Siddhartha Shankar Ray, former West Bengal chief minister dead (Second Lead)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

KOLKATA - Siddhartha Shankar Ray, chief minister, governor, ambassador and one of the architects of the national emergency of former prime minister Indira Gandhi, died at his south Kolkata residence Saturday following renal failure, family sources said. He was 90.

Ray left behind his wife Maya Ray, a former MP. The couple was issueless.

The end came at 6.50 p.m., ending the noted barrister’s long battle with kidney problem and old age complications.

A grandson of freedom fighter Chittaranjan Das, Ray served as the West Bengal chief minister from 1972 to 1977, playing a pivotal role in crushing the Maoist movement which had assumed alarming proportions in the state.

One of the most colourful personalities in not only state politics but also at the national stage, Ray was an efficient administrator who was made the governor of Punjab on April 2, 1986 at a time when the Khalistani terrorist movement was at its peak in the northern state.

Aided by a tough supercop K.P.S. Gill, who took over as Punjab Police Director General in 1988, Ray succeeded in considerably weakening the militants in the state.

Born in 1920, Ray jumped into politics by joining then West Bengal chief minister Bidhan Chandra Ray’s cabinet in the 1960s. However, he went on to revolt against him and sided with the opposition Communists for a few years.

He joined the union cabinet of Indira Gandhi in 1967 as education minister and was later also given the additional charge of West Bengal, then under President’s rule.

Despite being the chief minister he wielded considerable influence in national politics, and was said to be one of the architects of Indira Gandhi’s decision to clamp nationwide Emergency on June 25, 1975. The decision caused the Congress to lose the central government two years later, when the Janata Party came into being.

It is also said that it was Ray who drafted a letter for then president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to issue the proclamation for the Emergency.

After the Congress lost power at the centre and was also voted out in the state, Ray turned against Indira Gandhi and even contested for the Congress presidency, but lost.

However, he returned to the Congress fold after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, and was made Punjab governor.

In 1992, then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao made him India’s ambassador to the USA. Ray’s successful tenure ended in 1996, with the change of power at the centre.

It was during his four-year period that Ray became the first ambassador to put business on the Indo-US agenda.

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