Monday, February 29, 2016

29 February, a birthday comes once in four years

29 February, a birthday comes once in four years.

29 February is a date of leap year comes once in four years. February gains a day but doesn't lose it's status of the smallest month. It is a day that synchronise calender year with solar year, setting 6 hours above 365 days, the earth orbiting time around the Sun.

Do you know, one of the Prime Ministers of India, couldn't celebrate his birthday as Dy PM as well as PM, though he was in power for 28 months in each spell? What a coincidence, he became DyPM on 13/3/67 and resigned on 16/7/69; he became PM on 24/3/77 and resigned on 28/7/79.

He was Shri Morarji Ranchodji Desai, the first Gujarati Prime Minister of India, to head first non Congress government. He was born in a leap year, on 29 February 1896. His years in office as DyPM (1967-69) and as PM (1977-79) didn't fall in the leap.

He has been remembered for his administrative skills, unique personality of disciplined life of Gandhian thoughts. Resigning from power on principles was a very simple act for him. His love for naturopathy and his experiments with shivambu were well-known. 

He was civil servant of State Service, resigned as Deputy Collector of Godhra in May 1930 on softness issue over Hindus during the Godhra riots of 1927-28. He then joined freedom struggle lead by Mahatma Gandhi.

As Chief Minister of Mumbai Government, he had introduced Land Reforms that made the tillers the owner of the land. He paid the price, the CM of Mumbai state lost election of Valsad-Gandevi assembly seat against Dr. Amul Desai. His caste fellows Desai Brahmins didn't vote for him because many of them lost their lands due to land reforms. It was a turning point in the life of the Patels of Gujarat and Patils of Maharashtra, because they become the owner of the large land they were cultivating for years under the Darbars, Mahalkars and Jamindars.

He was in oppose to formation of two states of Gujarat and Maharashtra and was in favour of making Mumbai, the Union Territory. The police fire killing 105 protesters at Flora fountain (Mumbai) and Mahagujarat agitation lead by Indulal Yagnik opened the way for the birth of two States, Gujarat and Maharashtra. He had to earn displeasure of both, the Gujarati and the Marathi people.

He moved to Delhi and was inducted in Central Cabinet. He had presented the Central Budget for a record 10 times as Finance Minister of India. His Gold Control Order is still a milestone for all the FM to follow during the financial crisis. He was contender of PM post after Nehru but lost twice against the majority party will favouring LB Shashtri and Indira Gandhi. He became Dy PM under the Indira Gandhi government in 1967, but had to resign in 1969. 

In the fight of Syndicate and Indicate within INC, he continued with the fraction Sanstha (Organization) Congress. But when "Garibi Hatao Slogan won a landslide victory for Indira Gandhi, Morarjibhai put his efforts in uniting opposition parties against INC. The first such experiment (Janata Morcho) became successful in Gujarat in 1975. He went on indefinite hunger strike on "dandi day" 12 March 1975 to support Navnirman Agitation. With his efforts, the first non Congressi State government under Shri Babubhai Jashbhai Patel was formed in June 1975. Shri Babubhai lead the government nicely. Groundnut oil prices was the barometer of the functioning of the state government those days. The famous Raipur Bhajia was sold at Rs.3/kg. Ashok Bhatt, the then Jansangh leader launched agitation against the Janta Morcha government of Babubhai Jasbhai Patel, when the price of groundnut oil rose from Rs.3/kg to Rs.3.50/kg.

He went into jail along with other opposition leaders, during the emergency. When JP agitation succeeded against INC with united opposition wining parliamentary elections, he became the PM of non INC government in 1977. He was 81 years old.

As PM, he opened the way of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Dam Scheme, declaring the Tribunal Award. The fruits of the scheme are now been enjoyed by the people of the 4 States, Gujarat, Maharashtra, MP and Rajasthan.

His step to accept Kothari Commission Report, allowing regional languages as medium of examination in Civil Services has opened the door of the Privy Services of the Country for the people coming from rural and slums background. English style Civil Servants were replaced by the Indian style Servants!

He had proposed to remove surname from the names of Indians to remove caste identity in public. But he couldn't implement due to early fall of his government.

As PM, he was able to curb inflation. First time, the long queues in front of the ration shops in India disappeared. Sugar prices at ration shop and in open market were the same. The waste collectors were offering sugar in lieu of waste plastic shoes (juta na bhave sugar). But Gujarati people felt very bad when he advised them to reduce consumption of Sugar and Oil to improve health and control the prices, in a public meeting in Ahmedabad. 

See the bravery of his mind and energetic status of his health at 81 years age, he walked out safe from the air craft when the craft Pushpak crashlanded at Jorhat in Assam, in November 1977. However, 5 IAF pilots sacrificed their lives for the PM.

He was the first man of India who was conferred with the highest civilian awards of Pakistan and India "Nishane Pakistan" and "Bharat Ratna" respectively. He neither gave away land nor compromise with any principles. "Nishane Pakistan" was the proof of his successful foreign policy with the neighbours.

He had differences with Indira Gandhi. He was the Dy PM holding Finance Ministry. But when she took away his Finance portfolio and nationalised Banks, he had resigned from the Cabinet. He couldn't become PM of India from INC and had to quit the cabinet because of her. But when Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her security guards, what was the reaction of Morarjibhai? "If I had been there, I would have thrown my body before the bullet to save the bravest lady of the Country".

When his government was in trouble due to internal fights of double membership issue of one of the alliance parties, Jansangh, he resigned but didn't compromise with the principles of public life. However, some people did question his approach of not opening way for Jagjivan Ram to sworn in as the first Dalit PM of India. Chudhary Charan Singh succeeded in getting the PM title with INC support from outside, but had to resign in 24 days in office when Mrs. Gandhi withdrew the support. Morarjibhai lost power and from the mess ups of the oppositions, a new party BJP was born. Bhartiya Jan Sangh (BJS) became Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Lamp was replaced by Lotus. In it's first election, the party won only 2 seats in 1984, but later captured the power of Central Government in 1996 (13 days), 1998 (13 months), 1999 (5 years), and now ruling from 2014 onwards. 

Other than Jai Prakash Narayan, Morarjibhai had also played  a big role in unifying opposition parties against the Chakravarti rule of INC. 

He missed the last leap year and the Century of life by just 10 months and 19 days, died at 99 years on 10 April 1995. He was cremated at Abhay Ghat, near Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad. Abhay Ghat on Ashram Road, reminds the "Fearlessness" of Morarjibhai.

Our respect and salute to one of our greatest Gujaratis, Bharat Ratna Shri Morarjibhai Desai.

29 February 2016


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