Discipline, Dignity, Dedication: The Venkaiah Naidu Garu I Know
Venkaiah Naidu will be remembered for leaving behind a Vice Presidency that was incredibly active in the public sphere while bringing efficiency, order and discipline to the functioning of the Rajya Sabha.
With Vice-President Muppavarupu Venkaiah Naidu’s tenure set to conclude on 10 August, this is an appropriate time to recollect the highlights of a long, creative and eventful public life.
My personal interactions with Venkaiah Naidu garu began from 2016 when he was the Union minister of information and broadcasting, and I had joined the Prasar Bharati board as a part-time member.
However, my first memories and impressions of him date back to a much earlier period.
The first time I saw him was during the late 1980s when then BJP president Lal Krishna Advani had embarked on a nationwide rath yatra. I was a high-school student in those days and the Advani yatra was on its way from Maharashtra, rolling across the border into the now Telangana districts of the then undivided state of Andhra Pradesh.
We lived those days in the BHEL Township which was located alongside the then National Highway NH-9 (now NH-65), which was the route for the Advani rath yatra. It was late into the night, several hours behind schedule, when Advani stormed into Patancheru. Standing shoulder to shoulder with him was Venkaiah Naidu. I recall the brief but poignant remarks by Naidu, which have remained etched in my memory, when he called on the boisterous volunteers, who were teeming along both sides of the highway to maintain absolute discipline.
Those brief remarks revealed a side of him that defined his personality over the decades.
Over the past five years, having observed him as the Vice-President, I see the same sense of discipline in the way he organises his public and personal life, from official meetings to playing badminton. It is that same discipline that one often sees when he starts and finishes meetings on time, with punctuality being a personal hallmark.
His penchant for arriving early to events is well-known. I have personally witnessed it twice, when he not only arrived early but made it a point to meet and greet all those present by going around the venue.
I have one other memory of Venkaiah Naidu garu from an earlier era when he was the national president of the Bharatiya Janata Party. We were on a flight together from Delhi to Bangalore (Bengaluru). He was seated in a row ahead of me. It was striking to me that for the whole duration of the flight, he was absorbed with what was presumably party-related paperwork, barely taking a break.
I have observed a similar level of focus over the past many years that I have had the occasion to interact with him, as both the chief executive officer (CEO) of Prasar Bharati and as the CEO of Rajya Sabha TV.
My first personal encounter with Shri Naidu was in his office in the Urban Development Ministry in early 2017, accompanying the then chairman of Prasar Bharati, Dr A Suryaprakash as a part-time member of the board.
Some time later when I assumed charge as CEO of Prasar Bharati, I had the occasion to call upon him formally and that is since when I started to observe and learn more of his style of functioning at length.
Contributing greatly to this learning process were the legendary banquets he would host at short notice at his official residence. Be it breakfast or lunch, be it farewells or welcome events or any of the many festivals of significance to Telugu culture, Venkaiah Naidu garu’s frequent hospitality was without doubt, unparalleled within the government circles in Delhi.
To a newbie like me who was a rank outsider in Lutyens Delhi trying to fit in within the government hierarchy, these gatherings at breakfast and lunch were both my first social exposure and opportunities for networking. Chance encounters at these events with top bureaucrats went on to be helpful down the road as I would discover.
Venkaiah Naidu was not only a generous host but a delightful one at that. Over the years, I have had the fortune to be a guest at his legendary gatherings for Ugadi, Sankranti, Diwali and several other occasions. His extraordinary grace was on display at every one of them with him personally greeting the attendees and recalling names, anecdotes and incidents.
As the minister for information and broadcasting he kept a busy schedule visiting the various regional centres of Doordarshan and All India Radio. The structured feedback that would follow from his visits was a window into his mind and his style of functioning.
His term at I&B saw key changes within Prasar Bharati, as the UPA-era legacy was cast aside and new leadership took charge at the board level. His tenure also witnessed Prasar Bharati vacating its decades-old headquarters in PTI Building, and moving to its present new building, saving several crores by way of annual rents paid to PTI.
My tenure as CEO overlapped with him as I&B minister for a very short duration, for destiny had other plans for him. I still vividly recall calling on him at his residence minutes before he was to depart to file his nomination for the elections to the post of Vice-President of India. Even during those final few moments in executive office, the diligent professional in him saw to the disposal of a mountain of pending official matters, underscoring his work ethics.
In those few minutes, I was also witness to how steadfast he remained to Indian family cultural traditions when he ensured his wife saw him off at the front porch as a sign of good luck before his car departed from the premises. As a benevolent patron of culture and traditions, Venkaiah Naidu garu has been an example and a role model for the younger generations on valuing, preserving and celebrating our rich heritage.
As the CEO of Rajya Sabha TV, I was also witness to his consensual approach to problem solving with the widest possible consultations of key minds both inside and outside the government, tackling the trickiest of issues. His term as Vice-President saw the parliamentary channel expand its digital base vastly while undergoing a radical transformation editorially including in its latest avatar as Sansad TV.
He will be long remembered for leaving behind a Vice Presidency that was incredibly active in the public sphere while bringing efficiency, order and discipline to the functioning of the upper house of the Indian Parliament.
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