Shri Ganti Mohana Chandra Balayogi had the distinction of having been elected Speaker of the Twelfth Lok Sabha and re-elected unanimously as the Speaker of the Thirteenth Lok Sabha. As Speaker, he contributed significantly not only in upholding the prestige and dignity of the high office he held but also in consolidating parliamentary institutions in the country. He was at the height of his popularity when the cruel hands of death snatched him away from amongst us on 3 March 2002. In his death, the country lost a young and dynamic parliamentarian.
Balayogi was born on 1 October 1951 to Shri Ganniyya and Smt. Satyamma belonging to an agricultural family in the tiny village of Yedurulanka, right on the banks of the mighty and majestic Godavari river in the Konaseema region of East Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh. He was second among three children with a sister above and a brother below.
Balayogi had his primary education at Guttenadivi village as there was no school in his native place. He did his graduation from Kakinada and obtained his Post Graduation and Law degree from Andhra University, Visakhapatnam.
Balayogi started his legal career at the Bar in Kakinada in 1980 under the guidance of Shri Gopalaswamy Shetty. In 1985, he was selected as a First Class Magistrate. But he resigned from the Service and returned to the Bar to resume legal practice in Kakinada. Meanwhile, Andhra Pradesh came under the sway of the "NTR wave" in 1982 when N.T. Rama Rao, matinee idol of the masses, entered politics and formed the Telugu Desam Party. At that time, many young and educated Andhraites were moved by the wave and Balayogi too enrolled himself as an activist of the newly formed party. Political recognition and responsibility came to him early enough when he took over as the Vice-Chairman of the Cooperative Town Bank of Kakinada in 1986. In 1987, he was elected as the Chairman of the East Godavari Zilla Praja Parishad and remained in that position till 1991 when political fortune pushed him for a higher position that very same year.
Balayogi's parliamentary career began in 1991 when he contested from the Amalapuram constituency on a Telugu Desam Party (TDP) ticket and was elected to the Tenth Lok Sabha for the first time. A first timer in the Lok Sabha, Balayogi took keen interest in learning about the rules and procedures of the House and also participated in the proceedings of the House.
In the 1996 General Elections, Balayogi lost his seat. The defeat, however, did not daunt his spirit and he continued to work with great dynamism and firm determination to serve the people. He was soon elected to the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly in a by-election from the Mummidivaram Assembly constituency. Subsequently, he was appointed as the Minister of Higher Education in the Government of Andhra Pradesh. As a Minister, he made sincere efforts to streamline and strengthen the educational system. He believed that the role and responsibility of education and training in the employment context must be defined carefully. He was also of the view that the type of education imparted should correspond to the societal tasks and economic roles to be played by the educated.
Whatever position he held, whether as a member of Parliament or as a member of the Legislative Assembly or as a Minister or as Chairman of the Zilla Praja Parishad, Balayogi all along functioned with quite efficiency and utmost equanimity. He held the view that those engaged in public life have a special responsibility in upholding ethical norms and moral values. In conformity with this conviction, Balayogi voluntarily tendered his resignation as Minister of Higher Education in Andhra Pradesh, owning moral responsibility, when a controversy broke out over the alleged leakage of question papers in the Intermediate Examinations in the State, a decision which was widely acclaimed as an example of integrity in public life. However, his resignation was not accepted by the Chief Minister who reposed faith in his Minister's integrity and Balayogi was asked to continue in the same position.
Suave and soft spoken, Balayogi was a person who took pride in making himself accessible to the people at large. This was evidenced by his readiness to attend functions small and big alike. A man blessed with indefatigable energy, he could be on the move the whole day and yet remain fresh, alert and agile. His proximity to the people led to a close association with various social and cultural organisations and activities, particularly in the Konaseema region of Andhra Pradesh.
Right from the beginning of his political career, Balayogi worked hard and devoted himself to the service of the masses. Time and again, he organised relief and medical camps for the poor and the cyclone affected in his home State of Andhra Pradesh, which had often been ravaged by natural calamities. He was also instrumental in efforts towards solving the drinking water problem in villages, improving communication and transport facilities and providing employment to teachers and legal heirs of deceased government employees. His commitment for the uplift of the poor and the downtrodden and his interest in rural development, especially the development of Konaseema, was well recognised by the people and significantly contributed to his rise as a leader. He laid a firm foundation to his political philosophy at the grassroot level during his tenure as Chairman of the East Godavari Zilla Praja Parishad and endeared himself to the people through various activities and programmes during that five-year-tenure as head of the district Panchayat.
