What Shashi Tharoor is to the internet generation, Jaipal Reddy was to the pre-liberalisation generation: a walking Thesaurus, an eloquent speaker with felicity for English expressions that leaves any audience awe-struck.
The septuagenarian Congress leader, who passed away in Hyderabad on Sunday (July 28), was known for his rich repartee, provocative one-liners and playful turn of phrases that prompted his critics to call him “phrase monger”.
As the voice of the United Front during the turbulent period of coalition politics in the 1990s and later as the AICC spokesperson, the veteran Parliamentarian’s quips were the toast of the national media. A “good news copy” was assured whenever Jaipal Reddy held the briefing on behalf of the party that he represented.
He was sharp, erudite, media-savvy and never failed to impress the gatherings with his loaded one-liners.
When he returned to the Congress fold in 1999 after a gap of 21 years, he was asked about his experience in the Janata Dal which had suffered a series of splits because of the personal ambitions and bloated egos of its leaders.
Pat came his reply: “I stood like the Casablanca boy on the burning deck until the deck itself collapsed.”
After being a bitter critic of the Congress for several years, he returned to the grand old party because, at heart, he remained a Congressman—a firm believer in Nehruvian ideology and a true secularist.
“I left the Congress in protest against the temporary aberration of the Emergency. I have re-joined the Congress because I regard theocratic fascism (represented by the Sangh Parivar) as a very much long-term aberration. And, there is a remote chance of revival of the third front in the foreseeable future,” he had said at that time.
At the height of the friction between the ruling United Front and the Congress, which was extending support to the government from outside, it was Jaipal Reddy’s deft handling which used to save the day for the government. He could be all-revealing and evasive at the same time.
“I am just the spokesperson (of the UF). Don’t force me to become outspoken person,” he had once told this correspondent during a conversation on internal troubles in the coalition.
A five-time MP and a two-term Rajya Sabha member, he was the first leader from southern states to get the Outstanding Parliamentarian award in 1998.
He started his political career with Congress in the 1960s and headed the Youth Congress unit of the combined Andhra Pradesh. He became Andhra PCC general secretary in 1969 and held the office for three years but left the party in protest against imposition of emergency and had serious differences with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
On re-joining the Congress, a party he lambasted over the years, he had famously said, “I have staked my reputation at the altar of ideology”.
With exceptional oratorical skills and a deep understanding of the socio-economic and political dynamics of the country, Jaipal Reddy was largely seen as a thinking person’s politician.
However, it was this aura of elitism that alienated him from his roots. He was a national leader with no following in the state.
“Jaipal’s high-level English became the millstone around his neck. He had distanced himself from the ground-level cadre because of his elite and detached approach towards the state politics,” said a Congress leader from Telangana who had worked closely with him.
The erudition and the ability to juggle with English language came naturally to this son of a farmer who could not speak a word of English. Moreover, he never went to a convent school.
Undeterred by his physical handicap, having been afflicted with polio at the age of two, Jaipal Reddy learnt the life lessons in a hard way and was a self-made man.
Despite being one of the seniormost leaders from Telangana, Jaipal Reddy remained inactive and kept himself away from the media glare during the height of the movement for separate Telangana state.
During the decade long agitation, spearheaded by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and supported by the Congress leaders of the region, he remained neutral and chose not to make any comment on the statehood movement.
When confronted by the vernacular media, he used to come up with high-sounding statements in English which Telugu correspondents found it difficult to decipher.
“Such a detached approach to state politics robbed him of his local roots. He became the only national leader from the state without any following or his loyal faction either in the state as a whole or at a constituency level,” said a Congress leader.
In private conversations, he used to strongly detest what he called “hyper-local” politics and came across as a philosopher-politician interested in reflecting on matters of ideology, politics and governance.
Jaipal Reddy was said to have rejected the Congress’ offer of taking over from K Rosaiah as Chief Minister of the combined Andhra Pradesh in 2010 because of a lack of “grassroots support” either in Telangana or Andhra regions.