S Jaipal Reddy began his career as a Congressman, and died aged 77 on Sunday, a Congressman. However, in his 50 years of public life, he did not always remain one. Reddy, who would always describe himself as a committed socialist, always put his convictions first, which made him quit the Congress and the Andhra Pradesh Assembly to protest the Emergency in 1977.
Never did the lure of office or reputation of his rivals faze Reddy — whether it was his grit and determination in overcoming his lifelong physical disability or contesting the Lok Sabha elections against Indira Gandhi from Medak in 1980, or taking on the might of the Reliance group as the Union minister for petroleum and natural gas in 2011-12.
Reddy was an exceptional parliamentarian, an efficient minister and widely acknowledged for his integrity and practice of clean politics. Reddy, however, is likely to be better remembered as a spokesperson, first of the Janata Dal and the National Front in the run-up to the 1989 Lok Sabha polls, for the United Front government from 1996 to 1998, and later for the Congress when it was in the Opposition during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee years. It was rare to find a party spokesperson with such wit, scholarship, and command over the language, which he backed with impeccable research and rare insights. Journalists would look forward to Reddy’s one liners.
Reddy started his political career as a student leader. He was a legislator of the Andhra Assembly from 1969 to 1984. He headed the Youth Congress unit of the Andhra Pradesh in the late 1960s, and subsequently was a general secretary of the party’s state unit for three years. He quit the Congress in 1977 to join the Janata Party. Once the party split, Reddy stayed with the Chandra Shekhar-led Janata Party, which subsequently merged with the Lok Dal to become the Janata Dal.
In 1984, as the sympathy wave for the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress after the assassination of Indira Gandhi swept away much of the Opposition, Andhra Pradesh was a rare state to vote for the Telugu Desam Party and other Opposition parties. Reddy won from the Mehbubnagar seat as the Janata Party candidate. He was a five-term Lok Sabha MP and was a member of the Rajya Sabha for two terms, serving as the leader of the Opposition in the House in 1991-92.
During the United Front years, Reddy is remembered for his work as the information and broadcasting minister when he tried to curtail the influence of the government of the day as well as of the bureaucracy on All India Radio and Doordarshan.
After he rejoined the Congress in 1999, Reddy became the party spokesperson. During the Manmohan Singh government, Reddy served his second term as the minister for information and broadcasting. He also served as the minister for science and technology, petroleum and natural gas and housing and urban development.
On October 28, 2012, Reddy was removed as the minister for oil and natural gas. Opposition parties alleged this was under pressure from a corporate house. Reddy, gracious as ever, did not blame either the prime minister or the corporate group, lest it gives ammunition against the government to the opposition and joined his new portfolio.