Balayogi contested from his old seat, Amalapuram, as a TDP candidate in the General Elections held in 1998 and got elected to the Lok Sabha for the second time with a comfortable majority of over 90,000 votes. Destiny willed him to hold a higher position in national politics and with the support of the ruling coalition he emerged as the successful candidate for the Speakership of Lok Sabha.
Balayogi was elected to the august office of the Lok Sabha Speaker on 24 March 1998 at one of the critical junctures in the country’s political history. The Telugu Desam Party to which he belonged had been extending support to the ruling coalition from outside. The composition of the House was quite complex in that no party had a clear majority while nearly forty parties had representatives in the House. Given the character of the House, with the ruling coalition and the Opposition almost equipoised in terms of numerical strength, Speaker Balayogi, the youngest till date to occupy the office, found himself in a very demanding situation. Analysing the scenario on his assumption of the office of the Speaker, he observed that our country was undergoing a socio-political transformation and over the years the composition of the august House was also changing, reflecting this transformation. Balayogi strongly believed that the Legislature is an effective vehicle of social change and members have a stellar role to perform in pioneering the process of change and guiding the destiny of the nation.
The election of Balayogi as Speaker was, indeed, a precedent setting event in many respects. It was for the first time in the history of free India that a Dalit leader had been elected to the Chair. It was also for the first time that a member belonging to a regional party had become the Speaker of Lok Sabha. Thirdly, it was also for the first time that a person born in Republican India had presided over the Lok Sabha, which made him the youngest Speaker of the largest democracy in the world.
The manner in which Balayogi conducted the proceedings of the Twelfth Lok Sabha endeared him to all sections of the House. Therefore, on his re-election to the Thirteenth Lok Sabha in the 1999 General Elections, Balayogi was unanimously re-elected as the Speaker on 22 October 1999. The House had a diverse composition and was represented by as many as thirty-nine political parties. The inclusion of a large number of regional parties displaying a wide variety of socio-political shades had obviously made it quite an awesome body to preside over. Yet, Balayogi conducted himself and the House with honour and grace, thereby earning rich encomiums from one and all.
Balayogi’s stint as the Speaker of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Lok Sabha was remarkable in many ways.
Speaker Balayogi had observed that his first and foremost duty would be to uphold and maintain the dignity and honour of the House. He assured all sections of the House that as the Presiding Officer, he would be guided by the concept of collective wisdom and his actions would be non-partisan. To achieve the objective, he sought the cooperation of all members and parties in setting new standards and conducting the House with a sense of justice and fair play. In a short span, Balayogi left an indelible impress of his personality on the office of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and was popular and acceptable to political parties of all shades.
As Speaker, Balayogi was the Chairman of the Business Advisory Committee, Rules Committee and General Purposes Committee. Balayogi was also the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Conference of Presiding Officers of Legislative Bodies in India.
Balyogi was very sensitive to the need for maintaining the dignity of the House. His efforts led to the formulation and addition of a new Rule to the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha providing for automatic suspension of such members who come to the well of the House and create disorder. During his Speakership, an All India Conference of Presiding Officers, Chief Ministers, Ministers of Parliamentary Affairs, Leaders and Whips of Parties on ‘Discipline and Decorum in Parliament and Legislatures of States and Union Territories’ was held in New Delhi on 25 November 2001. The Conference adopted a Resolution encompassing a Code of Conduct for members of all Legislative Bodies in India. Balayogi had observed that the image of Parliament and its credibility as a representative institution largely depend on the role and functions of its members. He was a staunch advocate of probity and standards amongst the holders of public offices. During Balayogi’s tenure, the Ethics Committee was constituted in the Lok Sabha.
Another major initiative taken by Speaker Balayogi was the setting up of a Committee on MPLAD Scheme (Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme) with a view to further streamlining the functioning of the Scheme and making it more effective.
Balayogi believed that professional training of legislators was one of the surest ways of upgrading the standards of legislators and parliamentary and legislative business. To equip members better in their duties and responsibilities, he intended to further strengthen and streamline the Orientation Programmes organised from time to time for the new members of the Lok Sabha and members of State Legislatures.
Balayogi was the President of the Indian Parliamentary Group, National Group of Inter-Parliamentary Union and India Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. He was a member of the Standing Committee of the Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers as well.
The Speaker has to lead Parliamentary Delegations to foreign countries, meet high dignitaries during such visits and help build understanding and goodwill through parliamentary diplomacy on a people-to-people basis. He also has to receive visiting Parliamentary Delegations and play host to them. Balayogi travelled widely all over the world as well as in India, quietly attending to his various obligations with patience and perseverance. Balayogi was honoured with the decoration "WISSAM ALAOUITE OF THE ORDER OF GRAND OFFICER" during his visit to Morocco as leader of the Indian Parliamentary Delegation. While leading Parliamentary Delegations abroad, he addressed the Russian State Duma and the Turkish Grand National Assembly.
