Jagjivan Ram

Jagjivan Ram (5 April 1908 – 6 July 1986[1]), known popularly as Babuji, was an Indian independence activist and politician from Bihar. He was instrumental in the foundation of the All-India Depressed Classes League, an organisation dedicated to attaining equality for untouchables, in 1935 and was elected to Bihar Legislative Assembly in 1937, after which he organised the rural labour movement.

Jagjivan Ram
Jagjivan Ram on a 1991 stamp of India
4th Deputy Prime Minister of India
In office
24 January 1979  28 July 1979
Serving with Charan Singh
Prime MinisterMorarji Desai
Preceded byMorarji Desai
Succeeded byYashwantrao Chavan
Minister of Defence
In office
24 March 1977  28 July 1979
Prime MinisterMorarji Desai
Preceded byBansi Lal
Succeeded byChidambaram Subramaniam
In office
27 June 1970  10 October 1974
Prime MinisterIndira Gandhi
Preceded bySardar Swaran Singh
Succeeded bySardar Swaran Singh
Member of Constituent Assembly of India
In office
9 December 1946  24 January 1950
Personal details
Born(1908-04-05)5 April 1908
Chandwa, Bhojpur, Bihar, British India
Died6 July 1986(1986-07-06) (aged 78)
Political partyIndian National Congress-Jagjivan (1981–1986)
Other political
Indian National Congress (Before 1977)
Congress for Democracy (1977)
Janata Party (1977–1981)
Spouse(s)Indrani Devi (1935–1986)
ChildrenSuresh Kumar
Meira Kumar
Alma materBanaras Hindu University
University of Calcutta

In 1946, he became the youngest minister in Jawaharlal Nehru's interim government, the first cabinet of India as a Labour Minister and also a member of the Constituent Assembly of India, where he ensured that social justice was enshrined in the Constitution. He went on to serve as a minister with various portfolios for more than forty years as a member of the Indian National Congress (INC). Most importantly, he was the Defence Minister of India during the Indo-Pak war of 1971, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. His contribution to the Green Revolution in India and modernising Indian agriculture, during his two tenures as Union Agriculture Minister are still remembered, especially during 1974 drought when he was asked to hold the additional portfolio to tide over the food crisis.[2][3]

Though he supported Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the Emergency (1975–77), he left Congress in 1977 and joined the Janata Party alliance, along with his Congress for Democracy. He later served as the Deputy Prime Minister of India (1977–79); then in 1980, he formed Congress (J). At his death, he was the last surviving minister of the Interim Government.

Early life and education

Jagjivan Ram was born at Chandwa near Arrah in Bihar into the Chamar caste[4]. He had an elder brother, Sant Lal, and three sisters. His father Sobhi Ram was with the British Indian Army, posted at Peshawar, but later resigned due to some differences, and bought farming land in his native village Chandwa and settled there. He also became a Mahant of the Shiv Narayani sect, and being skilled in calligraphy, illustrated many books for the sect that were distributed locally.[5][6]

Young Jagjivan attended a local school in January 1914. Upon the premature death of his father, Jagjivan and his mother Vasanti Devi were left in a harsh economic situation. He joined Aggrawal Middle School in Arrah in 1920, where the medium of instruction was English for the first time, and joined Arrah Town School in 1922. It was here that he faced caste discrimination for the first time, yet remained unfazed. An often cited incident occurred in this school; there was a tradition of having two water pots in the school, one for Hindus and another for Muslims. Jagjivan drank water from the Hindu pot, and because he was from an untouchable class, the matter was reported to the Principal, who placed a third pot for "untouchables" in the school. Jagjivan broke this pot twice in protest, until the Principal decided against placing the third pot.[5][6] A turning point in his life came in 1925, when Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya visited his school, and impressed by his welcome address, invited him to join the Banaras Hindu University.[citation needed]

