Morarji Desai: Fighter, Rebel, Statesman and First Non-Congress PM
(This article was originally published on 10 April 2015 and has been republished to mark former PM Morarji Desai’s death anniversary.)
The son of a village teacher, Morarji Ranchhodji Desai was educated at the University of Bombay. In 1918, he joined the provincial civil service of Bombay.
In 1930, Desai resigned from the Civil services to join Mahatma Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience movement, spending nearly 10 years in imprisonment during the Freedom Struggle.
In the years that followed, Desai was in and out of prison, gaining a reputation for his administrative skills.
In 1952, Morarji Desai became the Chief Minister of the Bombay state - a unified province of the Bombay province and the princely states of Guajarat and Baroda.
In 1956 Desai became a Finance minister in the Jawaharlal Nehru government, in which he served till 1963, when he resigned.
Desai is said to hold the record as the longest serving Finance Minister, having presented the maximum number of budgets.
In 1967, he was named the deputy Prime Minister in the Indira Gandhi cabinet.
In the subsequent split of the Congress party, Morarji Desai joined the Indian National Congress (Organisation) faction of the party, while Indira Gandhi formed a new faction called Indian National Congress (Ruling). In 1969 he became the chairman of the opposition to Indira Gandhi and the Congress Party.
The 1971 general elections to the Indian parliament were won by Indira Gandhi’s faction in a landslide, while Desai was elected as a member of the Lok Sabha.
In 1975, after Indira Gandhi was convicted of electoral fraud by the Allahabad High Court, and during the Emergency rule from 1975–77, Desai and other opposition leaders were imprisoned by the Indira Gandhi government.
Following the years of the Emergency, an anti-corruption movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan in 1977 led to the complete uprooting of the Congress party in Northern India, and a subsequent landslide victory for the opposition Janata Party in the General elections held in March 1977.
Morarji Desai was chosen by the Janata Party as their parliamentary leader, to become the first non-Congress Prime Minister of India, serving from 1977-79.
However, there came a blip on the radar when allegations of financial irregularities surfaced against Morarji’s son - Kanti Desai. However, austere as the man may have been himself, his reluctance to act against his son baffled his colleagues.
In 1979, Raj Narain and Charan Singh - also original members of the Janata Party - withdrew support to the government, forcing Desai to resign from office and politics at the age of 83.
Through his post-retirement years, Desai lived in Mumbai, continuing to espouse his pet formula for a long and healthy life, “urine therapy.”
He died at the age of 99 on April 10, 1995.