racial discrimination, as B.R. Ambedkar and others; but he did not part away from the root of Hinduism as Ambedkar did. He chose to fight the evils of the religion by remaining within the Hindu fold. He proposed a resolution in the 1935 session of Hindu Mahasabha demanding temples as well as drinking water wells be opened for Dalits. He organized Dalits, raised voice against inequality, become instrumental in enacting proper laws and slowly & steadily succeeded in diminishing this stigma in the society. Jagjivan Ram took his last breath on 6th July 1986 ending the record longest tenure of a parliamentarian.
(Author is a technocrat and academician)