Morarji Ranchhodji Desai, the fourth Prime Minister of India, led India’s first non-Congress government from 1977-1979. The son of a school teacher from Bhadehi village, now in Bulsar district of Gujarat, Desai, was imprisoned thrice during the Indian freedom struggle. He died on April 10, 1995, aged 99 at a hospital in Mumbai.
Here are a few lesser-known facts about the staunch Gandhian:
1. Desai had been a loyal Congressman for the most part of his five-decade-long political career, but joined party dissenters against Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s rule in 1969. He had become a member of the All India Congress Committee in 1931.
2. He held many posts in government beginning with the Chief Ministership of Bombay State in 1952, then as India’s Minister for Commerce and Industry in 1956 and as Finance Minister in 1958. Later, in 1967, he joined Indira Gandhi’s cabinet as Deputy Prime Minister.
3. After Indira declared Emergency in 1975, Desai was arrested and detained; he was released in January 1977.
4. After becoming the prime minister of a Janata Party government on March 24, 1977, he had promised to end poverty in 10 years and outlaw alcohol. But he had to resign and his government fell after 28 months in office as a revolt brimmed against him in the Janata Party.
5. In 1978 interview to an American TV network, he attributed his longevity to drinking his own urine. He became celibate at age 32.
6. He was a vegetarian by birth and by conviction.
7. For Desai, truth was an article of faith and he always stood by his conviction, saying once, “One should act in life according to truth and one’s faith’.
8. He sat on an indefinite hunger strike to support the Nav Nirman movement of Gujarat in 1974 by students and middle-class people against economic crisis and corruption in public life. His fast ended in a success.