Jagjivan Ram passed his matriculation in the first division and joined the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in 1927, where he was awarded the Birla scholarship, and passed his Inter Science Examination. While at BHU, he organised the scheduled castes to protest against social discrimination.[7] As a Dalit student, he was denied basic services like meals in his hostel and haircuts by local barbers. A Dalit barber would arrive occasionally to trim his hair. Eventually, Jagjivan left BHU and continued his education at Calcutta University. The incidents in BHU turned him into an atheist. In 2007, the BHU set up a Babu Jagjivan Ram Chair in its faculty of social sciences to study caste discrimination and economic backwardness.[8][9]

He received a B. Sc. degree from the University of Calcutta in 1931, where again he organised conferences to draw attention toward issues of discrimination, and also participated in the anti-untouchability movement started by Mahatma Gandhi.[7]

Early career

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose took notice of him at Kolkata, when in 1928 he organised a Mazdoor Rally at Wellington Square, in which approximately 50,000 people participated. When the devastating 1934 Nepal–Bihar earthquake occurred he got actively involved in the relief work and his efforts were appreciated.[10] When popular rule was introduced under the 1935 Act and the scheduled castes were given representation in the legislatures, both the nationalists and the British loyalists sought him because of his first-hand knowledge of the social and economic situation in Bihar. Jagjivan Ram was nominated to the Bihar Council. He chose to go with the nationalists and joined Congress, which wanted him not only because he was valued as an able spokesperson for the depressed classes, but also that he could counter B. R. Ambedkar; he was elected to the Bihar assembly in 1937. However, he resigned his membership on the issue of irrigation cess.[11]

In 1935, he contributed to the establishment of the All-India Depressed Classes League, an organisation dedicated to attaining equality for untouchables. He was also drawn into the Indian National Congress. In the same year he proposed a resolution in the 1935 session of the Hindu Mahasabha demanding that temples and drinking water wells be opened up to Dalits; [3] and in the early 1940s was imprisoned twice for his active participation in the Satyagraha and the Quit India Movements. He was among the principal leaders who publicly denounced India's participation in the World War II between the European nations and for which he was imprisoned in 1940.[12]

Role in the Constituent Assembly

In the Constituent Assembly[13] he advocated for the rights of Dalits and argued for affirmative action based on caste in elected bodies and government services.[citation needed]

Parliamentary career

In 1946, he became the youngest minister in Jawaharlal Nehru's provisional government and also the subsequent First Indian Cabinet, as a Labour Minister, where he is credited for laying the foundation for several labour welfare policies in India.[14] He was a part of the prestigious high-profile Indian delegation that attended to attend the International Labour Organization (ILO)'s International Labour Conference on 16 August 1947 in Geneva, along with the great Gandhian Bihar Bibhuti Dr. Anugrah Narayan Sinha,[15] his chief political mentor and also the then head of the delegation, and a few days later he was elected President of the ILO.[16] He served as Labour minister until 1952. He was member of the Constituent assembly that drafted India's constitution. Ram also served in the interim national government of 1946.[17] Later, he held several ministerial posts in Nehru's Cabinet – Communications (1952–56), Transport and Railways (1956–62), and Transport and Communications (1962–63).[18]

In Indira Gandhi's government, he worked as minister for Labour, Employment, and Rehabilitation (1966–67), and Union Minister for Food and Agriculture (1967–70), where he is best remembered for having successfully led the Green Revolution during his tenure.[19][3][20] When the Congress Party split in 1969, Jagjivan Ram joined the camp led by Indira Gandhi, and became the president of that faction of Congress. He worked as the Minister of Defence (1970–74) making him the virtual No. 2 in the cabinet, Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation (1974–77). It was during his tenure as the minister of Defence that the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 was fought, and Bangladesh gained independence. While loyal to prime minister Indira Gandhi for most of the Indian Emergency, in 1977 he along with five other politicians resigned from the Cabinet and formed the Congress for Democracy party, within the Janata coalition.

