BAL RAM JAKHAR
Dr. Bal Ram Jakhar has the distinction of beginning his career in the Parliament by occupying the office of the Speaker immediately after his election to the Seventh Lok Sabha for the first time. He also has the rare honour of having been chosen unanimously to preside over two successive Lok Sabha for their full terms. A farmer-turned politician, Jakhar lived fully upto the challenges of the august office and conducted the business of the House with utmost dignity, decorum and objectivity. He relinquished the office of the Speaker in 1989, only to continue to play an active role in the Party he belongs to and through it in the country's socio-political life.
Bal Ram Jakhar was born on 23 August 1923 at Panjkosi village in the Ferozepur district of the State of Punjab. He had a brilliant academic career. He graduated in 1945 from the Forman Christian College, Lahore with Honours in Sanskrit. He is virtually a linguist, being well-versed in English, Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi. Jakhar is essentially an agriculturist, more particularly an orchardist. After graduation, he adopted the family profession of farming and made use of modem techniques for the development of orchards and vineyards in his farmlands. Through years of hardwork, he succeeded in converting age-old and barren lands into green meadows and flourishing orchards and vineyards, raising the yields manifold.
Jakhar's services in the field of fruit-growing received national recognition when he was awarded the title 'All India Udyan Pandit' by the President of India in 1975. In the same year, he was also chosen to lead the Farmers' Delegation to the International Agricultural Producers' Conference in Washington. During this period, he was elected President of the Punjab Cooperative Grape Growers' Federation and as the President of the Farmers' Forum of the State. Recognising his contributions in the field of agriculture, he was awarded the honorary degrees of Doctor of Science and 'Vidya Martand', respectively, by the Haryana Agricultural University, Hissar and the Gurukul Kangri Vishwa Vidyalay, Hardwar. It was his leadership role among the farming community that eventually pushed Jakhar into an active political role at the national level.
Jakhar's legislative career began in 1972 when he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Punjab. Within one year of his election to the Assembly, he was inducted into the Council of Ministers as the Deputy Minister of Co-operation, Irrigation and Power. He remained a Minister till 1977. On being re-elected to the Assembly in 1977, he was chosen as the Leader of the Congress (1) Legislature Party and in that capacity was recognised as the Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly, a position he held till January 1980 when he was elected to the Seventh Lok Sabha from the Ferozepur parliamentary constituency. Through his active role in the affairs of Punjab as a political activist, legislator, Minister and as the Leader of the Opposition, Jakhar had already proved himself to be a prudent and able administrator,
Jakhar was elected the Speaker of the Seventh Lok Sabha on 22 January 1980. Even though Jakhar did not have any previous experience as a Presiding Officer, he was completely unperturbed about the great responsibility cast upon him in his new role. With a realistic role-perception, with confidence in himself and with his innate common sense, Jakhar went on discharging his duties as the Presiding Officer of the House. He was aware that the office of the Speaker played a crucial role in the smooth and effective functioning of the House of the People represented by members with diverse linguistic, cultural, religious, regional and socio-political backgrounds.
Jakhar always strove to carry on the business of the House with utmost dignity, decorum and objectivity. Firm, but at the same time sensitive to the mood of the House, he laid stress on the cooperation of the members in the smooth and orderly conduct of the House and thereby in projecting a healthy image of the Parliament to the country and outside. Though he attached great importance to procedures, rules, conventions and customs, he did not let them blunt the opinion of the House. He subscribed to the general rule in a parliamentary democracy that the House is the ultimate master of its own procedures.
The manner in which Jakhar conducted the proceedings of the Seventh Lok Sabha earned appreciation from all quarters and endeared him to all sections of the House. Therefore, on his re-election to the Lok Sabha in the General Elections of December 1984, this time from the Sikar parliamentary constituency of Rajasthan, he was the natural choice to preside over the new House as well. On 16 January 1985, he was re-elected, once again unanimously, to be the Speaker of the Eighth Lok Sabha. When he relinquished the office of the Speaker at the end of the life of the Eighth Lok Sabha in December 1989, Jakhar earned the distinction of being the only Speaker in independent India to have presided over two successive Lok Sabhas for their full terms, only about a month short of a full decade (i.e. from 22 January 1980 to 18 December 1989),
Jakhar's decade-long stint as the Speaker of the Seventh and the Eighth Lok Sabhas was remarkable in many ways. All along, he remained alert in protecting the rights and privileges of the members individually and of the House collectively. He once ruled that any officer of the Government deposing before a Parliamentary Committee was protected by the privileges of the House. Similarly, though he respected the role of the Judiciary in a democracy, he held that each organ of the Government should act only within the realm allotted to each by the Constitution, each respecting the rights and privileges of the other. Accordingly, in November 1987, Jakhar ruled that courts cannot compel the Speakers to present themselves before the courts in defence of what is perceived as their omissions and commissions relating to the functioning of Parliament.
Speaker Jakhar was steadfast in defending all matters concerning the privileges of the House. He was equally resolute in defending the sanctity of constitutional offices and every attempt to drag such offices for discussion in Parliament was discouraged by Jakhar.
