Born On: October 20th, 1920
Born In: Kolkata, West Bengal
Died On: November 6th, 2010
Career: Barrister/ Politician/ Former Chief Minister of West Bengal
Siddhartha Shankar Ray is the controversial, yet popular, Congress veteran who was also a former Punjab Governor and served as the Indian Ambassador to the US as well. A confidant of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the 70s, he was appointed Union Minister (in-charge of West Bengal affairs) in 1971. He is considered as a major architect of the national emergency during the leadership of Late Indira Gandhi. Ray was the grandson of revolutionary freedom fighter Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das. Being the last non-communist Chief Minister of West Bengal (1972-1977), Siddhartha Shanker Ray was both highly adored for his charisma and criticised for giving West Bengal her most tumultuous phase during his tenure as a Chief Minister. He is fondly remembered by the general public as a 'wily survivor', 'Left's whipping boy till the end', 'aristocrat politician', 'Punjab's friendly trouble-shooter' and even a 'legal eagle'.
His father, Sudhir Kumar Ray, was a famous barrister of Calcutta High Court and a member of the Indian National Congress while his mother, Aparna Devi, was the daughter of the nationalist leader 'Deshbandhu' Chittaranjan Das and Basanti Devi. Being the grandson of a popular freedom fighter and the son of a barrister, Siddhartha Shankar Ray already had a natural tendency and interest in law and politics. He was married to Smt. Maya Ray, who grew up in England and was an eminent Barrister of the Calcutta High Court. Ray's sister, Justice Manjula Bose, is one of the first two women judges of the Calcutta High Court. Coming from a background which includes such eminent personalities, Ray's rise to prominence in the national scenario doesn't come as a surprise. He attended the St. Xavier's Collegiate School, Mitra Institution and President and University Law College - all in Kolkata. Throughout his college and university life, Ray was actively involved in both sports and politics and became a leading lawyer while his love of sports continued even in the later years. In 1941, he became the student Under-Secretary in the Calcutta University Elections. He was also the Debate Secretary and later the General Secretary of the Calcutta University Law College Union. He captained the Presidency College cricket team and was the captain of the team that won the Inter Collegiate cricket Championship in 1944. His contribution to this competition was three double centuries and 1000 runs for three consecutive seasons. A keen footballer, Siddhartha Shanker Ray played for the Kalighat Club and represented the Calcutta University in Inter-Varsity matches. He was the Captain of the victorious Presidency College Football Team in 1939. After completion of his studies, Ray was called to the Bar of England to study and prepare for a career of a barrister where he played cricket for the Indian Gymkhana Club. On his return, he began his practice in Calcutta high court.
In 1954, Ray became one of the three junior Central Government counsel in Calcutta High Court. In 1957, he was nominated for the election to the Bhowanipore Assembly seat which he won by a large majority. Ray was the youngest member of the West Bengal Cabinet under the leadership of Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy. He was appointed as Law and Tribal Welfare Minister in West Bengal. In 1962, he was re-elected to the state's Legislative Assembly as an Independent Candidate. He was also elected to the West Bengal assembly in 1967 and 1969 as a Union Cabinet Minister of Education & Youth Services and West Bengal Affairs respectively. When Indira Gandhi enlisted his help in her fight against the Congress Syndicate, Ray contested the Lok Sabha election from Raiganj in 1971 and won the seat to become Minister for Education & Youth Services in Indira Gandhi's cabinet in 1971. He was also given the task to look after West Bengal affairs. It was a herald for the controversies that were to follow. Ray took over as the chief minister of West Bengal in March, 1972 after Congress won the assembly elections. This election was blemished by violence as well as by CPM's boycott of the entire period from March 19th 1972 to June 21st 1977. Siddhartha Shanker Ray also served as the Governor of Punjab from April 2nd 1986 to December 8th, 1989. He also served as India's Ambassador to the U.S.A and remained there during 1992-1996.
Contribution To Politics
Two of Ray's main contributions to the state of West Bengal are as follows. Ray's administration came to power in West Bengal shortly after the Bangladesh Liberation War and was thus involved with the resettlement of the lakhs of refugees who had entered Bengal during this time. The second contribution is bringing the Metro Railway to Kolkata. He almost singlehandedly took Bengal closer to Delhi and India closer to America. The latter, of course, was noticed when the Congress came back to power once again in 1991 and Ray was sent as India's Ambassador to the United States. His tenure in Washington was widely considered to be very successful. Starting with Ray's active role in crushing the Naxalites in 1970s to his role in advocating the Emergency Rule declared in 1975 and combating the Khalistani terrorists as the Governor of Punjab during 1986-1989, his career is generously sprinkled with controversies. He bravely faced all the criticisms and even until his last days dictated notes about his various reactions on issues such as financial crisis to the Ayodhya dispute, etc.
Siddhartha Shankar Ray passed away at the age of 90 years, on an auspicious Diwali evening on 6th November 2010, after a prolonged bout of sickness due to kidney related problems.
Siddhartha Shankar Ray, the last non Communist Chief Minister of West Bengal, stirs up strong memories in the political field. His critics branded him as an authoritarian person because he used political power to crush his opponents while his well wishers called him a shrewd politician, an able administrator, a noted legal luminary, a diplomat par excellence, a sportsman, a great friend and a gentleman. Ray and Chidambaram worked together to eliminate militancy in Punjab during 1980s when Ray was the Governor of Punjab, and Chidambaram was minister for Internal Security. Ray dominated both the State and National politics in 1970s-1980s with his strong political views. As a close adviser to the-then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, he advised her to impose President's Rule in 1975 and declare an Emergency when agitations were launched by opposition leaders Jayaprakash Narayan and George Fernandes. It was Siddhartha Shanker Ray who had suggested enactment of a strong law, according to which political leaders can be imprisoned without benefits of a bail or even a trial. Ray was also an adviser to Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao. During his lifetime, he encouraged Mamata Banerjee to make no compromise and leave no stones unturned in her fight against the Left Government in West Bengal.
1920- Born on 20th October
1954- Joined Calcutta High Court
1957- Joined the West Bengal Cabinet
1962- Independent Candidate in State Legislative Assembly
1967- Union Cabinet Minister of Education & Youth Services
1969- Union Cabinet Minister of West Bengal Affairs
1971- Minister for education and youth services in the Central cabinet
1972-1977- Chief Minister of West Bengal
1986- 1989- Governor of Punjab
1992- 1996- India's Ambassador to U.S.A
2010- He passed away on 6th November in Kolkata, West Bengal