Morarji Desai (29 Feb 1896 - 10 Apr 1995)
Morarji Desai was born on February 29, 1896 in Bhadeli village, now in the
Bulsar district of Gujarat. His father was a school teacher. He was educated at
St. Busar High School and passed his matriculation examination. Shri Desai and
Gujraben were married in 1911. He graduated from Wilson Civil Service of the
then Bombay Province in 1918. He served as a Deputy Collector for twelve years.
In 1930, Desai resigned from Government service and participated in freedom struggle. Shri Desai was imprisoned thrice during the freedom struggle. He became a Member of the All India Congress Committee in 1931 and was Secretary of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee untill 1937.
In 1937 Desai became Minister for Revenue, Agriculture, Forest and Co-operatives in the Ministry headed by Shri B.G. Kher in the then Bombay Province. Shri Desai was arrested in the individual Satyagraha launched by Mahatma Gandhi, released in October, 1941 and arrested again in August, 1942 at the time of the Quit India Movement. He was released in 1945. After the elections to the State Assemblies in 1946, he became the Minister for Home and Revenue in Bombay. In 1952, he became the Chief Minister of Bombay. He became the Union Cabinet Minister for Commerce and Industry on November 14, 1956. Later, he took the Finance portfolio on March 22, 1958.
In 1963, he resigned from the Union Cabinet under the Kamraj Plan. Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri, who succeeded Pt. Nehru as Prime Minister, pursuaded him to become Chairman of the Administrative Reforms Commission for restructuring the administrative system. His long and varied experienced of public life stood him in good stead in his task.
In 1967, Shri Desai joined Smt. Indira Gandhi’s cabinet as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister in charge of Finance. In July, 1969, Smt. Gandhi took away the Finance portfolio from him. While Shri Desai conceded that the Prime Minister has the prerogative to change the portfolios of colleagues, he felt that his self-respect had been hurt as even the common courtesy of consulting him had not shown by Smt. Gandhi. He, therefore, felt he had no alternative but to resign as Deputy Prime Minister of India.
When the Congress Party split in 1969, Shri Desai remained with the Organisation Congress. He continued to take a leading part the opposition. He was re-elected to Parliament in 1971. In 1975, he went on an indefinite fast on the question of holding elections to the Gujarat Assembly which had been dissolved. As a result of his fast, elections were held in June, 1975. The Janata Front formed by the four opposition parties and Independents supported by it, secured an absolute majority in the new House. After the judgement of the Allahabad High Court declaring Smt. Gandhi’s election to the Lok Sabha null and void, Shri Desai felt that in keeping with democratic principles, Smt. Gandhi should have submitted her resignation. Shri Desai was arrested and detained on June 26, 1975, when Emergency was declared. He was kept in solitary confinement and was released on January 18, 1977, a little before the decision to hold elections to the Lok Sabha was announced. He campaigned vigorously throughout the length and breadth of the country and was largely instrumental in achieving the re-sounding victory of the Janata Party in the General Elections held in March, 1977 . Shri Desai was himself selected to the Lok Sabha from the Surat Constituency in Gujarat. He was later unanimously elected as Leader of the Janata Party in Parliament and was sworn in as the Prime Minister of India on March 24, 1977.
In 1979, Charan Singh pulled his support from Janata alliance, and Desai resigned from office and retired from politics, 83 years old. He died at the age of 99. He had been honored much in his last years as the last great freedom-fighter of his generation alive. He was also well-known for his advocacy of unorthodox medical treatments like the consumption of one's own urine.