CONDOLENCES: SS Ray passes away at 90 – the passing of yet another era ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH BUREAU
Calcutta, Nov. 6: Siddhartha Shankar Ray, who headed the last Congress government in Bengal between 1972 and 1977, died at his Beltala residence this evening.
He was 90 and is survived by his wife Maya.
The former chief minister, who started his career as a barrister in Calcutta High Court, had been suffering from chronic renal failure that led to cardiac arrest.
Ray’s physician Santanu Sanyal said he had been undergoing dialysis for the past six months. In late October, he was admitted to a private hospital in the city but returned home early this month. His wife Maya was by his side when he collapsed around 6.20pm today.
An ailing Ray, who had a long association with former chief minister Jyoti Basu, had come to the Assembly in January to place a wreath on the CPM patriarch’s body. Ray’s last public appearance was at Rotary Sadan on September 25 to remember legendary Mohun Bagan administrator Dhiren Dey.
The government has declared all its offices closed on Monday and requested all educational institutions to stay shut that day as a mark of respect for Ray.
“Late tonight, we requested all ICSE schools to remain shut on Monday,” said Sujoy Biswas, an office-bearer of the association of heads of ICSE schools.
The Trinamul Congress-run Calcutta Municipal Corporation has cancelled all official events scheduled for tomorrow. The railways, headed by party chief Mamata Banerjee, have postponed a programme.
In a statement, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said: “I offer my condolences to Ray’s wife Maya Ray and other bereaved family members.”
Left Front chairperson Biman Bose’s condolence message said Ray was chief minister and a member of the Union cabinet of a “semi-fascist regime” at the Centre. “However, he used to maintain personal relations despite political differences.”
Ray’s body will be kept at his Beltala home between 11am and 1pm tomorrow for the public to pay their last respects before being taken to the Assembly, where Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim and other legislators will place wreaths, around 1.30pm.
From the Assembly, it will be taken to Calcutta High Court and then to the Cricket Association of Bengal, with which Ray was associated. His body will also be taken to Chittaranjan Seva Sadan near Hazra crossing but not to Writers’ Buildings from where he had ruled Bengal for five years.
“From Seva Sadan, railway minister Mamata Banerjee will lead a procession to Keoratala burning ghat with the body,” said leader of the Opposition Partha Chatterjee.
As news of Ray’s death spread, several political personalities, including Mamata, Calcutta mayor Sovan Chatterjee, Partha Chatterjee and state Congress chief Manas Bhuniya, reached his Beltala home.
“Manuda was my inspiration. He was an able administrator. He had sided with the Trinamul Congress till his last day. His death is an irreparable loss to me and Trinamul Congress,” Mamata said.
“We had known each other since 1970-71,” Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said. “He was an extremely able parliamentarian and an able administrator. There were differences of opinion at times but nobody could raise questions about his honesty and ability as an administrator.”
Born on October 20, 1920, to Sudhir Kumar Ray, a barrister, and Aparna Debi, daughter of Deshabandhu Chittaranjan Das, Ray studied in St Xavier’s School and Presidency College before being called to the Bar in England. At Presidency, he was captain of the cricket team.
In 1957, Ray became law minister in B.C. Roy’s cabinet before going on to become Union education minister and then chief minister of Bengal.
Bhadralok who pushed Indo-US ties – too gentle on the outside to be really effective ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
There is sad irony in Siddhartha Shankar Ray’s demise during an epochal American presidential visit to India. For though not all Indian assessments of his ambassadorship to the US (1992-96) were generous, he was the first envoy to eschew platitudes for the specifics that Dr Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama are now discussing.
As he told me — I was editor-in-residence at the East-West Center in Honolulu when Ray, in flowing dhoti and his father’s Jamiawar shawl, presented his credentials to George H.W. Bush — there was “no point merely repeating the fact of commonness between India’s fundamental rights and America’s Bill of Rights, or that Thomas Jefferson and Jawaharlal Nehru founded the two systems on similar principles”. Abandoning the hackneyed clichés of standard Indo-US diplomacy, he added: “Bilateralism is what we need.”