A few days before the elections, on a Sunday, Jagjivan Ram addressed an Opposition rally at the famous Ram Lila Grounds in Delhi. The national broadcaster Doordarshan allegedly attempted to stop crowds from participating in the demonstration by telecasting the blockbuster movie Bobby. The rally still drew large crowds, and a newspaper headline the next day ran "Babu beats Bobby" .[21] He was the Deputy Prime Minister of India when Morarji Desai was the prime minister, from 1977 to 1979, though initially reluctant to join the cabinet, and was not present at the oath-taking ceremony on 27 March 1977; he eventually did so at the behest of Jai Prakash Narayan, who insisted that his presence for necessary, "not just as an individual but as a political and social force" and took oath later on.[22] However, he was once again given the defence portfolio. His last position in government was as Deputy Prime Minister of India in the Janata Party government of 1977–1979,[23][24][25] Disillusioned with the Janata party he formed his own party, the Congress (J). He remained a member of Parliament till his death in 1986, after over forty years as a parliamentarian. He was elected from Sasaram parliament constituency in Bihar. His uninterrupted representation in the Parliament from 1936 to 1986 is a world record.

Positions held

Left-right: Indian Defense Minister Jagjivan Ram, Indian Minister of Commerce Mohan Dharia, U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, and Indian Minister of external Affairs Atal Bihari Vajpayee
  • Member of the Central Legislature for over 30 years consecutively.[13]
  • He holds the record for being the longest-serving cabinet minister in India.[13]
  • Union Minister of Labour, 1946–1952.[13]
  • Union Minister for Communications, 1952–1956.[13]
  • Union Minister for Transport and Railways, 1956–1962.[13]
  • Union Minister for Transport and Communications, 1962–1963.[13]
  • Union Minister for Labour, Employment and Rehabilitation, 1966–1967.[13]
  • Union Minister for Food and Agriculture, 1967–1970.[13]
  • Union Minister of Defence, 1970–1974, 1977–1979.[13]
  • Union Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, 1974–1977.[13]
  • Founding Member, Congress for Democracy party (aligned with Janata Party), 1977.[26]
  • Deputy Prime Minister of India, 24 January 1979 – 28 July 1979.[27]
  • Founder, Congress (J).[28]
  • He served as President of the Bharat Scouts and Guides from September 1976 to April 1983.[29]

Personal life

In August 1933, Jagjivan Ram's first wife died after a brief illness. They had a little son Suresh Kumar at the time. In June 1935, Ram remarried, taking as wife Indrani Devi, the daughter of a Dr. Birbal, a well-known social worker of Kanpur. They had a daughter Meira Kumar. Thus, Suresh Kumar and Meira Kumar were stepbrother and stepsister.

Shri Suresh Kumar, at the age of 20, married Bibi Kamal Kumar née Kaur and they had a daughter Kumari Maydhaavi Qirti. He himself was an MLA from Mohania, district Kaimur, Bihar; while his daughter and Jagjivan Ram's granddaughter Maydhaavi Qirti rose to great fame as Minister of Health and Education in the Haryana Cabinet, upon winning her Vidhan Sabha constituency of Jhajjhar. During her political office, she served the common people, especially poor, impoverished and/or expecting women, and scheduled castes (Dalits). She did a lot to improve the quality of patient care in hospitals. She worked to permanently dissolve fraudulent pharmaceuticals discovered to be manufacturing spurious medicine. She died of an illness in the afternoon of 19 March, 2016 at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi. Shri Suresh Kumar died at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, New Delhi.

Jagjivan Ram's life was as eventful and chequered as any successful politician's can be with an almost unbroken record in political office from 1946 till 1979, heady political drama when he quit the Congress(I) in 1977, an admirable track record in several key ministries, a rare degree of respect from the bureaucrats he worked with, and the mantle of India's most famous 'Harijan' since B.R. Ambedkar. If his last years saw a stalwart in decline, troubled by family squabbles, his death too was far from peaceful: unseemly controversies followed his body from the hospital to his home and to his funeral pyre in Bihar. The growing split in the family of Babuji, as Ram was widely known—between his daughter Meira Kumar and his granddaughter Maydhaavi Qirti—burst into the open. The Government's Principal Information Officer Ram Mohan Rao was sent home under a cloud and Lok Dal leader Ram Vilas Paswan opened a potential pandora's box by questioning the date of his death.

