Rathi’s death: End of an era in DU
There are very few people who leave their mark on our lives. There are fewer who leave their imprint on history. Dr Shyam Sunder Rathi better known as Dr SS Rathi was such an individual whose name will always be remembered with a reverence whenever the history of the Delhi University is written. Dr Rathi was not only the most well known and admired teachers representative but an institution who helped in furthering the cause of university and college teachers and whose commitment to his ideals was incomparable. He will also go down as an activist whose accomplishments stand out and whose role in giving meaning to the University Calendar is unparalleled.
I was a student in the University when I first met him at the residence of Dr VP Dutt, former Pro Vice Chancellor and nominated Rajya Sabha MP in the mid seventies. Dr Rathi used to ride a Moped and would come daily to Dr Dutt’s house to give him the progress report regarding the National Forum of Teachers (NFT), a body founded by Dr Dutt. Totally unassuming, he was clearly the man Friday who was helping in the making of a top teachers organization.
Dr Dutt was a visionary and knew the importance of a strong teachers body. He also wanted the Congress to have a major say in teacher’s politics till then dominated by the Left parties and the Saffron Brigade. It came as little surprise when Dr Rathi was chosen to represent the NFT during the University Academic Council polls in 1977 soon after the Janata Party had come into being. There were a lot of top activists who were contesting the elections and it came as a big surprise for most that Dr Rathi along with Dr JS Khanna was able to win on the basis of first preference votes and if I remember correctly, he had polled 184 first preference votes. The election also announced the arrival of this short man with tall ideals and a huge body of work. Rathi thereafter became the principal teacher activist of the NFT. There was no looking back after that and in 1979 in the first ever poll of teachers’ representatives to the Executive Council, Dr Rathi again won convincingly.
Subsequently, his contribution was recognized in the mid eighties by the then Congress president and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who appointed him as the convener of the Teachers cell. Dr Rathi along with Kiran Walia, a very prominent NFT activist formed a formidable team and was the first Congress backed nominee to win the Delhi University Teachers Association president’s election in 1989, a post he once again held in 1999. Differences within the NFT led to its split and Dr Rathi parted ways with Kiran Walia and his mentor Dr V.P.Dutt. But he continued to rule the teachers’ politics and founded the Academics for Action and Development (AAD), the strongest teachers body on the campus. AAD nominee Dr Aditya Narain Mishra won the DUTA presidentship three times subsequently.
Dr Rathi continued to play the role of the mentor and guided the teachers’ fraternity. My interactions with him were both personal and professional. Over a period of time, I trusted his judgement and ability to bring out facts and figures. As a correspondent covering the University, I found him to be the most credible source. He would never mislead and give totally accurate information even if it went against him. But he would always suggest a news angle, which was a legitimate right of anyone who parts with vital information. Successive Vice Chancellor feared and respected him. No one dared to ignore him because he was one person who knew all his facts on his finger tips and had the backing of the teachers. Even his rivals respected him and knew his potential and capacity to deliver. The DUTA has had some very distinguished presidents in the past like O.P.Kohli, Kumaresh Chakravarty, Arun Bose, Zahoor Siddiqui, Shashwati Majumdar, Murali Manohar Prasad Singh but there has been no body who was as consistent and formidable as Dr Rathi. Out of the above named presidents, I also had found Arun Bose to be exceptionally bright and capable. Every one else too had their plus points and were formidable in their own ways.
My association with Dr Rathi continued till the very end and he would often exchange notes on the developments both in the University and in the Congress with me. I used to always feel that the Grand Old Party should have sent him to the Rajya Sabha for his contributions but it was not to be. . The last time when I met him, he told me that he had virtually handed over the mantle to his juniors and named some of them to be the ones I should continue to be in touch with for a feedback on university affairs.
It was a very sad day for me when I heard about his death on Monday, April 9th. I went to the Nigambodh Ghat for his last rites and found that a large number of teachers cutting across party lines had gathered to pay their last respects. The gathering included Kiran Walia, Shashwati Majumdar, Raj Kumar Bhatia, Deepak Malhotra, Hari Shankar Gupta, Sudhanshu Mittal, Harcharan Singh Josh, Raj Kumar Jain, Amarjit Kaur, Yogesh Gondal and many others. His death marked an end of an era in the Delhi University. Dr Rathi will always be missed and remembered. Dr Rathi there will never be anyone like you Sir. You were truly the greatest.