Morarji Desai - A visionary leader and statesman

Morarji Desai, freedom fighter and former Prime Minister never compromised with the ideologies and a strict follower of Gandhian thoughts. He was the pioneer of industrialisation and revenue reforms in the country when independent India started settling down to stand on its own legs. A brief sketch of his biography is portrayed here.


We have completed 69 years of liberation from the British and on 15th Aughust 2016, we have celebrated our 70th Independence Day. It is our bounden duty to remember all the great leaders who have devoted their life for Independence and some of them had the opportunity to serve the Nation after Independence also. One such great patriot was Morarji Desai who served as the Chief Minister of the Bombay province during British rule and also became the Prime Minister of India during 1977. Let us have a brief sketch of this great gentleman who was a strict Gandhian by principles and action.

Early life

Morarji Desai was born on February 29, 1896 in Bhadeli village, now in the Bulsar District of Gujarat to Ranchhodji Desai and Vajiaben. His father was a school teacher and a strict disciplinarian and believed in the value of hard work and truthfulness. He was matriculated from St. Busar High School and completed his graduation from Wilson College, Mumbai. Later he joined the civil services of the Bombay province in 1918. After serving as a Deputy Collector for twelve years, he resigned from Civil service and joined the Indian Freedom Movement in 1930. It was one of the toughest decisions at that point of time but he lost his confidence in the British and felt that a serious fight against them only the solution to achieve Independence. He believed in the ideology of Gandhiji and followed his path.

Association with Gandhiji and participation in freedom struggle

He actively participated in the various movements initiated by Gandhiji to achieve Swaraj and became the member of the AICC in 1931. He continued to work as the party General Secretary for Gujarat till 1937. He served as Minister for Revenue, Agriculture, Forest and Co-operatives in the first Congress Government assumed office in 1937 headed by Shri B.G. Kher in the then Bombay Province. In 1939 the entire ministry quit from office in protest against India involving in the World War without the consent of the people.

He was instrumental to activate the people to participate in the Quit India Movement called by Gandhiji in 1942 in the Gujarat region and was detained by the British for more than two and half years. Later he was released in 1945 and the Bombay province went for elections for the Legislative assembly for the first time. Morarji Desai became the first Home minister of Bombay state and got elevated in 1952 as the Chief Minister of Bombay. He undertook enormous reforms in the field of police administration, revenue reforms and land distribution to the poor which made him popular. His initiatives in industrialization and urban growth resulted in promoting industries in the Bombay and Ahmadabad region.

Political career after independence

His candidature was considered twice for the post of Prime Minister when the incumbents Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri died while in office. He served as Deputy Prime Minister while Indira Gandhi succeeded Lal Bahadur Shastri after his death in 1966.

He joined the Nehru cabinet and held the portfolio of Minister for Commerce and Industry on November 14, 1956 and became Union Finance Minister on March 22, 1958. As a Finance Minister, he proved his excellence and handled very efficiently the challenges posed by economic planning and fiscal administration. While promoting austerity measures in government sector, he raised land revenue and contributed for reduction in infructuous expenditure in all areas by enforcing strict financial discipline.

The Kamraj Nadar plan aimed at restructuring Government and strengthening the Congress party cadre came into force in 1963 and Morarji resigned from the union cabinet. When Lal Bahadur Shastri became Prime Minister following the death of Pt. Nehru, Shastri nominated Morarji Desai as chairman of the Administrative Reforms Commission for restructuring the administrative system. He was strong contender for the post of Prime Minister which has fallen vacant due to the sudden death of Lal Bahadur Shastry in 1967 but majority of the members of the Congress Parliamentary party favoured Indira Gandhi. The veterans of the Congress party could convince him to join her cabinet and retain his position as Finance Minister. Thus he became Deputy Prime Minister of India in 1967. When Indira Gandhi made some reshuffle in the cabinet, he was shifted from Finance which made him to feel insulted and ultimate exit from Indira's cabinet.

Changing political dimensions

These differences also contributed which led to a vertical split of the Congress Party in 1969 and Morarji continued to take a leading part in the opposition. His fight with Congress continued and preferred to sit in the opposition in Parliament in 1971 and 1975 rather than rapprochement with Indira. The national politics in India took a new turn when Indira Gandhi's election from Raibareli constituency to Lok Sabha was disqualified by the Allhabad High Court in 1975. Instead of accepting the verdict, she challenged the judgment in the Supreme Court of India and preferred to continue in the office. The opposition insisted for her resignation. State of Emergency was declared in the country and prominent leaders like Jaya Prakash Narain and Morarji Desai were jailed under PD act. Under compelled circumstances, Mrs.Gandhi chose to declare the elections to Lok Sabha in 1977. Jaya Prakash Narian whom people called as Lok Nayak played a sheet anchor role to unify all the opposition leaders into one fold under the name of Janata Party. The 1977 elections were very crucial and proved to be the face of the Indian democratic system that flourished for years together. The Congress tasted its first ever defeat in the general Elections and Janata Party stormed into the Lok Sabha to form the first ever Non-Congress Government. Mrs.Gandhi and her son Sanjay lost their own seats symbolizing that the Cow and calf the election symbol of Congress has lost its glory.