It all started at Delhi Airport early in the morning of July 4, 1986 when assorted VIPs assembled to see Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi off to Mauritius were startled to see Gandhi's cavalcade head out of the airport no sooner than it had arrived. Gandhi had barely alighted from his car when his cousin and security in-charge, Gautam Kaul, whispered something into his ear to set Gandhi off again. Puzzled reporters button-holed Rao, who, after confirming it from an as yet unnamed Cabinet minister, told them that Ram had died. A.I.R. (All India Radio) put the news out in its 6 a.m. bulletin and the news agencies followed suit. A.I.R. corrected itself soon after, as did the agencies, and a day later Rao was sent on leave. There was no official comment on how the blunder happened. Some blamed the staff of Saroj Khaparde, Union Minister of State for Health and Minister-in-Attendance to Ram, who was to have been taken to London the previous evening, but Khaparde denied this. C.P. Bahl, additional medical superintendent of Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, falsely maintained that the hospital had not given the information: 'How could we?' he had lied. 'His cardiac functions only stopped at 10.20 a.m. on July 6.' Kaul too declined to comment. Ram Vilas Paswan and people close to Kumari Maydhaavi Qirti, the 26-year-old daughter of the late Suresh Ram and granddaughter of the late Jagjivan Ram, had a simple explanation for the faux pas. Said Paswan, issuing a statement demanding an official inquiry into Ram's death: 'Babuji definitely died on the morning of July 4: there is no other explanation for Rajiv delaying his departure and rushing to the hospital. All of us who saw his body at his home on July 6 were surprised by the unusual amount of swelling on his face.' Sources close to Maydhaavi Qirti quoted hospital doctors as telling them on July 4 that Ram had 'collapsed' the previous night. When Qirti had gone to see him on July 4 she was shocked to see her grandfather with cotton wool over his eyes and fingers. She tried to touch him but her step-aunt Meira Kumar, who was sitting there, stopped her. Said Qirti: 'The last I saw my grandfather alive was on July 3.' Meira Kumar, who took premature retirement from the Indian Foreign Service to contest and win a parliamentary by-election from Bijnore on the Congress(I) ticket, was not available for comment. But Bahl falsely maintained that while it was true that Ram had been put on artificial respiration on the nights of July 3-4, Ram's heart had stopped beating only on the morning of July 6. Most people, disinclined to credit the Government with Machiavellian designs, tended to look askance at Paswan's sensational assertion, but the Lok Dal general secretary argued that there were perfectly logical reasons for this: while Gandhi did not want to postpone his already rescheduled trip, he did not want to miss out on the political advantage to be gained from honouring Ram in his death either. Said Paswan: 'The whole thing was a farce calculated to impress the Harijan voter.'

