Neelam Sanjiva Reddy

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Neelam Sanjiva Reddy : biography

19 May 1913 – 1 June 1996

Although Prime Minister Morarji Desai wanted to nominate danseuse Rukmini Devi Arundale for the post, Reddy was elected unopposed, the only President to be elected thus, after being unanimously supported by all political parties including the opposition Congress party. At 65, he became the youngest ever person to be elected President of India. He was also the only serious presidential candidate to have contested twice – in 1969 against V V Giri and in 1977. 37 candidates had filed their nominations for the presidency of whom 36 were rejected by the returning officer. Following these disqualifications, Reddy remained the only validly nominated candidate in the fray which made elections unnecessary. Reddy thus became the first person to be elected President of India without a contest. He was the fourth President to be elected from South India and the third from Andhra Pradesh.

President of India

Neelam Sanjiva Reddy was elected, unopposed, on 21 July 1977 and was sworn in as the sixth President of India on 25 July, 1977. During his term of office, Reddy had to work with three governments under Prime Ministers Morarji Desai, Charan Singh and Indira Gandhi. Barely a month into office Reddy announced on the eve of India’s thirtieth anniversary of Independence that he would be moving out of the Rashtrapati Bhawan to a smaller accommodation and that he would be taking a 70% pay cut in solidarity with India’s impoverished masses.

Morarji Desai government

Relations between Reddy and Desai soon soured over the latter’s promotion of his son, Kanti Desai, in politics and over Desai’s communication with Chief Ministers Vengala Rao and Channa Reddy on the issue of land ceilings in Andhra Pradesh. Following mass defections from the Janata Party and from the cabinet, Morarji Desai’s 30-month old government ended in July 1977 after he handed in his resignation to President Reddy before a no-confidence motion could be tabled against his government in Parliament.

Charan Singh government

As President, Reddy appointed Charan Singh as Prime Minister following the fall of the Morarji Desai government with the condition that Singh prove his majority on the floor of the House before the end of August. Charan Singh was sworn in on July 28, 1979 but never faced Parliament to prove his majority when the President convened it on August 20. This convention of appointing a Prime Minister in a hung House but with conditions on time to prove majority was later adopted by President R Venkataraman. Following Charan Singh’s resignation, Reddy summoned Chandrashekhar and Jagjivan Ram to Rashtrapati Bhavan to look into the possibility of forming an alternate government but convinced that they would not be able to form one, he went along with Charan Singh’s advice and dissolved Lok Sabha, calling for mid term polls. Singh was asked to continue as the caretaker prime minister till a new government was sworn in after the elections. Reddy’s decision was met with angry denunciations and protests by members of the Janata Party who even threatened to have him impeached.

Indira Gandhi’s return to power

In the elections of 1980, Indira Gandhi’s party the Indian National Congress (I) was returned to power winning 351 seats in the Lok Sabha with neither the Janata Party nor Charan Singh’s Lok Dal winning the 54 seats needed for recognition as the official opposition in Parliament. Indira was sworn in as Prime Minister by Reddy for what would become her last term in office in January 1980. As president, he signed an ordinance that gave the new government wide powers to jail people for upto a year without trial under preventive detention and ordered the imposition of President’s rule in nine opposition ruled states on the advice of the government.

Freedom Fighter

Reddy joined the freedom struggle following Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to Anantapur in July 1929. In 1931, Reddy gave up his studies to become an active participant in the nationalist struggle. He was closely associated with the Youth League and participated in a student satyagraha. In 1938, Reddy was elected Secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Provincial Congress Committee and he held that office for 10 years. During the Quit India Movement, he was imprisoned and was mostly in jail between 1940 to 1945. Released in March 1942, he was arrested again in August of that year and sent to the Amraoti jail where he served time with T Prakasam, S. Satyamurti, K Kamaraj and V V Giri till 1945.