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Vol. XXX No. 19, February 1-15, 2021

At home in Madras

by Karthik Bhatt

(Continued from last fortnight)

O. Pulla Reddy

Following his stint at the Madras Corporation, Pulla Reddy was drafted for service as the First Minister of Government of Mysore, with an understanding that he would eventually be appointed as the Dewan. He was in-charge of several important portfolios including Revenue, Home, Civil Supplies etc. Writing of the advancement of Bangalore, Pulla Reddy calls it ‘a showpiece of Indian Industrial Development’, which he credits to the infrastructural developments in Mysore State brought about by the able administration of stalwarts like Dewans Sir Mirza Ismail and Sir M. Visweswarayya. He however sounds a note of caution against environmental pollution, stating that it would be “a disaster if Bangalore also is driven to devise haphazard safeguards against environmental pollution and ceases to be the garden-city of India’’. Prophetic words indeed.

Pulla Reddy also writes of the court-intrigues and mentions how a person wielded tremendous influence over Jayachamarajendra Wodaiyar, the ruler. This person acted as the power centre and had his way in all important decisions, appointments and orders. Pulla Reddy stood up to him and refused when asked to recommend a retired Anglo-Indian Army Officer as the Trade Commissioner of Mysore in London. The person however had his way. Soon, Pulla Reddy became persona non-grata and following several moves initiated by this court-favourite, was asked to accept a change of portfolios. The British Resident advised him that he would not survive in Princely States owing to his inability to deal with court intrigues and Pulla Reddy agreed to revert to regular service in the Madras State in 1946.

He rejoined the Government of Madras at the end of 1946, when the Prakasam Ministry was in office. He was made the Secretary of the PWD in-charge of Irrigation, Roads, Buildings and Electricity. It was during his tenure that the Tungabhadra and Machkund Hydel Projects gained impetus. He recollects with gratitude the support and guidance of Sir S.V. Ramamurthy, ICS during the course of the projects. Following the country’s Independence in 1947, Pulla Reddy was appointed the first Indian Home Secretary of the Government of Madras.

He narrates several interesting incidents from his tenure as the Home Secretary. One of the first tasks was to appoint the Inspector General of Police. The incumbent, L.A. Bishop, IPS had earned the ire of O. Ramaswamy Reddiar, the Premier when he had bypassed him and made a representation directly to Sir Archibald Nye, the Governor of Madras regarding a posting. Irked at this constitutional impropriety, Reddiar had asked for a memo to be issued to him. Having been the beneficiary of Bishop’s advice two decades earlier on the eve of his departure to England for his probation, Pulla Reddy says he sought to return the favour and arranged for a meeting of the IGP with the Premier, who finally dropped the matter. The Government then suggested appointing Pulla Reddy as the IGP. He however declined stating that he did not have the “necessary build, and in a para-military department like the Police, physique did count especially when taking parades etc’’ and instead recommended the appointment of C.K. Vijayaraghavan, ICS to the post.

During his tenure as the Home Secretary, Pulla Reddy was drafted into a special assignment concerning the revolt brewing in Hyderabad. K.M. Munshi, who had been appointed the Agent-General in Hyderabad requested Ramaswamy Reddiar to release Pulla Reddy for appointment as his Deputy. The premier refused to do so and instead an agreement was reached whereupon Pulla Reddy would travel as often as necessary to help Munshi in the matter of drafting correspondence, collecting material and other related matters. He recounts that he thoroughly enjoyed the assignment, adding that these were incognito visits.

The 1952 elections to the Madras Legislative Assembly saw several stalwarts from the Indian National Congress losing the polls. The party itself was reduced to a minority, albeit the single-largest party with 152 seats out of a total of 375. C. Rajagopalachari was brought out of semi-retirement and made the Chief Minister of Madras as a consensus candidate of the coalition. Pulla Reddy writes that though there were talks that he may be removed as the Home Secretary on account of having had a longer than usual tenure, Rajaji paid no heed and in fact took him into confidence on many matters. One such incident that he shares is that of resolving an issue involving E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker. The Dravidian ideologue shared a blow-hot, blow-cold relationship with Rajaji, whom he used to refer to rather derogatorily as ‘kudumikkaran’ in the pages of his paper, Viduthalai. Pulla Reddy writes that on one occasion, the attack got personal with Periyar attacking the character of a lady member of Rajaji’s family, which caused the leader great distress. Rajaji then requested for Pulla Reddy’s help, as he himself was hesitant to proceed against Periyar legally for fear of being labelled communal-minded. The matter was then resolved with Pulla Reddy meeting Periyar and advising him to refrain from making personal attacks, mildly threatening action under some old rule in the statute. The attacks soon stopped, with Periyar also reverting to addressing Rajaji by his name.

This was the time when the agitation for a separate Andhra State had gained momentum. The last straw so to speak was the fast unto death of Potti Sriramulu, following which the demand could no longer be ignored. In August 1953, C.M. Trivedi who had earlier been Governor of Punjab and Orissa arrived in Madras to work out the modalities for the bifurcation. Pulla Reddy was designated Secretary, Public Affairs (Andhra) and shifted to Kurnool, the temporary capital of the newly formed State. A dinner was hosted in honour of important dignitaries of both sides before the retinue left for Andhra, where Rajaji gave his benediction to the people leaving Madras for good, while expressing that his only regret was that of the departure of Pulla Reddy to Kurnool!

Pulla Reddy later went on to become the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence of the Government of India in 1957, before retiring in 1962. Pulla Reddy Avenue in Shenoy Nagar commemorates this distinguished civil servant.


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