The passing away of two distinguished and dear friends, Jaipal Reddy and Sushma Swaraj, within 10 days has left me with a sense of loss. Jaipal Reddy, 77, and Sushma Swaraj, 67, were more like my siblings — Jaipal was an elder brother and Sushma, a younger sister. They were outstanding parliamentarians, able administrators and brilliant orators. Both had several similarities and their share of differences; similarities include their abilities, disabilities and their long and successful stints in public life.
Jaipal Reddy was handicapped by polio, but he never let it dampen his spirits. By his words, deeds and accomplishments, he epitomised the real meaning of “differently-abled” and proved to be extraordinarily able. I have asked him if he took any conscious effort to demonstrate that he was not constrained by his physical disability. He would say it was the spirit that mattered — the physical disability didn’t make any difference to his indomitable spirit. His life was a saga of an irrepressible creative spirit that transcended all obstacles to soar to great heights.
Jaipal was a great orator and an intellectual giant, with the ability to analyse each and every issue. With razor-sharp intellect and sparkling wit, he was a powerful spokesperson of the party he belonged to. He was an excellent speaker in English and Telugu. Both of us used to sit next to each other in Andhra Pradesh assembly and enjoyed exchanging notes. The ruling party members used to call us Tirupati Venkata Kavulu, comparing us to the two famous Telugu poets who used to compose poems in close collaboration.
Sushma defied a socially ordained disability — in our socio-political milieu, there are several impediments in the way of women getting their due. She overcame formidable social barriers by words, deeds and accomplishments, just like Jaipal. Born in the orthodox social order of Haryana, she rose from being the youngest Cabinet minister in the state government to become the first full-term external affairs minister of our country. It was no mean achievement.
In terms of their differences, Jaipal and Sushma belonged to different ideological streams. But the course of political events brought them together, for a short period though, when they were in the Janata Party after the Emergency. Both were strongly bound by their unflinching commitment to making India what it deserved to be.
Jaipal and I were fellow travellers for a considerable period in the politics of united Andhra Pradesh. We were comrades in arms in stirring the proceedings of the legislative assembly. We were vociferous in taking up issues of public importance and highlighting the omissions and commissions of the government of the day. Being senior to me in the assembly, he was a kind of friendly guide when I entered the AP assembly for the first time in 1978. We used to meet daily over sumptuous breakfast at each other’s homes to discuss and set the agenda for the day. And the day used to end with media persons checking with us if their headlines for the next day based on our interventions in the assembly were okay.
Though born in a feudal family, Jaipal had acquired a modern equity and rights-based perspective that propelled his political life. He never compromised on the core moral and political values and never hesitated to raise his voice against the political establishment to which he belonged to and its leadership. We used to often discuss the transformation and evolution of the polity of our country.
Sushma was my soulmate in politics. We struck a strong bond of kinship, which strengthened over the years. When I went to pay my last respects to Sushma, her daughter Bansuri burst into tears and recalled her mother telling her, “I come back relieved every time I meet Venkaiahji as I effortlessly unwind myself of all the burdensome thoughts like a sister does with her elder brother.” Cruel destiny has snatched away an affectionate sister from me.
I was associated with Sushma’s political journey and its twists and turns. In 1999, when I was in charge of Karnataka, she readily agreed to my suggestion to contest from Bellary in Karnataka and while I was in charge of Delhi from the party, she accepted the chief ministership of Delhi. She was gritty and graceful, both in victory and defeat.
Sushma had endeared herself to the Indian masses. She was seen as the epitome of Indian culture and a true representative of the core values of our country. Her attire, mannerisms, choice of words, modes of expression, effusive warmth and affection, politeness, demonstrated respect for seniors and elders, articulation skills based on the strength of conviction, force of logic and speaking without hurting others, made her one of the most affable political leaders of modern times. She won the respect and admiration of political leaders from across party lines and the people at large.
Both Jaipal and Sushma belonged to that group of political leaders who had strong convictions based on their vast knowledge and rich experience. They can serve as role models for younger politicians. In fact, their eloquent, reasoned and impassioned speeches must be studied by young politicians.
Their physical forms are no longer with us and their voice will no longer be heard. However, they continue to live in their stirring speeches and insightful writings. Those memorable moments, embedded in our national consciousness for eternity, will continue to inspire many and for long.
This article first appeared in the August 10, 2019 print edition under the title ‘Jaipal and Sushma, my comrades’. The writer is vice-president of India.