Balram Jhakar was among a rare breed of politicians with an illustrious track record and his demise on Wednesday saw the end of a stalwart of Indian Parliamentary democracy. He was 92. He was the only person to hold the Lok Sabha Speaker position for two successive terms (1980-89). During his term as the Speaker he oversaw the passing of many key legislations’ and stood for upholding autonomy of parliament. He was the Madhya Pradesh governor during 2004-2009 and an agriculture minister in the P V Narasimha Rao Union government.
He was born on August 23 1923 at Panjkosi village of Ferozepur district in Punjab. After graduating from a college in Lahore he assumed responsibilities of the family profession of farming and experimented with latest techniques to increase crop yield in his farms. His efforts soon found fruition and got national recognition when he was awarded the ‘All India Udyan Pandit’ title by the President in 1975. His farming career and leadership among other farmers provided the launch pad for his political career.
He was elected to the Punjab Assembly in 1972 and became a Deputy Minister of Cooperation, Irrigation and Power in 1973, a post he held till 1977. He came to prominence when Congress was reeling in the post-emergency era by becoming the leader of the Congress (I) legislature party and the leader of opposition in the Punjab assembly. His illustrious career as the Lok Sabha speaker started on Jan 22 1980. Despite being a novice he showed remarkable ease and confidence as the speaker. He was an ardent believer in the Parliament’s right to regulate its own procedures and was keen on protecting the rights and privileges of the house and its members. It was during his second term that the much hailed anti-defection law was enacted in 1985. His tenure saw several procedural innovations like the review of the rules of procedure and conduct of business in Lok Sabha in 1989, the subject committee system in 1989. The setting up of a parliamentary museum and archives and the expansion of Parliament library was close to his heart.
He stayed true to his roots when he resisted pressure to cut down subsidies of the farmers when he was the Union Agriculture minister in the post-liberalization India.
He is survived by his elder son Sajjan Kumar Jakhar who is a minister in Punjab and his youngest son Sunil Kumar Jakhar.