Bye bye, not good bye, Venkaiah Naidu!
When I completed writing my book on agriculture in India named "Agriculture in India – Contemporary Challenges in the Context of Doubling Farmer's Income" I could think of no more an appropriate person to release it than Venkaiah Naidu.
When I completed writing my book on agriculture in India named "Agriculture in India – Contemporary Challenges in the Context of Doubling Farmer's Income" I could think of no more an appropriate person to release it than Venkaiah Naidu. To my astonishment, he not only agreed to my request, but insisted on a 'physical presence' function rather than one conducted on the zoom mode, which has become common after the epidemic experience. And only at Hyderabad to boot!
And the boot shifted to the other foot! A zoom function would only have meant a few speakers, operating from their homes, and an audience largely comprising friends and relatives. But a physical presence function, and one with the Vice-President of India being present meant a lot more legwork. I went about making arrangements, with the able assistance of my wife and children and children-in-law, and, of course, my loyal assistant Ramakrishna. Very soon the guest list swelled to the requisite number, (the staff of Venkaiah Naidu had suggested a number of about fifty). A suitably convenient, and well appointed, venue was secured, in the shape of the auditorium at CESS (Center for Economic and Social Studies). Not only did the function go off smoothly, but Naidu spoke from his heart. Understandably, as the subject, as well as the author, were close to his heart! Personally, I thought the politician in him had come to the fore when he came to the part where he extolled my virtues!
On another occasion, I had sent him a translation of a book I had written, on ethics in governance entitled "Paripalanalo Dharmapalana" which also contained some case studies from my career as a civil servant. It was one among many others I had sent in bunch. I had little hope that he would find the time to go through it. Imagine my surprise when, one day as I was returning from my daily game of billiards at the Nizam Club, I got a call from Naidu, telling me that he had read, and immensely liked, the book. He went on to say that, in a function which he was to preside over the next day, he would like me to be present, to be introduced to the audience! In deference to his wishes, and also as I deemed the invitation as a matter of honour and privilege, I attended the function. Naidu surprised me, once again, by quoting chapter and verse from the book! His commitment, to the values of ethics and morals in public life, must, no doubt, have been the inspiration.
The company a man keeps, it has been said, reflects his character. Venkaiah Naidu's while on tour, was accompanied by either the Secretary, the Private Secretary or the personal assistant, apart from one of the Aides-de Camps and his personal Physician. The entourage showed every sign of having been picked and chosen by him, personally, in order to ensure that only people with spotless character, and a record of efficiency and commitment to public service, were part of it.
Naidu was also very empathetic and helpful in his response to requests for assistance of various types, which I passed on to him, or to his office. Whether it was a transfer, promotion or recognition of achievement, he made it a point to refer my request to the people concerned, and to ensure that they received appropriate attention.
One memorable occasion was a function organised at Hyderabad in his honour soon after his swearing-in as the vice-president. The audience was a literal who is who of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. And everyone was wanting to express his joy and happiness. His popularity and following were clearly in evidence that day.
One recalls with pleasure, and happiness, the early morning meetings with him, when he was Minister of Rural Development, and I was an Additional Secretary, in the Land Resources department of that Ministry. The meetings were usually about briefing him about parliamentary matters or important meetings coming up shortly. They were always cordial and pleasant. While the rest of us knew, in the heart of our hearts, that he needed no such briefings, in view of his vast experience and background, he very politely pretended to have learnt a lot from them! The most welcome part of those meetings was the tasty breakfast that followed.
He was a great and attentive host.The breakfasts and lunches he arranged, on festive occasions, such as Sankranti or Dussehra, were unforgettable, as much for the company one found oneself in, as the delicious items on offer.
He, and the late Jaipal Reddy, as Members of the Opposition in the Andhra Pradesh State Assembly were regarded by the people of the state, as well as the bureaucracy and the political leaders, as epitomes of virtue, honesty and fearlessness. His reputation for only rising to speak when necessary, and never indulging in empty rhetoric, was such that Naidu, both as a Union Minister, and an Opposition MLA, never had to seek the intervention of the Presiding Officer of the House, in order to be heard.
Having never had the occasion to meet Prime Minister Modi in person earlier, or to have worked under him, during my service, I recall with pleasure a meeting convened by Naidu, as Rural Development Minister, attended by Modi who was then the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Such meetings were a common occurrence in those days, in view of the large amount of funds available with the Ministry, meant almost exclusively for the states. Still, I was deeply impressed with the mutual respect, and regard, of the two leaders for each other.
While I am not privy to MVN's plans for the future, I feel confident that he will spare no effort to share his vast experience, and knowledge, with people from all walks of life, from politician and bureaucrat, through businessmen, and academician to service oriented organisations, with his customary enthusiasm. And regale his audiences with the inimitable one-liners only he can think of! Few can match his ready wit, and flair for repartee. Take, for instance, the occasion when he said recently, that he would rather be 'UshaPati', than Rashtrapati. Or, his comment, about the functioning of political parties- "Election, selection and collection!"
The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh.