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A veteran freedom fighter with rich parliamentary experience and commendable knowledge of parliamentary procedures and practices, Shri Bali Ram Bhagat was elected the Speaker of the Fifth Lok Sabha in January 1976, almost towards the scheduled end of the House's life. Bhagat possessed all the qualities for the job—he was straightforward and upright, firm and fair-minded. He also had a deep veneration for the House and its traditions. Bhagat had the shortest tenure as Speaker since Independence—less than fourteen months—but within this brief period, he left his indelible impress on the proceedings of the House. His subsequent career as Governor testified to his inherent talents and abilities. His capabilities have been in evidence in various forums, national as well as international.

An agriculturist and political and social worker by profession, Ball Ram Bhagat was born on 7 October 1922 in Patna in the State of Bihar. He did his graduation from Patna College and later obtained a Masters Degree in Economics from Patna University.  

Bhagat's passion for politics and his intense patriotism led him to plunge into the freedom struggle during his student days. In 1939, at the tender age of seventeen, he joined the Indian National Congress and took part in many struggles the party had launched for the liberation of the country from the foreign rule. In 1942, he left the college to join the 'Quit India Movement' and remained underground for a period of two years. He was a founder member of the All India Students Congress in 1944 and was also the General Secretary of the Bihar Pradesh Students Congress during 1946-47.

Bhagat's association with national politics began in 1950 when he was elected to the Provisional Parliament. His keen interest in politics placed him in a position from where he could serve his motherland with selflessness and unflagging zeal. During these two years, he actively participated in various discussions and established himself as an able parliamentarian.

From the Provisional Parliament to the First Lok Sabha and then to the successive Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Lok Sabhas, the parliamentary career of Bhagat was long and uninterrupted. During this period, he held a range of Ministerial portfolios. He was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance from 1952 to 1956. In 1956, he became the Deputy Minister of Finance and continued in that position for a period of seven years, thereby having the distinction of holding the same portfolio during three consecutive Lok Sabhas.

In 1963, Bhagat became the Minister of State for Planning and held that post till January 1966. During 1963-1967, he was the Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance. He also had the opportunity to serve as the Minister in the Ministry of Defence for a short while in 1967 before he became the Minister of State for External Affairs the same year. He was elevated to the Cabinet rank in 1969 as the Minister of Foreign Trade and Supply. Later, he also served as the Minister of Steel and Heavy Engineering for a period of eight months.

 An able parliamentarian and a forceful speaker, Bhagat made rich contribution to the proceedings of the House. As a Minister, he always came to the House fully prepared for the Question ad debates and discussions. His parliamentary skill and eloquence, coupled with a constructive approach to the problems facing country, earned him respect from various quarters. Even members of the Opposition admired him for his deep understanding of the functioning of the various Ministries he handled from time to time.

It was with this background that Bhagat was elected Speaker of the Fifth Lok Sabha on 5 January 1976 against the vacancy caused by the resignation of Speaker Dr. G.S. Dhillon. A veteran Parliamentarian with vast and varied administrative experience, Bhagat was elected Speaker when the country was under Emergency. Cautious of the timing of his elevation to the office of the Speaker, Bhagat reminded the members that as the prime institution of the people. Parliament must ever be primarily concerned with popular will and aspirations. The debates, he stressed, should always be geared to the fulfillment of this lofty goal. He assured the members that he was but a servant of the House and as such he equally belonged to all sections of the House.

One who laid stress on discipline and decorum, Bhagat was a sticker for parliamentary traditions and propriety. His concern for procedural propriety is best illustrated by the ruling which he gave on a  Calling Attention notice wherein he observed that the taken on Calling Attention should be restricted to 30-35 minutes and the member Calling Attention should take only 3-4 minutes with the other members taking 2-3 minutes each.. The minister's reply should be complete but brief.

As a Speaker, Bhagat upheld the basic norms of parliamentary conduct and was always calm and composed even in trying situations. He was very particular about protecting the privileges of the members. During his Speaker ship, a question of privilege regarding the handcuffing of a member of the Lok Sabha while he was  being taken from the jail to the Magistrate's Court in Bihar came up before the House. Deploring the action of the concerned officials as highly improper. Speaker Bhagat observed that handcuffing a member of the Lok Sabha was in utter disregard and defiance of the instructions of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Government of Bihar. He expressed the hope that relevant instructions would be strictly and scrupulously followed in future.

A man of principles, Bhagat always believed in the Rulebook. On a particular day, when the Question Hour was taken up, he was distraught to see that most of the members in whose names Questions stood in the list were not present in the House. As a result, the Question Hour collapsed after a short while. Expressing his grave concern over the development. Speaker Bhagat observed that this was an unfortunate situation, which should not recur.

To strengthen the functioning of the Committee on Government Assurances and make it more effective, the First Conference of the Chairmen of the Committee on Government Assurances was held in March 1976 during Bhagat's Speaker ship. He emphasised that steps should be taken to ensure that the Government honoured and implemented the assurances given on the floor of the House.

The Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training (BPST), an integral Division of the Lok Sabha Secretariat, set up with a view to ensuring smooth, efficient and prompt services to the legislative bodies both at the Centre and in the States, was inaugurated by Speaker Bhagat in 1976. The Bureau, he stressed, was designed to provide institutional opportunities for systematic training, orientation and problem and practice-oriented studies in the various disciplines of parliamentary institutions, processes and procedures to all those responsible for the running of the democratic system—legislators, policy makers, administrators and various other functionaries at different levels. Convinced of the immense significance of the various training programmes. Speaker Bhagat was confident that the Bureau would, in the course of time, grow into a prestigious centre of advanced study and research and training in the field of parliamentary science, with its link not only with the State Legislatures in India but also with similar institutions and Parliaments all over the world.

During his parliamentary career, Bhagat represented the Indian Parliament at various international fora. Beginning 1951, he attended the Inter-Parliamentary Conference in Istanbul and later in 1981 in Havana. He also attended the 4th Commonwealth Speakers' and Presiding Officers' Conference held in London in September 1976. Besides, he attended the meetings of the Colombo Plan Conference in the years 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958 and 1964.

Bhagat had several Ministerial assignments on economic cooperation, trade and development. He was the Co-Chairman of the joint Committee on Studies in Economic Development in India and Japan, a body set up in the wake of the meetings between Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his Japanese counterpart, Nabusuke Kishi. He held this position for about twelve years during 1963-75. This body, represented by leading economist, businessmen and administrators from both countries, played a leading role in the development of vital sectors of the economy.

A firm  believer in international economic cooperation, Bhagat was an active participant in the preparatory meetings of the Asian development Bank in 1964 and 1965 culminating in the setting the Bank in Manila where he signed the Charter as the special Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the President of India. He also had  the privilege of attending the inaugural session of the Asian Development Bank as its Governor in Tokyo in 1966. He was the Alternate Governor to the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in 1954 and again in 1958. Besides chairing the UN Sub-Commission on the action of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities in 1972, Bhagat was  its member from 1972 to 1977. He was the Leader of Indian Delegation to the Conference of UN Economic Commission for Asia and Far-East (ECAFE) held in Tokyo in 1955 and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) held in Delhi in 1968. He also led the Indian delegation to the UN General Assembly Session in 1968 and again in 1985.

Bhagat was the Deputy Leader of the Indian Delegation that attended  the inaugural meetings of ECAFE and UNCTAD in Bangkok and in Geneva in 1956 and 1964, respectively, and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit held in London 1969 and in Nassau (The Bahamas) in 1985.  

A human rights activist, Bhagat led the Indian Delegation to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights which was held in Geneva in 1982-83. He also had the distinction of being the Chairman of the UN Seminar on the thirty-third anniversary of the Human Rights Commission in 1983. He laid special emphasis on the International Instruments of Economic Rights— notably  the right to work—as a distinctive part of the Political and Civil Rights. Another distinctive feature of his contribution was regarding the rights of migrant labour, people of one country working in another country without equal rights. Bhagat stressed at the various international conferences that the migrant labour should enjoy the same civil and economic rights as the local citizen of a particular country. The Covenants on the Rights of Woman and the Child were also prepared during his association with the international human rights bodies.

Recognising Bhagat's active and significant role in building beneficial international economic cooperation in the Colombo Plan, ECAFE and Asian Development Bank and in promoting Indo-Japan cooperation. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi once remarked that his talent had been substantial in realizing international economic cooperation.

Bhagat returned to the Seventh Lok Sabha in the General Elections held in 1980. During the Seventh Lok Sabha, Bhagat moved a resolution for negating the prison sentence passed on Smt. Indira Gandhi by the Sixth Lok Sabha. He emphasised the point, that no Parliament anywhere had exercised such a right after 1782 when the British House of Commons ordered the expunction from the journals of one of its earlier resolutions expelling a member who was duly elected in 1764. The Lok Sabha adopted the resolution in what has been described as a major procedural development in our parliamentary history.

Bhagat was re-elected to the Eighth Lok Sabha as well. For a short spell, he was the Minister of External Affairs in Rajiv Gandhi's Government in 1985-86.

Bhagat was appointed the Governor of Himachal Pradesh in February 1993, a post he held for four months. Later, he remained the Governor of Rajasthan from 30 June 1993 till 1 May 1998. His qualities of head and heart as also his long years in public life were major assets in his role as the Governor.

Bhagat has been a well known journalist and writer. During the 'Quit India Movement', he edited two underground weeklies—Our Struggle and Non-Violent Revolution. In 1947, he started Rashtra Doot, a progressive Hindi weekly from Patna. Besides being a regular contributor on economic, national and international affairs in leading national newspapers, Bhagat has authored two books on international issues: Non-Alignment— Present and Future and Commonwealth Today.

Continuing his six-decade long association with the Congress Party, Bhagat is committed to the progress of the rural areas and the weaker sections. He has been an active social worker and has never missed any opportunity to struggle for the socio-economic uplift of the landless labour and other disadvantaged section of the society. He articulates the voice of the underprivileged class through his writings in the columns of various journals and dailies.

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