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Issue No.: 577 | July 2015

S. V. Raju: A Political Rishi

Nitin G. Raut
Singanallur Venkatraman Raju, popularly known as S. V. Raju took to politics like a duck to water. He was Executive Secretary of the Swatantra Party since its inception in 1959 upto 1974.

As a student of Khalsa College in Mumbai, he took a ‘right turn’, literally and figuratively, in Indian politics at a time when leftist ideology and radicalism was more a fashion purporting to be a sign of ‘progressive’ politics. But what in common parlance was called ‘right wing’ politics was for him the path of distilled liberal democracy which was his guiding star, and coincidentally was also the election symbol of the Swatantra Party.

Therefore, it was not surprising when at the age of 26, he was appointed Executive Secretary of the fledgling Swatantra Party founded in 1959 by political luminaries and statesmen like C. Rajagopalachari, Minoo Masani, Sir Homi Modi, K. M. Munshi, V. P. Menon and R. G. Ranga.

The formation of the Swatantra Party was itself a historic landmark in the landscape of Indian politics awash with socialism – a word open to interpretation or rather misinterpretation – and was a passport for the illiterate political leadership to throttle liberal democracy, squander public money on uneconomical and unviable public enterprises designed on the disastrous Soviet Union model which Nehru pompously called ‘temples of modern India’. It was a path that ensured economic ruin and political chaos till 1992, when faced with inevitable bankruptcy and sovereign defaults, India reluctantly opened its economy which more or less amounted to adopting the Swatantra economic policy, albeit in a limited way.

The impending economic collapse was foreseen by the Swatantra stalwarts. Swatantra liberal ideology – touted as capitalist by the ignorant – was precisely meant to abort this economic disaster. If the likes of Rajaji and Masani provided exemplary political leadership, it was Raju, who worked tirelessly behind the political battle-lines to provide invaluable administrative support for the smooth functioning required for a political party. He was indeed the unsung and unheard hero and lifeline of the Swatantra Party.

In the 1967 Lok Sabbha elections, the Swatantra Party bagged 44 seats (the highest in its short lived history) and also formed a coalition government in Orissa with Utkal Congress. When Raju as Executive Secretary visited Orissa, he hired his own private transport and stayed in hotels at party expense. He even called ministers to the Party office to discuss Party matters. Not for him the government paraphernalia of cars and guesthouses, much less cars with beacons. He was never the one to succumb to the temptations of political power which could have been his for the asking. It was Rajaji’s belief that government money was for the welfare of the people and not for Party work even if the Swatantra was in power. He adhered to Rajaji’s advice out of conviction and faith. He firmly believed in value based politics; truly an odd man out in Indian political and public life.

In 1971, flush with the Bangladesh war victory, the Indira Congress ordered snap polls. The Swatantra Party faced with a cash crunch called for a meeting to raise funds. Raju assured to contribute his mite. Unknown to the leaders, certain funds were still intact of which Raju was the sole custodian! In a way, he was also to become the moral custodian of Swatantra assets. When a section of the Swatantra Party was hijacked by the likes of Piloo Mody to merge with the Charan Singh led Bharatiya Lok Dal, the Maharashtra Swatantra Party, under Raju’s headship refused to merge. It was Raju’s undying hope that it would form the nucleus of a future liberal party, and retained the Maharashtra office premises while the national headquarters were lost.

Raju’s equation with Minoo Masani is another facet of his intellectual integrity. Both had fiery debates and arguments, but on policies, issues, principles and ethics in public life, both had a healthy respect for each other and complemented each other. If Raju was Masani’s confidante, it was because of his moral courage to call a spade a spade. This was mutual. Masani would never have trusted a sycophant or a ‘yes’ man. At a felicitation dinner held on Masani’s 90th birthday at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, Masani called Raju "an able political administrator”, indeed a glowing compliment.

In the late 1980s, the ideal of a liberal party was rekindled when Shetkari Sanghatana of Maharashtra, which shared the same philosophy with Raju, formed the Swatantra Bharat Party. Though he initially guided the formation of the party, he did not become a member as the Election Commission (EC) had made commitment to ‘socialism’ and ‘secularism’ a condition precedent for registration of a political party with the Election Commission. Raju challenged the constitutional validity of the EC’s diktat by way of a writ petition and the same is pending in the Bombay High Court. Socialism being the antithesis of all that liberalism stood for, Raju refused to submit to the ‘diktat’. Here is a living testimony to Raju’s uncompromising commitment to liberalism.

Raju was pragmatic to the core and dropped the idea of a liberal party when the Swatantra economic policy of free market economy was, at least partially, embraced by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in 1992, albeit under compulsion, and concentrated on Freedom First. In a way this also justified the Swatantra philosophy of a liberal free market economy as the only viable economic model for prosperity and job creation. Thereafter, Raju made Freedom First a voice of liberalism with a zeal and commitment that was the defining manifestation of his abiding faith in liberalism.

At a personal level, Raju led a simple and unpretentious life in a modest two and half room in a MHADA residential colony in the distant north-east suburb of Chembur with his family. He was a political rishi; simple living and high thinking. The only other person I can recollect who was inspired by such ideals and had a voracious appetite for public service was M. R. Pai.




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In this issue


Tribute to S. V. Raju

Truly, The Complete Man

Vivek Raju

S. V. Raju: A Political Rishi

Nitin G. Raut

Memories of S. V. Raju

Sharad Joshi

Raju Lived for a Cause

Y. Sivaji

S. V. Raju: A Personal Tribute

Minoo Adenwalla

My First and Only Meeting with S. V. Raju

Ronald Meinardus

My First and Last Meeting with S. V. Raju

V. Krishna Moorthy

Tributes from Friends


The Economy

Trouble Spots and A Way Forward

Sunil S. Bhandare

Point Counter Point : Every issue has at least two sides

Modi's Year in Power

Ashok Karnik

AAP's Ambition

Ashok Karnik

Cricket with Pakistan

Ashok Karnik

Facts and Rumours

Ashok Karnik


Life and Death

Firoze Hirjikaka


Questions Needing Answers

Ashok Karnik

Foreign Relations in the 21st Century

“Manufactured Sovereignty” in South China Sea: Sino-American Confrontation Heats Up

B. Ramesh Babu

Book Review


S. V.Raju


By Ashok Karnik

Educating Adults

Examination Reforms at the Bachelor’s Level

R. W. Desai

A Doctor In The Air: Ancient Aviator Anecdote

Cecil Parker

The History of the Swatantra Party

The Swatantra Party in Gujarat: A Shooting Star (Part III)

Usha Thakkar
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