Yash Pal Das: Rotary loses a leader of integrity and charisma

PRID Yash Pal Das (R) with Rajashree Birla, chairperson, Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives and Rural Development, and PRID Ashok Mahajan at the Centennial Summit in Kolkata in Feb 2020.
PRID Yash Pal Das (R) with Rajashree Birla, chairperson, Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives and Rural Development, and PRID Ashok Mahajan at the Centennial Summit in Kolkata in Feb 2020.

My friend Yash Pal Das, past RI director and an illustrious son of Ambala city, passed away on September 22 in New Delhi. He was more than a friend… a brother to me. I have been singing his praise all these years and now he has made me write a tribute to him, with my eyes filled with tears.

He showed Rotarians the good that is possible to do for our world and made each of us believe that we can do wonders to make this world a better place to live in. He showed us that service through Rotary can be challenging and yet pleasant and enjoyable.

Yash was an optimist who lived by Rotary first. As my batchmate district governor during 1993–94, I found him uniquely multifaceted. But far beyond business, in which he won laurels as an ethical businessman, he was a people’s man first.

An outstanding Rotarian, an inspiring speaker, a visionary leader, he was all that, but above all, he was a very fine human being. Those who have moved with him or even come in contact with him briefly would have admired his gentle manners and would have been unable to resist Yash’s contagious and intoxicating positive energy.

As a fellow member in the India National PolioPlus Committee with me, he was most respected and admired for his relentless work in polio eradication. He showed that he was an eternal optimist and a passionate believer in eradicating polio from the world and immediately from India. And who can forget the excellent work he did in building 25 quality schools in the Garhwal Himalayas, the region that was devastated by floods. He personally supervised this as well as the construction of a primary health care centre at Phata, Uttarakhand.

He participated in various International Assemblies and Rotary conventions and energised a new generation of Rotary leaders who went back to serve in their districts.

Y P, as he was fondly called, believed in building an innovative Rotary in India. He believed in straddling the pyramid from top to bottom. He was called upon by various RI leaders to be in committees that dealt with contentious issues concerning the administration of Rotary districts and clubs. His selection as the chairman of the most powerful Executive Committee of the RI board showed that all the board members had implicit faith in his ability to handle any issue that Rotary might have to face. He always came up with solutions that smoothened the rough edges and put the movement back on rail. He was regarded as one of Rotary’s best thought leaders.

The very embodiment of three qualities — passion, compassion and character, his advice to Rotarians was that they should develop the power of positive thinking that would catapult Rotary into the minds of a a bulk of India’s 1.3 billion.

He placed great importance on ethics, values, family and relationships. His integration of Rotary with day-to-day life made it easy for members to develop personal as well as public integrity.

His tenure as RI director (2011–2013) was remarkable as he shaped Rotary’s policies in empowering the clubs and motivating club members to follow strict financial discipline while dealing with Rotary funds and that of the larger community.

As a leader of the automotive retail network of the Tata group in Ambala, he received numerous awards for his expertise and leadership. I’d always tell him that Rotary projects done in Ambala by his club were amongst the best any club could hope to ever do and they kept the name of Rotary flying high in Ambala, as the rest of India.

He was a much sought after speaker in Rotary and other forums and with penetrating insight and relevant anecdotes, he revealed step-by-step ways of doing good through Rotary. His spouse Manju provided the needed support to Yash throughout his life. The couple was magnanimous when it came to giving for charity and community service.

No words can express the loss we feel. A fine speaker, Yash Pal Das, has taken his final bow from this world’s stage. The man with unwavering resolve, the man who did what must be done, might have left us, but his memory will last forever. The whole of Rotary world will mourn the passing away of a legend. Rotarians will remember him as an example of how to be, what to stand up for and what it is to live with integrity and character.


The writer is a past RI director.



Soft spoken, mild mannered, humble…

Shekhar Mehta


The passing away of Yash Pal Das is shocking and unbelievable. I spoke to him three days earlier while he was in hospital and he was spirited and optimistic.

What an outstanding human being… soft spoken, mild mannered, humble and very positive about everything.

He and I shared a very, very special bond, especially because of the two years that we spent together on the board of directors of Rotary International. He played his role very well there. At these meetings he spoke less, but when he did, it carried a lot of weight. With Kalyan Banerjee as president and the two of us as board members, we were often jocularly referred to as the “Indian mafia”.

Post board meeting every day, we foursome (Yash, Manju, Rashi and I) would venture out for dinner, spending some real quality time. I tried to keep pace with his pegs of whisky with my glasses of diet coke. It is so hard to believe he is no longer amongst us. I have such fond memories of him, all flashing before the mind continuously, relentlessly, painfully.

Both Rashi and I have lost a dear, dear friend, who we will miss hugely. We pray to the lord to give Manju and the family the strength to bear this enormous loss.

Om Shanti.

The writer is RI president-elect.

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