By Insha Zarine Sayeed
A man of his age. An idealistic activist who had to struggle his entire life time to uplift the underprivileged people of his country as a whole with his conviction using socialism as an instrument to improve the humanism and to eradicate poverty minimizing the differences between rich and poor communities of India. His perseverance and conviction dealing complicated matters easily with utter transparency and sincerity, had inspired almost all the political entities of India. In his entire professional tenure, late Rabi Ray formulated some inerasable pages in chapters starting from being a patriotic during the freedom struggle to a socialist leader in the JP movement, a politician and to finally becoming a Lok Sabha Speaker. He hailed from Odisha.
The last of the lot of the socialist leaders who was closely associated with Ram Manohar Lohia’s revolutionary saga. He joined the Socialist Party in 1948, and later became member of the Samyukta Socialist Party, the Janata Party and the Janata Dal.
After stepping into politics for over three decades, he retired from it in the year 1997 and went onto join Lok Janashakti to espouse the cause of Socialism as he knew that it was through Socialism that poverty could be eradicated and there could be upliftment in the lives of the underprivileged ones. Looking at the enormous growing population of poor people in Odisha and India, he had the experience of backwardness of villages and hence wanted to improve the life and living conditions of the village poor.
Today he may not be amongst us but his revolutionary changes brought in the Indian Political history will definitely be remembered for decades.
Born on November 26 in the year 1926 in Bhanaragarh village in the Puri district of Odisha, Rabi Ray was inherited with impeccable manners and inherent sincerity. He was a man of a simple nature. He passed his B.A. examination in History and later studied law from his alma maters, Ravenshaw College in Cuttack and the Madhusudan Law College in Cuttack respectively.
He tied the nuptial knot with Dr. Saraswati Swain, a medical doctor. She later went onto to become a professor of the SCB Medical College, Cuttack. Being a socialist, he opposed the legacy to adopt the husband’s surname by his wife after marriage as he believed that women should not lose their identity. She stood beside him as a source of inspiration in politics. During his last days, it was Mrs Swain who treated Ray at the hospital.
Ray laid the foundation of his famed journey in politics by being elected as the President of the students’ union of his college, Ravenshaw for the year 1948-49. In his early days, he aspired to become a freedom fighter. In early 1947, he was detained by British Army for unfurling the National flag in Ravenshaw College. At the end of the day, British Government had to surrender to students’ demand for unfurling the tricolor Indian flag in educational institutions, though the country was still under foreign rule. He was also elected as the President of the students’ union of his law college, Madhusudan for the year 1949-50.
His passionate belief in Socialism from his college days, made him join the Socialist Party in the year 1948. According to him, if political parties would have the political will to practice Socialism in India, then the social uplifting could have happened in the 80s itself leading to a minimization in corruption present in societies. This could be possible if the differences between the rich urban class and poor could have been cut down drastically. 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.
The All India Samajwadi Yuvak Sabha appointed Ray as the joint secretary from 1953-54. He became the founder of the Socialist Party in Odisha under the leadership of Ram Manohar in the year 1956. A member of the national executive of the Socialist party during that period, he was elected as the general secretary of it for about a year in 1960.
The Parliamentary democracy in India unfolded a new chapter when in 1967 when Ray was elected to the fourth Lok Sabha from Puri constituency in Odisha.
His extrovert nature and forthright views gave him a prominent position in constructive opposition. In 1974, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Orissa where he completed his term in 1980.
In 1989, he was re-elected to the ninth Lok Sabha from the Kendrapada constituency in Odisha as a Janata Dal candidate. During the elections to the ninth Lok Sabha, no single party could secure the absolute majority of seats in the parliament with which came for the first time in the Indian Parliament history, a ‘hung parliament’. In spite of this political uncertainty, members of the Lok Sabha unanimously elected Rabi Ray as the Speaker of the ninth Lok Sabha on December 19, 1989. Rabi Ray enriched and enhanced the office of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha with his impartial and judicious approach. He ameliorated and improved the prestige and dignity of the office of the Speaker. His tenure witnessed both the victory and defeat of V P Singh government in a vote of confidence. Lok Sabha proceedings were also telecasted live for the first time when Ray was the speaker.
In 1991, he was re-elected to the tenth Lok Sabha from the same constituency. Ray took another important decision being on the post of the speaker, was that he admitted the first ever notice of a motion to present an address to the President for removal of a Supreme Court judge. He gave out orders of investigating the grounds on which the removal would be enacted. The motion was finally decided by the tenth Lok Sabha and the judge had to quit.
Ray introduced a change in the institutional arrangement to regulate proceedings during the zero hour for better utilization of time and provide opportunities to the MPs for raising matters of urgent public importance.
Ray went on tours to different parts of the country in furtherance of ensuring probity and transparency in all spheres of our national life. His notable contributions in the field of literature on contemporary political and social issues to various leading journals in Oriya/ Hindi and English are still famous in the country, ‘Samanta’ and ‘Chaukhamba’ being Odiya and Hindi monthly respectively. A book called ‘Parliamentary Diplomacy’ scripted by him is also well received. In the year, 2002, Rabi Ray was felicitated with the Light of Truth award on behalf of the people of India during the closing ceremony of the Tibetan Festival of Compassion on December 18, 2002 and in 2008, he was honoured with the Kalinga Ratna award.