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Morarji Desai

Morarji Desai




Morarji Ranchhodji Desai, born on February 29, 1896, in the village of Bhadeli in the Bombay Presidency (now in Gujarat), was an iconic figure in Indian politics and a fervent freedom fighter. His father, Ranchhodji Nagarji Desai, was a school teacher, and his mother, Vajiaben Desai, managed their large family of eight children.

Desai's early education took place at The Kundla School in Savarkundla, and later at Bai Ava Bai High School in Valsad. His career began in the civil services, where he held the position of deputy collector of Godhra. However, his commitment to justice and integrity led him to resign in 1930 following accusations of bias during the 1927-28 riots.

Desai joined Mahatma Gandhi's civil disobedience movement, dedicating himself to India's struggle for independence. His leadership skills were quickly recognized, making him a prominent leader within the Indian National Congress (INC) in Gujarat. During the provincial elections of 1934 and 1937, he was elected and served as Revenue Minister and Home Minister of the Bombay Presidency.

In 1952, Desai was elected Chief Minister of Bombay State. This period was marked by significant linguistic movements in South India, with demands for separate states based on language. Desai opposed these movements, proposing instead that Mumbai should become a Union Territory due to its cosmopolitan nature. His opposition led to violent protests, resulting in the death of 105 demonstrators. This event eventually forced the creation of the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, with Mumbai becoming the capital of Maharashtra.

Desai's ascent in national politics was marked by his tenure as Finance Minister in Jawaharlal Nehru's cabinet. Known for his conservative, pro-business stance, he often clashed with Nehru's socialist policies. Despite these differences, Desai served as Finance Minister and later as Deputy Prime Minister in Indira Gandhi's cabinet until 1969, when a rift led to his resignation.

The political landscape shifted dramatically after the Emergency period (1975-1977) declared by Indira Gandhi. In the 1977 elections, the Janata Party, a coalition of opposition parties, won a landslide victory. Desai, chosen as the Janata Party's parliamentary leader, became India's first non-Congress Prime Minister at the age of 81, the oldest in Indian history.

During his tenure from 1977 to 1979, Desai worked to restore democratic norms and civil liberties dismantled during the Emergency. Internationally, he sought to improve relations with China and Pakistan, earning the Nishan-e-Pakistan, Pakistan's highest civilian award, in 1990. Desai was committed to maintaining India's nuclear program for peaceful purposes, resisting international pressure to curb it.

Desai's government faced internal strife and challenges, leading to its collapse in 1979. He retired from active politics but continued to support the Janata Party. In recognition of his lifelong dedication to the nation, he was awarded India's highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna, in 1991.

Desai passed away on April 10, 1995, at the age of 99. His legacy as a principled leader, committed to democracy, peace, and non-violence, endures. He remains a symbol of integrity in Indian politics, celebrated for his contributions to India's freedom struggle and his leadership in the post-independence era.

Place of Birth: Valsad

Date of Birth: February 29, 1896

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