Childhood & Early Life
Varahagiri Venkata Giri was born on 10 August 1894 in Berhampur, Odisha, into a Telugu speaking Brahmin family. His father, V. V. Jogayya Pantulu, was a prominent lawyer and political activist while his mother, Subhadramma was active in the national movement as well.
He completed his initial education at the Khallikote College in Berhampur. In 1913, he went to Ireland to study law at University College Dublin.
In Dublin, he was deeply influenced by the Irish fight for independence. He drew his inspiration from De Valera and associated with Collins, Pearee, Desmond Fitzgerald, MacNeil, Connolly, et al.
In 1916, his involvement in the Sinn Féin Movement and his alleged role in the Easter Uprising resulted in his expulsion from Ireland. Thereafter, he returned to India.
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After returning to India, he enrolled at the Madras High Court and began his legal career. He also became a member of the Congress party and joined the Home Rule Movement of Annie Beasant.
In 1920, he wholeheartedly participated in Mahatma Gandhi's Non-Cooperation Movement and two years later, he was imprisoned for campaigning against the sale of liquor in shops.
He was genuinely concerned about the security and comfort of the working class in India. Thus all through his career, he was associated with the labour and trade union movement. In 1923, along with a few others, he founded the All India Railwaymen’s Federation and served as its General Secretary for more than ten years.
In 1926, he was elected President of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC). He attended several international gatherings such as the International Labour Conference and the Trade Union Congress, both held at Geneva in 1927, and the Second Round Table Conference in London as the Workers' Representative in 1931-1932.
He also created the Bengal Nagpur Railway Association. In 1928, he spearheaded a successful non-violent strike by the workers of the association for their rights; the British Raj and the railway management fulfilled their demands following the peaceful protest.
In 1929, along with N. M. Joshi he formed the Indian Trade Union Federation (ITUF). This is because he and other liberal leaders wanted to cooperate with the Royal Commission of Labour while the rest of AITUC wanted to reject it. Finally, in 1939 both the groups merged and in 1942, he became President of the AITUC for the second time.
Meanwhile, he became a member of the Imperial Legislative Assembly in 1934. He was a spokesman regarding matters of labour and trade unions and continued as a member till 1937.
He defeated the Raja of Bobbili in the general elections of 1936 and became a member of the Madras Legislative Assembly. From 1937-1939, he was Minister for Labour and Industry in the Congress government headed by C. Rajagopalachari.
In 1938, he became Governor of the National Planning Committee of the Indian National Congress. The following year, the Congress ministries resigned objecting to the British government’s decision to drag India into World War II. He returned to the labour movement and was arrested and detained till March 1941.
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In 1942, he was imprisoned again for participating in the Quit India Movement. He was imprisoned in Vellore and Amravati prisons and was released three years later in 1945.
In the general elections of 1946, he was re-elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly and once again became the Minister of Labour under T. Prakasam.
From 1947 to 1951, he was India's first High Commissioner to Sri Lanka. In the first General Election of independent India in 1951, he was elected from the Pathapatnam Lok Sabha Constituency, in the Madras State.
In 1952, he became Minister of Labour. His programmes introduced the ‘Giri Approach’ to help resolve industrial disagreements by encouraging dialogues between the management and workers. In 1954, he famously resigned from his cabinet position when the government opposed the approach and decided to reduce the wages of bank employees.
In the following general elections of 1957, he lost from the Parvatipuram constituency. However, he was appointed Governor soon after. From June 1957 - 1960, he was Governor of Uttar Pradesh, from 1960–1965, he was Governor of Kerala and from 1965–1967, he was Governor of Karnataka.
As Governor of three different states, he started new activities and emerged as a guide for the new generation. In the meantime in 1958, he was elected as the President of the Indian Conference of Social Work.
In May 1967, he was elected the third Vice President of India and remained in office for the next two years. When President Zakir Hussain died on 3 May, 1969 he was elevated to the office of Acting President the same day.
He was keen to become President. Hence, on 20 July 1969 he resigned from the post of Acting President to contest elections as an independent candidate. However, before resigning, he circulated an ordinance that nationalised 14 banks and insurance companies.
In the Presidential election, he emerged victorious and was sworn in on 24 August 1969. He held office for a full term of five years. He became the only person to be elected President as an independent candidate.