Hyderabad: Every morning for decades since our Independence, across lakhs of schools in India, salute the Indian national flag, while singing the national anthem, Jana gana mana... and then collectively take the national pledge with a sonorous vibrant tone – ‘India is my country. All Indians are my brothers and sisters... I love my country and am proud of its...’
Most of the over 1.3 billion Indians know that Nobel laureate, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore wrote the national anthem. If not too many Indians, several Telugu people know the national flag was designed by freedom fighter, Telugu bidda, Pingali Venkayya.
Few, very few, can name who gave us Indians our national oath. The forgotten patriot, great son of India, hero of Telangana was Nalgonda-born, Pydimarri Venkata Subba Rao. The oath was conceived during testing times. The year was 1962. The country was at war with a hostile China, which had attacked, betraying India’s trust.
PV Subba Rao, a native of Nalgonda district, was working for the erstwhile AP government in treasury department in Visakhapatnam. As a response to the national mood of gloom and apprehensions, Mr Rao wanted to do something that could unite the youth.
This is when he dreamt of a ‘pratigya’, which was originally written in Telugu and subsequently translated into most Indian languages, became known as the ‘National Pledge’.
The pledge was first read out, according to available historical records, at a school in Visakhapatnam in 1963. The pledge was later introduced in many schools that year. Over the years, each day, crores of schoolchildren have continued to recite Mr Rao’s words in their morning assemblies. But almost no one knows who wrote those words, or Mr Rao’s story.
Venkata Subba Rao was born on June 10, 1916, in Anneparthy, a village around 10-km away from Nalgonda town. His family relocated to Nalgonda two years later, after Rao’s father passed away. His descendants continue to live there even today.
An enthusiastic writer through his childhood, he thrived in the multicultural state of Hyderabad. He was educated in an Urdu-medium school, where he soaked in Urdu, Telugu and English literature. In his early twenties, he found a job in the Hyderabad treasury department. The position was a temporary one, without much pay. After a year, he was made a permanent employee. By the time he had retired in 1971, Mr Rao had worked in the treasury departments of Nizam’s Hyderabad, Hyderabad state and Andhra Pradesh, serving in places ranging from Bidar to Visakhapatnam to Nalgonda.
It was in Visakhapatnam, while working as district treasury officer, when he first conceived of the pledge. He was close to nationalist leader Teneti Vishwanatham, who saw the pledge and forwarded it to PVG Raju, who was then serving as education minister of AP. Sensing the pledge’s potential to unite children from varied socio-economic backgrounds, he directed all schools in the district to make it a part of their morning prayers. In a few years, other state governments took note.
Ram Pradeep, a Vijayawada-based teacher, who has been on a mission to promote Subba Rao’s legacy, said, “In 1964, a delegation of AP education ministry went to Bangalore on an official visit. Education ministers from all states came to attend it. MC Chagla, who was then the Union education minister, was shown the pledge. He got it translated into all (then 18) official languages in the country and directed all states to make it a part of their daily schedule.”
Mr Pradeep became Rao’s biographer. The bio, currently available in small print-run numbers in English, Telugu and Hindi, is titled, ‘The Forgotten Patriot’.
Interestingly, Mr Subba Rao was personally unaware of any of these developments. He did not know that something he had written was being recited across the country.
P.V. Subramanyam, his son, speaking to Deccan Chronicle, said, “Even my siblings did not know about it. Even when my siblings and I read out the pledge, while we were at school, did not know who wrote it. It was a shock when we found out, much later, as adults with children of our own, that our father had made such a significant national contribution.”
The significance of this extraordinary contribution, hit the family in a moment of epiphany. In 1987, a year before he passed away, when Subba Rao was helping his granddaughter with homework, he found out about a widely popular national pledge.
“My niece (sister’s daughter) was home when my father saw the pledge written in her book. Beaming with joy and pride, he revealed that he was its author. My niece was so excited that the next day, she told everyone at the school about her grandfather,” he said.
Mr Subramanyam said that his father entirely disconnected from developments in the education department. His siblings (two older sisters and a younger brother) and he are understandably upset by how little even people of the two Telugu states know about his father.
“People know Jhanda Venkaiah (Pingali Venkaiah, who designed tricolour), but they don’t know my father. We hope both Telangana and AP governments give him his due and mark his birth and death anniversaries. We hope Telangana goes a step further and builds a memorial for him,” he said.
Surprisingly, Subba Rao’s champions today seem to be people from Andhra Pradesh. Ram Pradeep (Vijayawada), Pilla Tirupati Rao (Srikakulam) and several others have written about Mr Rao in various Telugu publications. But his memory and contribution have not found much mention by Telangana writers. Ram Pradeep explains, “One of the first articles be written about Pydimarri Venkata Subba Rao was in an Andhra-based Telugu newspaper in early 2010s. Failing to mention his birthplace, the article highlighted his association with Visakhapatnam. AP journalists took notice but those from Telangana didn’t see value.”
“During the Telangana movement, there was an upsurge in Telangana literature. The region’s icons were lionised, but he was ignored. There was great potential in his story, someone who had written something the whole country celebrates,” he said.
Rao’s son agreed with this assessment. “After 2014 (state formation), we met the-then education minister Jagadish Reddy to tell him about my father. He responded well. Afterwards, my father’s picture and a brief life story was printed on the inside cover of a fifth class textbook. But it seems the government thinks that is enough. There should be more effort to celebrate him,” he said....