The elections to the Ninth Lok Sabha heralded a new era in the life of parliamentary democracy in India. No single political party could secure an absolute majority of its own in the House and there was, for the first time in the history of Indian Parliament, a 'hung Parliament'. In spite of this unprecedented political uncertainty, members of the Lok Sabha, cutting across party lines, unanimously elected Shri Rabi Ray as the Speaker of the Ninth Lok Sabha. Endowed with an inherent simplicity and transparent sincerity, Rabi Ray enriched and enhanced the prestige and dignity of the office of the Speaker by his impartial and judicious approach.
Rabi Ray was born on 26 November 1926 in Bhanagarh village in the Puri district of Orissa, famous for the abode of Lord Jagannath, He graduated in History from the premier College of the State, Ravenshaw College, Cuttack and later studied Law in Madhusudan Law College, Cuttack. The foundation of his future political career was laid when he was elected President of the Ravenshaw College Students Union in 1948-49 and as the first President of the Madhusudan Law College Students Union in 1949-50.
Rabi Ray, like the rest of his countrymen, was deeply drawn towards the freedom struggle. An extreme sense of patriotism, love for the motherland and abhorrence for foreign rule were ingrained in him since his student days. In early 1947, while doing his graduation, he courted arrest in connection with the unfurling of the National Flag. Though the country was still under foreign rule, the British Government ultimately had to yield to the students' demand for unfurling the Tricolor in educational institutions.
An ardent believer in socialism from his college days, Rabi Ray joined the Socialist Party as its member in 1948. Due to his innate qualities of leadership and his deep commitment to the socialist cause, he always remained in the forefront of the socialist movement. During 1953-54, he held the post of the Joint Secretary, All India Samajwadi Yuvak Sabha. In 1956, under the leadership of Dr. Rammanohar Lohia, he founded the Socialist Party in Orissa. He was also a member of the National Executive of the Socialist Party during that period. Later, in 1960, he became the General Secretary of the Party for about a year.
Rabi Ray's association with the Parliament began in 1967 when he was elected to the Fourth Lok Sabha from the Puri constituency in the State of Orissa. He was the Leader of the Parliamentary Group of the Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP) during this period. Rabi Ray, known for his outspoken and forthright views and for constructive opposition, was an articulate parliamentarian. His contribution to the parliamentary debates and indeed to the national life as a whole was as enormous as it was rich. In 1974, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Orissa and completed his full term of membership in the year 1980.
The General Elections to the Sixth Lok Sabha in 1977 resulted in a new political dispensation at the Centre. The Congress Party, which had been dominating the national political horizon since Independence lost power at the Centre for the first time following which the Janata Party formed the Government. Impressed by Rabi Ray's selfless service. Prime Minister Morarji Desai inducted him into his Cabinet as Minister for Health and Family Welfare in January 1979 and he continued in that post till January 1980, during the period 1977-80, he was also the General Secretary of the Janata Party.
The General Elections to the Ninth Lok Sabha were held in 1989 and Rabi Ray returned to the Lok Sabha on the Janata Dal ticket from the Kendrapara constituency in Orissa. On 19 December 1989, he was unanimously elected as the Speaker of the Ninth Lok Sabha. Fully conscious of the onerous responsibility and impartiality of the high office, Rabi Ray assured members that so long as he was the Speaker; he would remain above party politics and would be fair to all.
Although Rabi Ray's tenure as Speaker lasted a short period of fifteen and a half months, there were many challenges he faced in each Session, which he tackled with finesse and firmness. Besides having to give the decision on some ticklish procedural and related issues, he initiated certain procedural innovations, which have definitely made the functioning of Parliament far more effective as an institution mirroring the urges and aspirations of the common people.
One of the most important and far-reaching decisions, which Speaker Rabi Ray took related to the issue of disqualification of some of the members from the membership of the Lok Sabha following a split in the Janata Dal. Following the split in the Janata Dal on 6 November 1990, fifty-eight members claimed to have constituted a group representing the break-away faction of the Janata Dal and they adopted the name of Janata Dal (S). There were claims and counter-claims about the timing of the split vis-a-vis the timing of expulsion. Speaker Rabi Ray had a tough time tackling these complex issues. Displaying a high sense of responsibility, he examined the pros and cons of the issue dispassionately before arriving at the decision. His impartiality was well served by his legal acumen. Indeed, his was a precedent setting ruling.
Yet another important decision taken by Rabi Ray as Speaker was admitting the first ever notice of a motion for presenting an Address to the President of India for the removal from office of a Judge of the Supreme Court of India. He admitted the same and subsequently set up a Committee for the purpose of making an investigation into the grounds on which the removal of the Judge was prayed for. Since the motion has a life of its own under the law, it does not lapse with the dissolution of the House unlike other motions. The motion was finally decided by the Tenth Lok Sabha.
During his Speaker ship, Rabi Ray introduced certain changes in the practices and procedures of the House so as to provide more and more opportunities to the members for raising matters of urgent public importance. The 'Zero Hour', though not recognized in the Rules of Procedure, has always been used by members to raise issues and draw the attention of the House on matters of urgent public importance. Rabi Ray innovated an institutional arrangement to regulate the proceedings during the 'Zero Hour' for the better utilisation of the time of the House. After ascertaining the views of the Leaders of various parties and groups in the House, seven members were allowed to make brief submissions on the matters of urgent public importance one by one provided they gave their notices by 10.30 A.M. on the day of the sitting. This arrangement was appreciated by all sections of the House, as it not only resulted in matters being raised in a more orderly manner on the floor of the House and more optimal use of the time of the House, but also in very constructive results to the extent of forcing the Government to make firm commitments on issues agitating the House or large sections thereof.
