Mumbai: The eternal spokesperson of politics, Jaipal Reddy, was a wordsmith. I was the New Delhi correspondent of a Marathi daily in 2002 and used to meet him almost daily. It was an intellectual treat to listen to his articulate self.
In the Lok Sabha, he was known for his scholarly command over the English language, somewhat like Shashi Tharoor today, though the latter tends to use words more for effect.
In March 2002, while speaking from the Opposition bench and while criticising Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government, he used the phrase ‘humongous (huge) fraud on the nation.’
The description of the Vajpayee government’s stand in the Supreme Court -- allowing puja at the disputed site in Ayodhya – as a “humongous fraud on the nation,” led to a furore.
What added to the consternation was the fact that nobody on the treasury benches, at least, knew what the word ‘humongous’ meant. We journalists, sitting in the media gallery, too were scratching our heads.
A ruling party MP, assuming that the word was not parliamentary, took strong objection and demanded that it be expunged. Senior Congress leaders Shivraj Patil, Priyaranjan Dasmunsi and even former Prime Minister Chandrashekhar tried to reason with Reddy; but he stuck to his ground insisting that he had not said anything that was un-parliamentary.
Soon, a slanging match ensued in the House with no one wiser about the meaning of the word. Confused and befuddled, the then Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan started gesturing to Renuka Chowdhury, seeking to ascertain the meaning of the word.
Renuka, who was also known for her English language skills, pointed at her own bulky build to make members understand what the word meant. But few got the hint.
In the reigning confusion, the Lok Sabha secretariat started scouring the dictionary. Sensing the chaos, the Speaker adjourned the house for half an hour. In the break, English journalists working with wire agencies rushed to their offices on Parliament Street to locate the meaning of the word “humongous”.
By now, some parliamentarians too had ransacked the House library and zeroed in on the word. When, the house reassembled, there was a smile on each face, illuminated by the belated realisation that a difficult word had forced adjournment of the House.
Two days later, when the Lok Sabha took up a discussion on the Ayodhya issue, Reddy used the word “humongous” again. “There is a humongous hiatus, a gigantic gap and a gargantuan gulf between his public image and private reality,” Reddy said referring to Vajpayee. There were no objections, at least to his choice of words this time.
By Pramod Chunchuwar