Indian National Congress

Jagjivan Ram

President: 1908- 1986 (Bombay, 1969)

Jagjivan Ram was born in Bihar in 1908 into a family which could not claim the privileges of the upper caste families. Despite the odds stacked against him, he passed his matriculation in the first division and joined the Benaras Hindu University where he was awarded the Birla scholarship.

He passed his B.Sc. from Calcutta University in 1931. To have got himself educated despite social and economic disabilities and chronic poverty gave him a unique position in the prevailing political situation in the country. His first-hand knowledge of the socio-economic situation in the country made him a much sought after person, both by the nationalists and the men who ruled in the provinces on behalf of the British Government.

When a measure of popular rule was introduced under the 1935 Act and the scheduled castes were given representation in the legislatures, Jagjivan Ram found himself nominated to the Bihar Council. Although he could have found for himself a berth even among loyalists, he chose to go with the nationalists and resigned his membership on the issue of irrigation cess.

In 1937, he was elected to the assembly. The 1940 Satyagraha and the Quit India Movement found in him an active and enthusiastic participant. He was inducted into the interim Government at the Centre in 1946 and was the youngest member of the cabinet. Jagjivan Ram had arrived on the political scene as the representative of the scheduled castes and the Congress leadership looked up to him as an able spokesman of the depressed classes. He was a dutiful Congressman who sought to earnestly implement the programmes of the party.

With a characteristic combination of pragmatism and adaptability, he made his political career a conspicuous success. In the great split in the Congress Party in 1969, Jagjivan Ram found himself in the camp led by Mrs Indira Gandhi. He not only became the president of the divided Congress led by Mrs Gandhi, but also gained a virtual No. 2 ranking in the cabinet when he was appointed Defence Minister in 1970.

In 1977, he went to the Janata Party with Morarji Desai as the Prime Minister; he was once again given the Defence portfolio. The Congress (I) came back to power in 1980. Disillusioned with the Janata party he formed his own party, the Congress (J). His uninterrupted representation in the Parliament from 1936 to 1986 is a world record.

“The organisation, therefore, continued in the form in which it had existed in the pre - independence era. The administrative apparatus was also left unchanged. The old procedures continued to hold the field. All this certainly made for smooth transition and continuity but it smothered that soaring spirit of freedom which political independence had given rise to. This session fulfils, in a way, Gandhiji's wish, not fully, but partially, not in form, but in spirit. It heralds the beginning of a new historic epoch in the Congress.”

From the Presidential Address - Jagjivan Ram I.N.C. Session, 1969, Bombay. Template