By G. L. Batra, ST Guest Columnist, Writer & formerly Addl. Secretary, Indian Parliament and Chairman, Public Service Commission of the Indian State of Haryana
Morarji Desai in 1937, as Congress Home Minister of Bombay Presidency | Source: Wikipedia
Morarji Desai was born on 29 February 1896 into an Anavil Brahmin family in Bhadeli, Valsad in Bombay Presidency (now in Gujarat) and had an orthodox upbringing. He contributed in the freedom struggle and became a distinguished freedom fighter and the fourth Prime Minister of India. He was endearingly known as Morarji Bhai Desai, He was an eminent statesman and the only high-ranking statesman to receive the highest civilian awards from both India and Pakistan. He was privileged to be conferred upon with Bharat Ratna from India and Nishaan-e-Pakistan from Pakistan. He once quoted “One should act in life according to truth and one’s faith” which formed the core of his beliefs during the freedom movement and for the rest of his life .
Morarji Desai completed his schooling from St. Busar High School and graduated from Wilson College, Mumbai, and joined the Civil Services in Gujarat in 1918 and started working as a Deputy Collector. He resigned from the service in 1924 and joined the Civil Disobedience Movement and became a freedom fighter. He was jailed many times due to his involvement in the freedom struggle and became an important leader of the Indian National Congress in Gujarat. Prior to India’s independence of India, he was elected and served as the Revenue Minister and Home Minister of the Bombay Presidency. Later in 1952, he was elected as the Chief Minister of Bombay State.
Desai enforced strict discipline and authority. He was a staunch Gandhian, Desai was socially conservative, pro-business, and in favour of free enterprise reforms, as opposed to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s socialistic policies. Desai was considered as Nehru’s replacement when Nehru’s health started failing but Lal Bahadur Shastri became Prime Minister after Nehru’s death in 1964. After the Infamous Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi during 1975-1977, elections were held in 1977 and because of the Emergency, people were annoyed with the Congress and left the party. This resulted in the defeat of the Congress in the elections.
He also served as the Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapith (university established by Mahatma Gandhi) He is remembered and honored for his contribution to politics during his last years and as a legendary freedom fighter.
He was the first Indian Prime Minister who did not belong to the Indian National Congress. After assuming office, he promoted peace between India and Pakistan. Desai worked on improving relations with neighbour and arch-rival Pakistan and relations were restored with China for the first time since the 1962 war. His government removed many amendments made during the emergency and made it difficult to impose Emergency. In 1979, Desai was forced to resign from office and retire from politics at the age of 83. Post his retirement from politics, he lived in Mumbai. He was greatly revered in his later years as a topmost freedom-fighter of his generation. A strict vegetarian by birth and by conviction, Desai passed away at the age of 99 in 1995