During his tenure, Balayogi led Parliamentary Delegations to different countries. He led the Indian Parliamentary Delegations to the 99th Inter-Parliamentary Conference held at Windhoek in Namibia in April 1998; the 100th Inter-Parliamentary Conference in Moscow in Russia in September 1998; 101st Inter-Parliamentary Conference in Brussels in Belgium in April 1999; 103rd Inter-Parliamentary Conference in Amman in Jordan in April 2000; 104th Inter-Parliamentary Conference in Jakarta in Indonesia in October 2000; 105th Inter-Parliamentary Conference in Havana in Cuba in April 2001; and the 106th Inter-Parliamentary Conference in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso in September 2001. He also led Indian Parliamentary Delegations to the 3rd Conference of the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians at Dhaka in Bangladesh in March 1999 and to the 7th General Assembly of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentarians’ Conference on ‘Environment and Development’ in Chiang Mai in Thailand in November 1999. As Speaker, he led the Indian Parliamentary Delegations to the Conference of Presiding Officers of National Parliaments at the United Nations General Assembly at New York from 30 August to 1 September 2000. He attended the meetings of the Standing Committee of the Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers in Tanzania in January 2001. He led the Indian Parliamentary Delegations to the 44th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Conference in Wellington in New Zealand in October 1998; 45th CPA Conference in Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain in September 1999; 46th CPA Conference in London in September 2000; and the 47th CPA Conference in Australia in September 2001. He also attended the 16th Conference of the Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers held in Botswana in January 2002. Besides, he led Indian Parliamentary Delegations to a large number of countries.
Balayogi received many visiting Parliamentary Delegations in India and played host to them. He also facilitated the holding of some major Conferences of Parliamentarians. The Conference on ‘Parliament and Media: Building an Effective Relationship’, New Delhi, February 2000 and the Eighth General Assembly of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentarians’ Conference on Environment and Development, Hyderabad, November, 2000 were held during his tenure.
Balayogi was fully aware of the work done by his illustrious predecessors like Vithalbhai Patel and G.V. Mavalankar in the matter of ensuring independence of the Legislature Secretariat and showed great wisdom and upheld the autonomy of the Secretariat by restoring the time tested tradition of appointing the seniormost officer of the Secretariat as the Secretary-General of Lok Sabha. He showed foresight and maturity by consulting leaders of political parties and securing a broad approval from across the political spectrum to his decision. In this, as in many other respects, Balayogi's legacy as Speaker was unique and historic in the annals of our parliamentary democracy.
The Speaker is a much sought after constitutional dignitary at public functions all over the country, which he would generally attend and address the audience on a wide range of subjects such as agriculture, culture, development, education, economy, environment, philosophy, politics, religion, spiritualism, science and technology, etc. Therefore, he ought to have a proper perspective on a host of issues as he is expected to address the public wherever he goes. Add to this the responsibility of looking after his own constituency which returned him to the House. It is a high pressure job which makes umpteen demands on the incumbent, thereby making his life extremely busy. Balayogi handled these responsibilities with finesse and elan.
When Balayogi was at the height of his popularity, he was taken away by the cruel hands of destiny. Shri Balayogi passed away on 3 March 2002 in a helicopter crash in Kaikalur, West Godavari District, Andhra Pradesh.
On 4 March 2002, the Deputy Speaker, Lok Sabha, Shri P.M. Sayeed made a reference in the House on the sad demise of Shri Balayogi. He observed that Balayogi’s functional style in the management of the business of the House was moulded by a common sense approach, demonstrable fairness, equality of treatment of all parties within and outside the House and an unfailing and bold urge to uphold not merely the letter but also the spirit of the Constitution.
The whole House joined the Deputy Speaker in conveying their heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family. The members then stood in silence for a short while as a mark of respect to the memory of the departed soul.
On the same day, in the Rajya Sabha also, the Chairman Shri Krishan Kant made reference in the House about the tragic and untimely demise of Shri Balayogi whereafter members stood in silence as a mark of respect to Shri Balayogi. Both Houses then adjourned for three days without transacting any business.
Earlier in the day, the body of Shri Balayogi was brought to Parliament House where hundreds of dignitaries paid their humble tributes to the departed leader.
Shri Balayogi leaves behind his wife Vijaya Kumari who has since been elected to the Lok Sabha from the Amalapuram constituency, three daughters and a son.
Shri Balayogi had fully stood up to the faith reposed in him by the House with courage, conviction, dynamism and humility. Thus, he joined the ranks of his illustrious predecessors who have adorned the Office and strengthened parliamentary institutions and traditions with their varied contributions.
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