I first met Jaipal Reddy in 1964 when he was the president of the Osmania University Students Union, the omnibus union of all student unions, and I was the general secretary of the Nizam College students union.

That year, there was a major struggle on the issue of university autonomy between Chief Minister K Brahmananda Reddy and the vice chancellor of Osmania University DS Reddy. The chief minister wanted full control of the university, one of the two big universities in Andhra Pradesh, as the state government financially supported the university.

The vice chancellor felt that ceding control to the government would mean a progressive dilution of standards and discipline. Jaipal Reddy was supporting the chief minister. It was well known that Brahmananda Reddy thought highly of him and was grooming him for high office.

However, Nizam College students had taken a contrary position and were backing the vice chancellor. Jaipal Reddy came over to the Nizam College’s famous Rajiah Canteen, where we effectively ended up having a debate in front of a canteen full of students.

A heated debate

Reddy was then studying for his second master’s degree and his fellow district students adored him. As he and I debated the issue, I realised how well read and articulate he was. He turned the general notion about a college student from the districts with school education in the vernacular struggling with English on its head. Here he was in full flow quoting Rousseau and Russell, storming my pre-analytic cognitive vision of a university free of political meddling.

His followers had no doubt he had won. But Nizam College did not join the strike. Later in life when he would bemoan the falling standards of university education, I would always remind him of the debate in Rajiah Canteen. Jaipal Reddy was always gracious to admit he was wrong and it was a mistake.

When I read on Saturday about the K Chandrasekhar Rao government appointing eight IAS officers as vice chancellors of the universities in Telangana, I was reminded about how it began.

A lifelong friendship

That first encounter with Jaipal Reddy turned into a lifelong friendship that grew stronger with the years, even when we were in opposing trenches. Reddy became a MLA in 1969 and his small apartment in the old MLA quarters became an adda for long political discussions and gossip over endless cups of tea.

In those days, Reddy was an admirer of Morarji Desai and approved of his liberal economics and austere life. Most us, his friends and followers, admired Indira Gandhi, while Reddy felt she was destroying the inner party democracy of the Congress. Reddy would always recall the tussle between the Neelam Sanjiva Reddy and Brahmananda Reddy factions in the party elections for the Pradesh Congress Committee president.

When Indira Gandhi and her immediate coterie took complete control of the Congress after the split in 1969, Jaipal Reddy stayed on with the Congress (I), because that’s where his mentor KBR was. But he felt stifled. It was during this period that Jaipal Reddy became well acquainted with the leading light of the Congress Young Turks, Chandrashekhar. He became a fervent admirer and his fascination for him took many of us towards him.

When Indira Gandhi suspended democracy with the Emergency of 1975, it was the green light for him to openly oppose her. He did it with gusto and his MLA quarter’s front yard resonated with his criticisms of Mrs Gandhi. I used to caution Reddy to go easy lest he be arrested. But he would scoff at the fears and would loudly say Vengala Rao who was chief minister at the time did not have the courage to do so. He was right, for Vengala Rao was afraid that Reddy in jail would become a cause celebre and Osmania University would become a hotbed of resistance.

Indira Gandhi.

The end of the Emergency saw the emergence of Jaipal Reddy as a national figure. The Congress swept Andhra Pradesh, winning 41 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats, but was virtually wiped out in the Hindi states. He became the leader of the Janata Party in Andhra Pradesh and became the new party’s leading voice in South India.

The Congress won the 1978 state elections in Andhra Pradesh but the Janata Party under Reddy’s leadership emerged with 60 seats and almost 30% of the popular vote, about 9% behind the Congress.

But history gave Jaipal Reddy another chance. In 1984, when Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress won the Lok Sabha elections in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination with 440 seats, and the opposition front benches were bare with leaders like Chandrashekhar and Atal Behari Vajpayee Vajpayee defeated in their bailiwicks, Reddy a first-timer in the Lok Sabha, became the Opposition’s leading voice in Parliament. He used to torment Rajiv Gandhi with his razor wit and incisiveness.

When VP Singh fell out with Rajiv Gandhi in 1988, Reddy emerged as the main spokesman for the Opposition. He reveled in this role. I had returned from Harvard in early 1984 and Reddy quickly co-opted me into the Opposition’s attack team. I would write position papers and would work with Reddy on how to dominate the newspapers the next morning.

Reddy would tell me, that since the Opposition did not seek a revolution, but only a reformation of the political process with an electoral victory, the task was to nip away at Rajiv Gandhi’s ankles every day with issues and criticism. When the Janata Dal imploded in 1991, Reddy persisted with the Opposition despite PV Narasimha Rao’s standing invitation to rejoin the Congress.

The stint as the Opposition’s frontbencher took Reddy more leftward politically. He would chortle over my description of Manmohan Singh’s reforms and trickle-down economics as feeding imported oats to racehorses so that the sparrows could eat the dung.

Credit: PTI

Reddy would also point out to his own inconsistency in opposing the Congress Party’s dynastic rule, when all the Janata factions became dynastic parties themselves. He swallowed his pride and rejoined the Congress. In 2004, he emerged as a minister in the Manmohan Singh government, but the ideological fires still burned within.

When Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi wanted him to agree to the Reliance plea that gas excavated by Indian producers be paid international prices, and not at a fixed rate, Reddy dug in his heels. He lost the coveted Petroleum Ministry and was reassigned to the Science and Technology ministry, generally seen as a sideline.

By now, Reddy was tired. He fought for his beliefs for long and was not willing to strike back. The rise of Narendra Modi and Jaipal Reddy’s intense antipathy for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh only cemented his roots with the Congress.

Only two people made an impression on my political and economic thinking. One was Chandrashekhar and the other was Reddy. Chandrashekhar died in 2007. A dozen years later, Jaipal Reddy has followed. When I told my wife about his demise early on Sunday morning, she told me now you will not have anybody to talk to.