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Picture perfect parliamentarians

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From behind the curtains: The portrait of Joachim and Violet Alva that will be unveiled at Parliament House in New Delhi on Wednesday.
From behind the curtains: The portrait of Joachim and Violet Alva that will be unveiled at Parliament House in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Kunal Diwan

NEW DELHI: Probably the ultimate honour for a person is his portrait being displayed at the nation’s seat of power, the Parliament, alongside pictures of the giants of history such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru. Now a firebrand freedom-fighter couple from the exotic land of South Kanara is being posthumously accorded this privilege for the immeasurable part they played in wresting independence from our colonial oppressors.

An unlikely couple that enacted several roles during the course of their enriching lives, Joachim and Violet Alva were, among other things, parliamentarians, lawyers and journalists, avenues that were all utilised towards the socially relevant concerns of their age.

A firebrand orator, Joachim Alva graduated in Law from the Government Law College in Mumbai and left audiences spellbound with his extempore skills, winning along the way several prizes for oratory and debating. Finding his feet in the cauldron of the Indian freedom struggle, Alva delivered fiery speeches which won him the commendation of many prominent leaders. He served two terms in jail for a total of three years.

It was at the Government Law College that Alva met the shy and reticent Violet Hari, a protestant from Gujarat and possibly the most unlikely bride for Alva who was Catholic and diametrically opposite to Violet as far as personality traits were concerned. However, the couple cocked a snook at society by forging a successful alliance that lasted till Violet’s demise in 1969, preceding her husband’s death by ten years.

Mutually deciding that they could serve the cause of freedom better from the platform of journalism, the couple shifted their energies from legal matters to the world of incendiary letters. In 1943, Joachim started the newsmagazine “Forum”, a publication that took a radical anti-establishment stand and strove to expose the ravages of British rule in India.

After Independence, Joachim was appointed Sheriff of Bombay in 1949. In 1950, he entered the Provisional Parliament of India. He was also elected to the Lok Sabha in 1952, 1957 and 1962 from South Kanara making him and Violet the first couple to be elected to Parliament under adult franchise. In 1952, Violet was elected to the Rajya Sabha and Joachim Alva to the Lok Sabha, both from Bombay State.

Violet also served as Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha in 1962 and was even in contention for the Presidential post in 1969 before being overlooked in favour of V.V. Giri.

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