Jakhar's tenure as Speaker also witnessed the evolution of several procedural innovations and initiatives in the Lok Sabha. After 1952, for the first time, a comprehensive review of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha was undertaken in 1989, under Speaker Jakhar's initiative, and several changes were formalised and incorporated into the Rules in May 1989. It was also during his tenure that the Anti-Defection Law which provided for disqualification of members on grounds of defection was enacted by Parliament in 1985. The Members of Lok Sabha (Disqualification on Grounds of Defection) Rules, 1985 came into force with effect from 18 March 1986.
Jakhar's initiative in revamping the Committee System in the Indian Parliament is indeed noteworthy. The full-fledged Departmentally Related Standing Committee System introduced during the life of the Tenth Lok Sabha was only an offshoot of the original Subject Committee System introduced by Jakhar in August-September 1989, after years of deliberations during the life of the Seventh and the Eighth Lok Sabhas. Similarly, the beginnings for the computerisation and automation of the services to the members of Parliament were also made during the Speakership of Jakhar. All along, he also took keen interest in the expansion of the Parliament Library and its Research, Reference, Documentation and Information Services for the benefit of the members,
In the Lok Sabha, Jakhar has also been the Chairman of the Rules Committee, the Business Advisory Committee and the General Purposes Committee. He took keen interest in organising periodic Conferences of the Chairmen of various Committees common to the national Parliament and the State Legislatures in New Delhi. This facilitated the sharing of each others' experiences and thereby led to the more effective and purposeful functioning of these Committees throughout the country.
Jakhar demonstrated a remarkable sense of history when he took the initiative for the setting up of a Parliamentary Museum and Archives (PMA) and the Hall of National Achievements during his Speakership. The interest he showed in recalling the great sacrifices and contributions made by the leaders of the Indian freedom movement only testified to this sense of history.The celebrations marking the birth centenaries of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Dada Saheb Mavalankar merit mention here.
Another area that received special attention from Bal Ram Jakhar during his Speakership was in improving inter parliamentary contacts and cooperation between the Parliament of India and other individual Parliaments as also with the international parliamentary associations. With these objectives in view, Jakhar facilitated the hosting of many Conferences of Parliamentarians at different levels. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Regional seminar in 1981 and the Conference of the Commonwealth Speakers and Presiding Officers in 1986 were held in New Delhi on his initiative. He was also very actively associated with the activities of the CPA and the IPU. Jakhar also holds the distinction of leading the largest number of Indian Parliamentary Delegations to the IPU and the CPA Conferences and during visits to other Parliaments of the world.
Jakhar was a member of the CPA Executive Committee for several years since 1980. He was the first Asian to have been elected Chairman of the Executive Committee of the CPA in 1984 for a three-year term. In these capacities, he chaired and attended several meetings of the CPA Executive Committee. He was also elected a member of the Executive Committee of the IPU in 1983.
Jakhar relinquished the office of the Speaker on 18 December 1989 in the wake of the constitution of the Ninth Lok Sabha. The impact he made on the office of the Speaker and in Parliament and on the country at large during his decade-long stint as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha did not go unrecognised by the Congress Party which he served for long before coming to occupy this office. Recognising his own achievements and services to the Party, he was appointed General-Secretary of the All India Congress Committee (I) by the Party President in 1990.
In the General Elections of 1991 held after the collapse of the then Government, Bal Ram Jakhar was once again elected to the Lok Sabha from the Sikar constituency and became Minister of Agriculture in the new Government.
As the Union Minister of Agriculture, during the 1991-1996 period, Jakhar's primary concern was protecting the interests of the Indian farmers who constitute nearly 80 per cent of the population. In Parliament and in the Government, he successfully projected and protected the interests of the farming community. He strongly resisted both national and international pressures for cutting down the subsidies to the farmers in the wake of the liberalisation of the economy initiated by the Government of which he was a part. He firmly believed that encouragement to industries should not be at the cost of the farmers of the country. As the Minister of Agriculture, he represented India at various International Conferences relating to fisheries and agriculture, besides leading several Ministerial Delegations to other countries.
Jakhar did not contest the elections to the Eleventh Lok Sabha in 1996. However, he continued to be active in the affairs of the Congress Party and in the national politics. Again, with the Eleventh Lok Sabha proving to be a short-lived one, Jakhar soon had the opportunity to contest yet another election to the Lok Sabha successfully from the Bikaner parliamentary constituency in Rajasthan in February 1998.
Besides being a senior leader of the Congress Party and in the national politics and a distinguished parliamentarian, Jakhar has also been the Chairman of the Bharat Krishak Samaj and the Chairman of the managing committee of the Jallianwala Bagh Memorial Trust. He is also actively associated with numerous other socio-cultural and literary organisations. It merits mentioning here that he did not let his busy public life to inhibit his scholarly instincts as he authored an authentic work on contemporary Indian politics, People, Parliament and Administration. With his unceasing interest in agriculture, sports and literary activities, combined with his much demanding parliamentary and public work, Jakhar leads a very hectic life today, still very spirited and sprightly at 75.
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