Upon completing his education, he joined the civil services and took up the profile of a Deputy Collector in 1918, which he served for 12 years until 1930, when he resigned after being found guilty of being soft on Hindus during the 1927-28 riots.
Having lost his faith in the British administration, he gave up on his governmental duties and joined Mahatma Gandhi in the freedom struggle, and became a part of the latter’s Civil Disobedience Movement.
In 1931, he became a member of the All India Congress Committee and served as the Secretary of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee until 1937.
During the provincial elections held in 1937, he served as the Minister of Revenue, Agriculture, Forest and Cooperatives in the Bombay Presidency. However, this was short-lived as the Congress ministries went out of office in 1939, revolting against India’s involvement in World War without the consensus of the people.
During his involvement in the Indian Independence Movement, he was thrice imprisoned and gained a reputation for himself amongst freedom-fighters and Indian National Congress leaders as a spirited man with dynamic leadership qualities.
After Indian attained independence, he took up the profile of Minister of Home and Revenue in Bombay in 1946. During his ministerial stint, he came up with revolutionary land reforms and bridged the gap between the police and the people by making the former responsive to the need of protecting the life and property of the general public.
It was due to his unwavering spirit of sincerity and honesty that he climbed up the political ladder to be appointed as the Chief Minister of Bombay in 1952. He gained a reputation for being a tough and effective administrator..
Meanwhile, it was during his reign that a demand for a separate state in terms of language was raised by the Gujarati-speaking people against Marathi-speaking people. He was a staunch nationalist and opposed the division of the state on linguistic lines but ultimately, the erstwhile Bombay state was reorganised into the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
In 1956, he moved to Delhi and became the Minister of Commerce and Industry in Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet. In 1958, he became the Finanace Minister.
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His increasing popularity made him a strong contender for the post of Prime Minister, after Nehru’s death, but he lost the race to Lal Bahadur Shastri, who in turn appointed him as the Chairman of the Administrative Reform Commission.
The sudden death of Shastri in 1966 once again offered him the opportunity to become prime minister. However, he yet again lost, this time to Indira Gandhi in the Congress party leadership elections.
When Indira Gandhi formed her government in 1966, he served in her cabinet as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. However, when Gandhi took charge of the finance portfolio from him and carried out financial decisions without consulting him, he felt offended and thus, resigned from her cabinet in 1969.
Following the split of the Indian National Congress, he joined hands with the Indian National Congress (organisation) faction against Indira Gandhi’s (Ruling) faction. He played a foremost role as an opposition leader.
In 1971, was elected to the Lok Sabha. Four years later, in support of the Nav Nirman movement, he went on an indefinite hunger strike. However, in the subsequent declaration of Emergency Rule, he was imprisoned along with other opposition leaders.
In 1977, right after his release, he worked strenuously hard, campaigning across the country for the upcoming parliamentary elections. He joined hands with Janata Party as their parliamentary leader and prime ministerial candidate.
With Janata Party registering a resounding victory in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections, he became the first non-Congress Prime Minister of India. He was sworn in on March 24, 1977 as the fifth Prime Minister of the country.
During his premiership, he worked hard to improve international diplomatic relations with arch rivals Pakistan and China..
It was during his prime ministerialship that amendments made during the Emergency period were overturned and Constitution of India was amended to ensure that the imposition of National Emergency is virtually impossible for any future government.
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Internal strife and conflict characterized much of the Janata Party government. As such, there was a lot of personal friction created within the government that caused much controversy.
Following Raj Narain’s and Charan Singh’s withdrawal of support from the Janata Party in 1979, he was forced to resign from the office of the Prime Minister. This also marked the end of his political career as he retired from politics. Though he did campaign for his party during the 1980 elections, he didn’t contest the elections himself.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1911, he tied the nuptial knot with Gujraben. The couple was blessed with five children.
Interestingly, despite coming from a politically active household, none excepting for his great grandson Madhukeshwar Desai shared his political ambition. Madhukeshwar Desai presently serves as the National Vice-President of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of the BJP.
After retiring from active politics, he settled in Mumbai. He breathed his last on April 10, 1995, just one birthday short of living a century.
Turning the pages of history, Morarji Desai’s contribution as a legendary freedom fighter and prominent politician continues to thrive in the heart of all Indians. His role in the Indian freedom struggle and later as a politician has been exceptional .
Desai always worked on the path of truthfulness and seldom compromised with his principles even in the most trying of situations. It was he who devised the theory that the law of the land was above and beyond all administrative posts and is the most supreme.