Jagjivan Ram, or Babuji as he was fondly known, was born to a Dalit family 110 years ago on 5 April 1908. He holds the record for being a parliamentarian for 50 years, from 1936 to 1986, holding important positions like that of Minister of Defence, Labour, Railways and Communication. Additionally, he held the post of Deputy Prime Minister.
Babuji was the youngest member of Jawaharlal Nehru’s provisional government. As the years passed, he became a very influential member of the Indian National Congress. However, in 1977, when Indira Gandhi needed electoral support to continue the Emergency, he left the Indian National Congress at the time to join the Opposition – the newly formed Janata Party. At this time, prior to Assembly Elections, Babuji was to address an Opposition gathering in Delhi. To discourage people from attending the rally, Indira Gandhi ordered for the hugely popular movie “Bobby” to be aired on the only television channel – Doordarshan. However, that did not deter people, and when more than 10,000 people attended the rally, newspapers ran the headline “When Babu beat Bobby”. Babuji came close to being Prime Minister in 1978, but Maneka Gandhi’s newspaper “Surya” published explicit images of Babuji’s son with a college student, thereby drawing him into a scandal that almost ended his career.
Even as a child, Babuji was against atrocities committed against the lower castes, and twice broke a water jug in school meant only for untouchables. When he became a famous parliamentarian, he was allowed entry into the Jagannath Puri temple, but other Dalits (including his wife) weren’t. Seeing this, he refused to enter. Such incidents fuelled his passion to better the conditions of the lower castes in India and thus pioneered movements for their rights both Pre and Post-Independence. This earned him great praise from leaders and social workers, and Gandhi even said that Babuji was the purest gold having emerged from fire. After the death of B.R. Ambedkar, Jagjivan Ram emerged as the most prominent Untouchable leader. However, after Babuji’s death in 1988, the community was left leaderless and disorganised. (Ramachandra Guha, ‘India After Gandhi’, Page 612-13, First Edition).
As Rajendra Prasad writes, “A man of multidimensional talents, Babuji was a polyglot and a thinker. He worked for the awakening of all sections of society … Babuji influenced the social, economic and political life of the country for nearly five decades.”