During Indira Gandhi’s second term, he was part of core decision-making team
NEW DELHI: R. Venkataraman was perhaps the last of the great public servants who came out of the Congress stable in the old Madras Presidency and who distinguished themselves at the national level. He was in league with stalwarts like C. Rajagopalachari, T.T. Krishnamachari, Kamraj and C. Subramanium.
During Indira Gandhi’s second innings in particular, ‘RV’ became part of the core decision-making process, and was a member of the powerful Parliamentary Board at a time when the Congress had a powerful political and electoral presence all over the country.
After competently handling key Central Ministries — Finance and Defence — he was ideally suited for higher constitutional responsibilities, as Vice-President and then the eighth President of the republic.
It was during his Rashtrapati Bhavan days between 1987 and 1992 that he presided over the change from the one-party era to coalitions, having to work with four Prime Ministers — Rajiv Gandhi, V.P. Singh, Chandrashekhar and P.V. Narasimha Rao.
Born on December 4, 1910 in Thanjavur district in Tamil Nadu, Mr. Venkataraman had his early education locally and later in Madras from where he obtained his master’s degree in Economics. He qualified in Law from the Law College, Madras, and was enrolled in the High Court, Madras in 1935 and in the Supreme Court in 1951.
It was during his law practice that he was drawn into the freedom movement and he actively participated in the Quit India Movement of 1942, resulting in a two-year detention. In 1946, when the transfer of power from the British to Indian hands looked imminent, he was sent by the government of India on a panel of lawyers to Malaya and Singapore to defend Indian nationals facing charges of collaboration during the Japanese occupation of those two places.
Between 1947 and 1950, Mr. Venkataraman served as Secretary of the Madras Provincial Bar Federation.
His abiding interest in law, particularly relating to labour, and trade union activity led him to an association with politics. He was a member of Constituent Assembly that drafted the Constitution. He was elected in 1950 to the provisional Parliament and again in 1952 to the first Lok Sabha.
Though re-elected in 1957, he resigned his Lok Sabha seat to join the State government of Madras as Minister. He held the portfolios of Industries, Labour, Cooperation, Power, Transport and Commercial Taxes from 1957 to 1967.
Mr. Venkataraman was appointed member of the Planning Commission in 1967. In the 1977 general elections, when Janata Party swept the polls, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Madras (South) and he served as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.
In his long and distinguished political career spanning more than four decades, he served in key capacities with the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank. He was a delegate to the U.N. General Assembly in 1953, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1960 and 1961. He led the Indian delegation to the 42nd Session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva in 1958 and represented India in the Inter Parliamentary Conference in Vienna in 1978.
Stickler for rules
In 1980, Mr. Venkataraman was re-elected to the Lok Sabha and he held the Finance and Defence portfolios in the Congress government of Indira Gandhi. A true believer in the Gandhi-Nehru tradition, he always remained a stickler for rules.
He published his biography My Presidential Years after his Rashtrapati Bhavan tenure was over.