(Morarji Desai with Indira Gandhi at the oath taking ceremony in Rastrapatibhavan, New Delhi. Image courtesy:

Now, Morarji Desai became the Prime Minister who emerged as a common choice for the post among all the top leaders like Charan Singh, Jagjeevan Ram, Vajpai and Chandra Sekhar. He served the nation as PM until 1979 and resigned from the post due to a political coup led by Charan Singh who joined hands with Indira Gandhi to become Prime Minster.

He was the Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapith (university established by Mahatma Gandhi). Even during his term as the Prime Minister he used to visit and stay at Vidyapith during the month of October. He was conferred with the highest civilian award Bharat Ratna and was equally honoured by Pakistan with decoration Nishaan-e-Pakistan. He was the author of the book - Nature Cure in which he discussed about Urine therapy which he followed during his life time. He exemplified simplicity and used to write post cards himself even when he held the office of Prime Minister. On April 10, 1995, he breathed his last at New Delhi.

Sum up

A very strict follower of Gandhian ideology, Morarji always believed that special focus on rural development should be laid so that the poor and the under privileged living in villages and towns will have their share in a standard and decent life. He always felt that the word socialism has no relevance unless all the stakeholders in the society work together to render a helping hand to the poor and needy. Thus he served his motherland as a Civil servant during British regime and rose to the highest post i.e the Prime Minister in the post-independent era.

Article by Jagdish Patro
Jagdish Patro is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to ISC and other websites. Fond of reading books, novels and spends his leisure time by listening to music. He did his B.Sc in Applied Chemistry and his M.Sc in Resource Development Technology. He edited and published an in-house monthly journal by name ‘Srujana’ during 2009-2011 which was totally a private circulation.

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Author: Sheo Shankar Jha25 Aug 2016 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 5

Morarji Desai appeared to be a simple man though he was a man accomplished with so many novel qualities. One point which may be termed as merit or demerit, depending upon the mental frame of the reviewers, was that he appeared to be uncompromising on many issues causing great set-back at times. During his tenure as an Union finance minister in 1958 - 1962, he took a number of initiatives including the industrialization of the country in different sectors leading to the upward growth of the economy. There had been a wide acclaim for his concerted effort.
He believed in the philosophy of simple cure gifted by nature and he himself was the consumer of cow-urine discussing its medicinal value very often among his colleagues. This parameter also spoke of his simplicity of life style though extraordinary in many intellectual pursuits.
He had a different approach in eradication of poverty of the deprived people and was a true follower of Gandhian style.
The author has highlighted his personality in a true manner, however, we need to implement his simplicity in our lives so as to get true pleasure from the nature.

Author: Venkiteswaran19 Mar 2017 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 5

I had a chance to see Morarji Desai at close quarters when he visited our establishment(where I was employed) when he was PM during the Janata Government rule. His pure white attire and the overall gait impressed me much and I could see that he was a straight man in his thoughts and behaviour and serious in action. The gait also showed how simple he was.

I remember that when a notice for no-confidence motion against his government was given by the opposition, he said why should a notice be given and wait for it. No-confidence is a serious matter and it should be discussed immediately. He said he was ready for that. No other person would have that confidence and conviction.
Had he been now, he would have felt saddened at opportunism our political parties and their leaders indulge in now. Irrespective of whether he was popular or not people like Morarji stood for principles they believed were right for the country and people. He was also a true Gandhian till last.

Author: Partha K.20 Mar 2017 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 8

An informative article on Shri Morarji Desai, the first non-Congress Prime Minister of India, by Mr. Jagdish Patro. The author has provided various information about this great personality but to some extent obstinate and impractical former Prime Minister of India. I am also adding some facts about him:-
(a) Morarjibhai is one of the rarest of rare people who celebrate/celebrated their birthdays once in four years. He was born on 29th February, 1896. He remains the oldest Prime Minister of India who took oath at an age of 81(+).
(b) He is well-known for his obstinacy or principle. His strict insistence on prohibition in Bombay province immediately after independence caused the state exchequer a huge loss, but he stuck to his principle.
(c) His personality clash with Indira Gandhi was a matter of discussion during 1960s and 1970s in Indian political circle. However, it must be mentioned that he was personally honest and Indira Gandhi could not find any fault with him despite discrete investigation for a quite long time.
(d) As the first non-Congress Prime Minister of the country, he developed a cordial relationship with Pakistani dictator, Ziaul Haq. Indo-Pak relationship was excellent during his two and a half years of premiership. However, the security agencies of India had to suffer a lot during his period. The entire human intelligence (HUMINT) system painstakingly developed by RAW, IB and Military Intelligence (MI) over a long period inside Pakistan was destroyed by Desai. Almost all the 'assets' were arrested and eliminated by Pakistan due to his impractical act of divulging the names.
(e) Despite his personal honesty, he remained blind to various unethical practices of his son, Kantibhai Desai, throughout his life.
(f) His propagation of so-called 'urine-therapy' sometime embarrassed Indian bureaucrats and diplomats in presence of foreign dignitaries.

Despite various mistakes committed by Morarji Desai throughout his long political life, we must respect him for his attachment to Gandhism, principled approach and personal honesty. I thank the author for this informative article.

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