Born On: December 4, 1910
Born In: Tanjore, Tamil Nadu
Died On: January 27, 2009
Career: Lawyer, Freedom Fighter & Politician
When Ramaswamy Venkataraman passed away, the Government of India declared a seven day state of mourning, a fitting tribute to a man who had spent his entire life in the service of the nation and its people. A true patriot, Venkataraman had the distinguished record of leading any post or organization that he was heading from strength to strength. And in his sparkling career he led many institutions with the wisdom and charisma of a true statesman. Be it defending Indians detained in Malaya and Singapore or presiding over the turmoil of coalition politics when he was the President of India, a period which saw three Prime Ministers in two years, he essayed each role with a felicity keeping only the national interest in mind. Venkataraman was perhaps the last of the ideal public servants who was noted for his work, integrity and commitment, rather than rhetoric and sycophancy that characterizes most of the so-called statesmen nowadays. A strict follower of the Nehru-Gandhi tradition, his life and work is a statement of the fact that he didn’t bring any blemish to the two greatest statesmen ever.
Ramaswamy Venkataraman was born in 1910 in Rajamadam village in Tamil Nadu. He finished his schooling from National College Higher Secondary School at Trichy and attained his Master’s Degree, from Loyola College in Chennai, in economics. Later he completed his law degree from the Law College and joined the Madras High Court in 1935. While practicing law, Venkataraman also actively participated in the Indian National Congress led struggle against British occupation. He was detained for two years for participating in the Quit India Movement of 1942. Venkataraman had an avid interest in labor laws and since early in his career as a lawyer he honed his skills and fortitude in all forms of labor law. When he was released from prison by the British in 1944, he took up the Organization of the Labor Section of the Tamil Nadu Provincial Congress Committee. Subsequently, in 1949, he founded the Labor Law Journal that was soon acknowledged as a specialist journal and edited the journal till 1957. Venkataraman also began to actively participate in trade union movements and led several unions. He also established a number of trade unions to look into the welfare of the labor force. In 1946, when Independence was imminent, Venkataraman was selected in a panel of lawyers tasked with defending Indian nationals in Malaya and Singapore who were charged with collaboration during the Japanese occupation of the two places. In 1947 he became the secretary of the Madras Provincial Bar Federation and served till 1950. In 1951, Venkataraman became a member of the Supreme Court.
Because of his labor activism and skill as a lawyer, it was only natural that Venkataraman found himself drifting into politics at a time when the newly independent nation of India required visionaries to curve its identity. Venkataraman became a member of the Constituent Assembly, which drafted the Constitution of India. The 50’s saw fervent political activity when he was elected to the Provincial Parliament serving till 1952, when he was elected to the first Parliament in which he served till 1957. In the same year, he was re-elected to the Parliament, but resigned from his seat to join the Chennai State Government as a Minister of Labor, Cooperation, Industries, Power, Transport and Commercial Taxes, on the invitation of K. Kamraj, and held the post till 1957. From 1953 to 1954, Venkataraman worked as the Secretary to the Congress Parliament Party. In 1952, he was also sent as workers’ delegate to attend the Session of the Metal Trades Committee of International Labor Organization and went to New Zealand as a member of the Indian Parliamentary Delegation to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference. During this time, Venkataraman also led the Madras Legislative Council. In 1967, Venkataraman was entrusted with the portfolio of Industry, Labor, Power, Transport, Communications, and Railways as a member of the Union Planning Commission and held the position until 1971.
From 1975 to 1977, Venkataraman edited the magazine 'Swarajya' while pursuing his political activity. At various times, he served as a member of the Political Affairs Committee and the Economic Affairs Committee of the union cabinet. Venkataraman was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1977 from the south Madras constituency and served as a Member of Parliament in the Opposition. At the same time, he was also the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Venkataraman re-entered the national political scene in 1980 when he was re-elected to the Lok Sabha and was made the Finance Minister in the Indira Gandhi government. Later, he was appointed the Defence Minister in 1983. Venkataraman initiated a radical change in India’s missile programme by consolidating the entire missile system into Integrated Guided Missile Development Program. It was Venkataraman who transferred APJ Abdul Kalam to the missile programme from the space programme, who was later known as the 'Missile Man of India’ for leading the ballistic missile and space rocket technology. Venkataraman was, then, made the Vice President of India in 1984, and later in July 1987 he was sworn in as the President of India serving till 1992. During his tenure, Venkataraman had the distinction of working with four Prime Ministers among which he himself had appointed three of them. It was also during his tenure that saw the advent of coalition politics.
Venkataraman, throughout the 50s and 60s, worked in various prestigious international organizations. He served a stint as the Governor of the International Monetary Fund, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Asian Development Bank. In 1953, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1959, 1960 and 1961, he was the delegate of India at the United Nations General Assembly. At the 42nd Session of the International Labour Conference held at Geneva in 1958, Venkataraman was the leader of the Indian delegation and in 1978 represented India at the Inter Parliamentary Conference held in Vienna. He was appointed a member of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal in 1955 and was made its President in 1968 and held that position till 1979. Venkataraman was elected President for life of the United Nations Tribunal.
Awards And Recognition
The Madras University, the Burdwan University, Nagarjuna University and Philippines University bestowed on Venkataraman the Honorary Doctor of Law. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Madras Medical College. He received the degree of Doctor of Social Sciences from the University of Roorkee. In recognition of his participation in the freedom movement, Venkataraman was awarded the Tamra Patra. He received the Soviet Land Prize in 1967 for his travelogue on “Kamraj’s Journey to Soviet Countries”. For his distinguished service as the President of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal, Venkataraman was given a Souvenir by the Secretary of the UN. His Holiness the Sankaracharya of Kancheepuram conferred on Venkataraman the title “Sat Seva Ratna”.
In 2009, at the age of 98, Venkataraman passed away due to multiple organ failure at the Army Research and Referral Hospital, where he was brought 15 days before with complaints of Urosepsis. He is survived by his wife Janaki Venkataraman whom he married in 1938, and three daughters.
1910: Ramaswamy Venkataraman was born in Tamil Nadu.
1942: Participated in the Quit India Movement and was detained for two years.
1947: Became the Secretary of the Madras Provincial Bar Federation.
1949: Founded the Labor Law Journal.
1951: Became a member of the Supreme Court.
1953: Became the Secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Committee.
1955: Appointed a member of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal.
1977: Elected to the Lok Sabha.
1980: Was re-elected to the Lok Sabha.
1983: Became the Defence Minister of India.
1984: Elected as the Vice President of India.
1987: Elected as the President of India.
2009: Venkataraman passed away at the age of 98.