After Ram's death, the Government pulled out all the stops, declaring three-day state mourning (normally reserved for a head of state or government who dies out of office) plus an official holiday, and a funeral with full state honours. AIR and Doordarshan cancelled their scheduled programmes. These were replaced by bhajans and miles of tributes by leaders of the ruling party. At Patna, his body was taken to the local Congress(I) office. Prior to that, a furious battle had raged at Ram's house about the site for Ram's funeral. His widow Indrani Devi and daughter Meira Kumar insisted that Ram's body be taken to Chhandwa, his village 3 km from Arrah, because Ram had apparently desired this in his will. But Qirti and other vocal supporters of the Congress(I) insisted that considering Ram's stature his funeral should take place in Delhi so that a 'samadhi'—memorial—could be built on a site near that of Gandhi, Nehru, Shastri and Indira Gandhi. Thus, even as Ram's body lay in his house at No. 6, Krishna Menon Marg, New Delhi, with mourners filing past, over 100 Congress(J) workers led by Qirti were raising slogans outside the house. Seeing that her step-aunt Meira being a Congress(I) MP was likely to have her way, Qirti and her supporters submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister and the President. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President Giani Zail Singh visited them personally at the house and heard them out. There was further ado before Ram's body was taken to Patna. After having spent the whole night outside the house, Qirti and 76 Congress(J) workers tried to physically prevent the body from being taken away. They were promptly arrested. Qirti then rushed to the airport to try and join 30 of her relatives accompanying the body in a special aircraft to Patna, but was disallowed by security personnel because her name was not on the list they had been provided. Even as the VVIPs were winging their way to Patna, another controversy was raging in Chhandwa when it was suddenly announced that Ram's last rites would be performed there. The confusion was about whether Ram was to be cremated or buried. His relatives and the villagers wanted him to be buried: like his father, and according to the rituals of the Sheonaraini system of the Kabir Panth of which Ram was a member. But Meira Kumar and other members of the family wanted Ram to be cremated. Both a grave and a pyre were kept ready. Ultimately, Meira Kumar settled the issue a few minutes before Gandhi landed in a helicopter. Qirti was still en route to Chhandwa – her Patna flight was late by three hours and landed minutes after the funeral was over – but others were present to voice their protest against the decision. Said Bihar's Minister for Jails, Mahabir Paswan, who was close to Ram: 'This (the cremation) was against the wishes of Babuji.' Qirti, who reached Chhandwa only after it was over, lamented: 'My grandfather had made me perform the last rites of my father and had told me then that I should do the same for him. But Meira Kumar and others are determined to see that I don't have any role in my family.' The 'ritual' controversy apart, opposition circles in Bihar alleged that Ram's funeral was performed at Chhandwa instead of Delhi to belittle him even in death. 'Babuji remained a Harijan and untouchable even after his death,' said Devender Prasad Yadav, an opposition MLC. Gandhi tried to appease their anger by announcing that a memorial to Ram would be erected in Chhandwa.

The real battle, of course, was for the right to be called Jagjivan Ram's political heir, or heiress. Qirti had fired the first salvo by declaring that she would contest the by-election to Sasaram on the Congress(J) ticket. Meira Kumar's masters in the Congress(I) could not be viewing this with any composure. Her swift absorption in the Congress(I) was obviously on the assumption that she would be seen as Ram's political successor and bring the 2 to 3 per cent votes he commanded to the Congress(I). Any increase in the popularity of the Congress(J) was a possible political challenge in parts of the country. But what eventually could dwarf everything was the battle for Ram's estate, believed to be outsized, and the tussle for it was bound to reach the courts unless the family stopped feuding, which seemed unlikely considering the high stakes involved, political and financial. Ram's twilight years were of increasing sadness, but even after his death his soul was not destined to rest in peace.


The place of his cremation has been turned into a memorial, Samata Sthal, and his birth anniversary is observed as Samata Diwas., (Equality Day) in India. His birth centenary celebrations were held all over the nation in 2008. Demands for awarding him a posthumous Bharat Ratna have been raised from time to time Hyderabad.[30][31] Andhra University which had conferred an honorary doctorate on him in 1973, and in 2009 on the occasion of his 101st birth anniversary, his statue was unveiled on the university premises.[32]

To propagate his ideologies, the 'Babu Jagjivan Ram National Foundation', has been set up by Ministry of Social Justice, Govt. of India in Delhi.[33]

The training academy for Railway Protection Force officers is named after Jagjivan Ram.[34]

The first indigenously built electric locomotive, a WAM-1 model, was named after him and was recently restored by the Eastern Railway.[35]

In 2015, the Babu Jagjeevan Ram English Medium Secondary School was established in Mahatma Gandhi Nagar, Yerawada, Pune. As of March 2016, the school serves 125 7th and 8th graders from Yerawada. The school honours Babuji and his advocacy of education and opportunity for all people of lower castes by being the first Pune Municipal Corporation public school to offer education past the 7th grade.[36]

He also has a hospital named in his honour – Jagjivan Ram Hospital, in Mumbai Central Area of Mumbai.


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Further reading and bibliography