His baptism of fire was the Babri Masjid’s destruction on December 6, 1992, only a day before the India-US Joint Business Council was due to meet in Los Angeles to discuss the still pertinent theme, “How to do business in India”. Many American members had not attended council meetings since 1977 when George Fernandes threw out Coca-Cola and IBM. Others were outraged at the vandalism. Still others claimed that even Indonesia and Malaysia were more hospitable to American business.
But thanks to Ray’s intercession at high official levels, the 40-member Indian delegation was cordially received and the meeting urged the administration to lower trade barriers, abandon the Special 301 retaliatory process, continue generalised special preference and not go beyond agreed international norms on intellectual property rights.
Deshabandhu Chittaranjan Das’s grandson is much better remembered here as Bengal’s last Congress chief minister (1972-77), a position that was mired in controversy towards the end, largely because of Indira Gandhi’s legal entanglements, the Emergency and the doings of her son, Sanjay. Caught between contending forces, the chief minister was too good-natured to resist. Naxalites were on the rampage in Bengal; in Delhi, Mrs Gandhi shot down his plan for six growth centres that would have eased the pressure on Calcutta and created employment in the countryside. Nor did Ray endear himself to the Prime Minister by telling Sanjay on one occasion that the dubious business practices he sought to justify were unbecoming of Jawaharlal Nehru’s grandson and Motilal Nehru’s great-grandson.
He was blamed for police excesses not only against Naxalites but also against mainstream communist and Marxist politicians. The Left Front’s triumph in 1977 sounded the death-knell of the Congress though Ray might have regarded Mamata Banerjee’s assumption of power as some sort of vindication. Possibly because it was so different from the gentle and gentlemanly ways of the last bhadralok in Bengali public life, he greatly admired her gutsy approach to politics.
His own style was never to be disagreeable even when disagreeing, as in 1958 when he quit the Congress and in 1962 when he successfully contested as a Left-backed Assembly candidate from Bhowanipore. But like his life-long rival Pranab Mukherjee, who also left the Congress, Ray returned to the fold in 1967 and was returned from Chowringhee. His final electoral foray, as an Independent candidate from Darjeeling in 1984, ended in failure. (Thus began the Gorkhaland Agitation under Article 3A of the Indian Constitution – where Jyoti Basu, the butcher of the Darjeeling Gorkhas – would not listen nor care about the Greater Gorkha Cause for their just Identity and the right to Self Determination in a secular India ?!!)
A stint as governor of Punjab in recognition of the success with which his administration had stamped out Naxalism ended abruptly in 1989 because of V.P. Singh’s need as Prime Minister to appease the Left Front. Ray did not look back. He returned to the Bar, pursuing corporate cases in mofussil courts and returning to his house in Delhi to pore over his brief till late at night. The gruelling routine would have sapped the strength of a much younger man. Ray continued with it well into his eighties.
It was possible largely because of the support of his attractive and accomplished wife, Maya, who was brought up in London, and also trained as a barrister. US Congressman Thomas Manton, who complimented Ray for raising Indo-US ties to “a new plateau of strength, friendship and understanding”, describes her as “a noted barrister and former elected official”. Calcutta Bar Library gossip credited Mrs Ray with greater legal acuity than her husband. Her grace and charm certainly could not have more sharply contrasted with the run of Indian political (or diplomatic, for that matter) wives.
Ray’s tenure in Washington created or reinforced the four prongs that still implement Indian policy — interest groups, Congressional caucus, NRIs and the embassy. American investment in India rose from $200 million to $20.7 billion in those five years, and the number of joint collaborations went up from 300 to 1,300.
Without that push, there might not have been much for Prime Minister and President to discuss today.