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Morarji Desai was the fourth Prime Minister of India. With this biography, explore Morarji Ranchhodji Desai's profile, childhood, and life.

Morarji Desai

Born On: February 29, 1896
Born In: Bhadeli, Bombay Presidency
Died On: April 10, 1995
Career: Freedom Fighter, Political Leader
Nationality: Indian

Born in a Brahmin family and surrounded in an orthodox religious upbringing, Morarji Desai broke all barriers to serve the nation in the Indian freedom movement to become of the nation's foremost freedom fighters and fourth Prime Minister of India. Endearingly known as Morarji Bhai Desai, Morarji Ranchhodji Desai made unmatched achievements and distinctions in the annuals of history, the most eminent being 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.

Early Life
Morarji Desai was born in Bhadeli village of Valsad district in Bombay Presidency, now in Gujarat. He was born in an Anavil Brahmin family and hence, was brought up in an orthodox religious environment. Morarji Desai completed his schooling from St. Busar High School and later went to Wilson College in Mumbai to pursue graduation. Thereafter, he joined civil service in Gujarat in 1918 and started working as a Deputy Collector. However, he left his job under the British in 1824 to join the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930. For this, he served in prison on several occasions during the freedom struggle. To add on, his sharp and dynamic leadership skills and tough spirits made him a favorite amongst freedom fighters. He became a member of the All India Congress Committee in 1931 and rose to the position of Secretary of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee until 1937. When the first Congress Government office was set up in Bombay province in 1937, Morarji Desai became the minister of Revenue, Agriculture, Forest, and Co-operatives, under B.G. Kher.

Political Career
Prior to India's independence, Morarji Desai took active participation in Satyagraha under Mahatma Gandhi for which he was arrested and was freed only in October 1941. Again in August 1942, he was arrested for supporting the Quit India Movement and was released in 1945. In the State Assembly elections in 1946, he was elected as Minister for Home and Revenue in the Bombay Province. Later in 1952, he was appointed as the Chief Minister of Bombay State. In 1956, he became the Minister of Commerce and Industry in the Union Government and changed his portfolio to Finance in 1958. But with a difference in the linguistics of Desai and the Marathi speaking population in Bombay, there raised a silent conflict in the minds of the public.

He added fire to this by carrying out a demonstration under the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti that led to death of 105 demonstrators in 1960. As such, the central government was taken aback, thereby causing the formation of the present state of Maharashtra. Though Desai was a devoted Gandhian, but he opposed the views of the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. And with Nehru's continuous declining health, Desai was regarded as a strong contender for the next Indian Prime Minister due to his increasing popularity in Congress Party. However, in the 1964 elections after Nehru's death, he was defeated by Lal Bahadur Shastri, leaving him to build more support in the party. Yet again in 1966 on Shastri's death, he contested for the post but lost to Indira Gandhi with votes in the ratio 169:351.

Nonetheless, he was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister in 1967 in Indira Gandhi's cabinet. But because he was removed from the post of Finance Minister, he considered this to be disheartening and hence, resigned from the post of Deputy Prime Minister in 1969. With the split of Congress party in the same year, he lent his vote to Organization Congress - Congress (O) and became the foremost opposition leader. He went on an indefinite fast in 1975 with a want of elections in Gujarat Assembly which had earlier been dissolved. As a result, elections were held in June 1975 and the Janata Party won with a clear majority. Following a judgment by the Allahabad High Court against Indira Gandhi in 1975, Desai was of the opinion that Indira Gandhi should resign. Soon after, the Emergency was declared and Desai was arrested on June 26, 1975, along with various other opposition leaders. He was freed from prison on January 18, 1977.

Tenure as a Prime Minister
Following the lifting of the Emergency, Desai rose amongst the masses sue to his strong willing and convincing powers. He had that spark and determination of drawing people towards his party. As such, he carried out campaigns all across India and therefore, his party, Janata Party, came out victorious in the General Elections in March 1977. He was elected to Lok Sabha from Surat constituency. Soon after, he was unanimously elected as the leader of Janata Party in the Parliament. On March 24, 1977, he was sworn as the fourth Prime Minister of India, thereby becoming the first non-Congress to hold such a position. He was also the world's oldest person to become a Prime Minister at 81 years, a record which he holds till date.

As a Prime Minister, his primary achievements were of improving relations with Pakistan and restoring political relations with China, after the 1962 war. Under his leadership, the government canceled some of the legislations passed during Emergency and thereafter, made it difficult for any other government to impose emergency in the future. But his tenure as a Prime Minister did not last long as he was forced to resign for the office in 1979, after Chaudhary Charan Singh and Raj Narain withdrew from Janata Party. Thus, Desai resigned from Prime Ministerial post on July 28, 1979 and also bid goodbye to politics at the age of 83. Although he campaigned for Janata Party in 1980 General Elections, but he himself did not contest in the election.

R&AW Dispute
When Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India's external intelligence agency, was formed in 1968, Desai regarded it as the praetorian guard of Indira Gandhi and promised to cease all the activities of this agency when he becomes the Prime Minister, which he successfully did to some extent. The budget and operations of the agency were reduced significantly. On one occasion, B. Raman, the former head of the Counter-Terrorism Division of R&AW and noted security analyst, stated that Desai had cautiously informed the them Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq that he was aware of Islamabad's nuclear schemes.

Contribution to Society
Morarji Desai was a true Gandhian and a strict follower of principles, apart from being a social worker and reformer. At Gujarat Vidapith, a university established by Mahatma Gandhi, he served as the Chancellor. He used to visit and stay at the university in October, while serving as the Indian Prime Minister. On Sardar Patel's request, he conducted meetings with farmers of Kaira district, thereby leading to the establishment of AMUL Cooperative Movement. He pulled out from Public Distribution System which led to losses incurred by rationing shops due to the availability of sugar and oil at cheap prices in the market.

On retirement, Morarji Desai resided in Mumbai and died on April 10, 1995, at the age of 99. He is remembered and honored for his contribution to politics during his last years and as a legendary freedom fighter.

1896: Born on February 29 in Bhadeli, Bombay Presidency
1918: Joined as Deputy Collector in civil service in Gujarat
1924: Resigned from the job
1930: Joined Civil Disobedience Movement
1931: Became a member of All India Congress Committee
1937: Served as secretary of Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee
1937: Appointed as Minister of Revenue, Agriculture, Forest, and Co-operatives in Bombay Province
1942: Arrested for supporting Quit India Movement and imprisoned
1945: Released from jail
1946: Elected as Minister for Home and Revenue in Bombay Province
1952: Elected as Chief Minister of Bombay State
1956: Appointed as Minister of Commerce and Industry in the Union Government
1958: Changed the portfolio to Finance
1964: Lost to Lal Bahadur Shastri in Prime Ministerial elections
1966: Lost again to Indira Gandhi in Prime Ministerial elections
1967: Appointed as Deputy Prime Minister of India
1969: Resigned from the post
1975: Campaigned against Indira Gandhi and arrested on June 26
1977: Released from prison on January 18
1977: Became the fourth Prime Minister of India on march 24
1979: Resigned from office on July 28 and retired from politics
1990: Awarded the Nishaan-e-Pakistan
1991: Conferred upon with Bharat Ratna Award
1995: Died in Mumbai on April 10, aged 99