Why did Morarji Desai resign?

By Sunil Kumar

Morarji Desai’s reputation as a tough nut and a strong follower of fellow Gujarati M.K Gandhi was forged even before independence.

Interesting snippets: The oldest of eight children and son of a school-teacher Morarji Desai became part of the Gujarat civil service after graduating from Wilson college, Mumbai.

Resigning as deputy collector in 1930 after being accused(presumably by the colonial authorities) of going soft on Hindus in Godhra riots(1927–28); Desai joined the civil disobedience movement and became one of the prominent leaders of the Indian National Congress in Gujarat.

After independence, he was home minister and chief minister of Bombay state(which included Maharashtra and Gujarat). Desai was opposed to bifurcation on language lines; and proposed that Mumbai became a union territory. He was also socially conservative, pro-business and disliked Nehru’s socialist policies. Often at odds with Nehru and his council of ministers; Desai had aspirations of becoming the Prime Minister himself.

However; Indira Gandhi outmanoeuvred Morarji Desai; kingmaker Kamraj etc and gradually became more powerful in the game of Indian thrones. After being accused of electoral fraud; the JP Narayan anti-corruption movement; and the Emergency(75–77); Desai became the Prime Minister from the opposition Janata alliance in 1977.

His tenure rankled the Lutyens club and the capital intelligentsia(evident from a number of books on the subject). Desai’s tenure had some questionable decisions from a national security standpoint; his feud with R&AW(diluting its power); informing the clever Pakistani general-dictator Zia Ul Haq about India’s awareness about its clandestine nuclear program; which let the Pakistanis rooting out any spies; and achieving its goals. One of the reasons maybe that he received the Nishan-e-Pakistan from a grateful regime.

Desai was also rumored to be a CIA mole in the 1971 war; and when Vinod Mehta(ex-Outlook editor) once mentioned Y.B Chavan; former Maharashtra CM as the possible leak; all hell broke lose in Mumbai. According to Mehta; egged on by regional parties and Dileep Padgaonkar; former TOI editor; there were large-scale demonstrations against him; and he quit the now defunct daily “The Independent”. A NYT journalist; Seymour Hersh insisted that money had been given to Desai’s son, Kanti. However; all of this is still in the realm of media speculation.

Coming to the question; his two years in office were marked with friction. I’ve mentioned his biography to indicate that Morarji Desai was a person with authoritarian tendencies; disliked within his alliance and in the Indian political setup; where nearly every political candidate has prime ministerial aspirations; a recipe for more intrigue.

Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai in New Del...

Visit sunil-kumar.co.in Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai in New Delhi, signing the “New Delhi” declaration during a visit by US president Jimmy Carter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of the alliance members(BLD, Jan Sangh(precursor to the BJP), Socialists, Congress(0) had nothing in common except for an anti-Indira Congress stance. Left-leaning members including Madhu Limaye, George Fernandes and Krishan Kant raised the issue that no member of the Janata party could be member of another social or religious organization(aimed at the RSS and the Jan Sangh).

Charan Singh wanted to become PM himself; and sensed a golden opportunity as the deputy PM. Resigning from the party; he was briefly PM for a year(79–80) with the support of the socialists and former arch-enemy Indira Gandhi.

Morarji Desai lost the parliamentary majority and resigned in July 1979. Responsible for the first demonetization exercise in independent India, Desai was perceived as indifferent and alienated from both the public and internal party sentiment. But; the primary reason for his quitting office was lack of numbers in parliament.

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