The functioning of the Parliamentary Committees in the Indian Parliament had amply proved that they are a helpful adjunct to the political system. Keeping in mind the growing complexities of a modern Welfare State, a need was felt to have subject-based Committees broadly on the pattern obtaining in countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand to cover the entire spectrum of administration for an in-depth and continuous scrutiny of administrative performance.The Rules Committee of the Eighth Lok Sabha recommended the setting up of three Departmentally-related Subject Committees— one each on Agriculture, Environment and Forests and Science and Technology on an experimental basis. Speaker Rabi Ray hoped that the three new Committees would become the forerunners of a comprehensive system of subject-based Standing Committees thereby making parliamentary surveillance more of a living reality than hitherto.
Speaker Rabi Ray gave a new direction to the working of the Lok Sabha by allowing members more and more opportunities to raise issues affecting the common people, like availability of food through the public distribution system, drinking water facility, housing, health care, land for the tiller, agricultural inputs, employment, development of cottage and small industries, primary education, protection against exploitation and harassment of the poor and weaker sections. He also accorded priority to matters of national concern like communal riots, price rise, planning and development, strengthening of defence, etc. to enable the House to ventilate its genuine concern in these sensitive and crucial matters. He ably guided the deliberations of the House so that positive and constructive results flowed from the debates.
History was created during Speaker Rabi Ray's tenure when, for the first time, a Motion of Confidence moved by the Prime Minister, V.P. Singh was discussed and adopted on the same day. Eleven months later, history was again created when, for the first time, a Motion of Confidence was defeated resulting in the fall of the V.P. Singh Government.
The desirability as well as the extent of allowing T.V. cameras to enter the Chambers of Parliament had been under consideration for a long time, but a meaningful beginning was made during Rabi Ray's tenure when the Address by the President to the members of the two Houses assembled in the Central Hall was telecast and broadcast live for the first time on 20 December 1989. The Address by the President to the Parliament was telecast and broadcast live in the subsequent year as well. Later, Rabi Ray constituted a Joint Sub-Committee of both the Houses to examine the desirability; technical feasibility and cost involved in televising the proceedings of the two Houses, as he strongly believed that televising would bring Parliament closer to the people.
Rabi Ray was of the view that a Speaker not only acts as a guardian of the House but also has to ensure that the Parliament plays its due role in the promotion and strengthening of interparliamentary relations. He encouraged greater exchange of Parliamentary Delegations to promote bilateral relations in general and between fraternal Parliaments in particular, thereby giving a new direction to parliamentary diplomacy. He often stressed that parliamentary diplomacy facilitates airing viewpoints, defining problem areas, exchanging ideas and working cooperatively to find solutions to common concerns.
During his tenure. Speaker Rabi Ray led Parliamentary Delegations to different countries. He also led the Indian Parliamentary Delegation to the 83rd and 84th Inter-Parliamentary Conferences held in Nicosia and Punta del Este in April 1990 and October 1990, respectively. Besides, Rabi Ray attended the 36th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Harare in September 1990. He also had the opportunity to lead the Indian Parliamentary Delegation to the 10th Conference of the Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers in Harare in January 1990. Rabi Ray was elected the President of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in 1991.
Rabi Ray was ever keen that the generations to come should be made aware of the valuable contributions made by our national leaders. To recall, remember and place on record the services of imminent parliamentarians who played a notable role in the country's freedom struggle and contributed much to the development of the parliamentary system as well as to the building of modern India, the Indian Parliamentary Group, during his tenure, decided to celebrate the birth anniversaries of eminent parliamentarians by holding meetings/seminars/symposia, etc., and by bringing out Monographs under the "Eminent Parliamentarians Monograph Series". Resultantly, under this series. Monographs on Dr. Rammanohar Lohia, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Pandit Nilakantha Das, Panampilli Govinda Menon, Bhupesh Gupta, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, Dr. B.R, Ambedkar, Dr. C.D. Deshmukh, Jaisukh Lal Hathi, V.K. Krishna Menon, M. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar, S.M.Joshi. Dr. Lanka Sundaram, Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur and Pandit Mukut Bihari Lal Bhargava were brought out.
Rabi Ray was and still is actively associated with several official and non-official organisations in various capacities. He was Member, Central Silk Board, 1974 and the Chairman, Press Council during 1977-78. He was also a member of the Public Accounts Committee, 1975 and the Joint Select Committee on Lokpal Bill, 1977-78. His association with social welfare organisations include his Presidentship of the Lohia Academy and the Gram Vikas Foundation.
Rabi Ray is essentially an activist in attitude and an idealist wedded to humanism. Socialism for him is not a mere intellectual conviction; he practises it in his real life too. He is firmly convinced that socialism is an effective instrument for improving the lot of the underprivileged. In his early years, he had taken part in several constructive activities like building of village roads by mobilising voluntary labour. He also organised study circles and youth clubs like the Samajwadi Nirman Kendra for facilitating the emergence of a strong, broad-based youth and peasant movement on socialist lines.
Besides his special interests, reading and social activities on Gandhian lines, Rabi Ray has many literary accomplishments to his credit. He has edited the Samata, an Oriya monthly, and Chaukhamba, a Hindi weekly brought out by the erstwhile Socialist Party. His book on 'Parliamentary Diplomacy was very well received.
Though Rabi Ray did not contest the elections after the Tenth Lok Sabha, he continues to be a political activist taking part in intellectual forums. He has been spearheading a people's movement through a non-political organisation Lok Shakti Abhiyaan since 1997 against corruption in high places, excessive centralisation and a decadent consumerist culture. He has also been touring different parts of the country in furtherance of ensuring probity and transparency in all spheres of our national life. He also contributes regularly articles on contemporary political and social issues to various leading journals in Oriya/ Hindi and English.
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