Morarji Desai Book Review: The ethical Prime Minister

In Morarji Desai: A Profile in Courage, author Arvindar Singh writes, “Morarji was a person who could attune himself to any situation.” As you read through the short but informative compilation on India’s former prime minister, you cannot but agree with the writer.

Although Desai had a prominent role to play in India’s freedom struggle and thereafter, he is a much forgotten leader. The 90s generation of mine grew up on the legend that he was born in the leap year, drank his own urine and lived up to the age of 99. There was much more to Morarji Desai though.

Youngsters of the WhatsApp era might not even know that a man named Morarji Desai once existed. Through his book, author Arvindar Singh does his bit by trying to do justice to the man, who had the task of leading India’s non-Congress government. It traces the journey of Desai from his days as a probationary Deputy Collector in the Provincial Civil Service to his meteoric rise in Indian politics to occupy the highest post, and the silent walk into the sunset.

Singh pays tribute to the much-admired qualities of Desai — that of being an able administrator and also his principles of putting national interest first, which he never compromised on even if it caused him immense personal harm. It is rare to see a politician of such ethically high standards — impossible in today’s times when personal assaults and insults have reached appalling levels.

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Although Desai was the Prime Minister of the country for a short duration, the good his government did was commendable. Inflation was brought under control, law and order was maintained and relations with most countries were cordial. In fact, Indo-Pak relations were never better as clear from the fact that Pakistan conferred upon him their highest civilian honour — Nishan-e-Pakistan. All this because, we had a leader who had his priorities in the right place, and knew how to call a spade a spade.

The book, however, also details how Desai could not stop infighting in the Janata Party, jealously and personal ambitions, which eventually led to the premature fall of the government, which promised so much but was eventually short on time to deliver. In a way, Desai was the Rajesh Khanna of Indian politics — he came, he saw, he conquered, he disappeared.

The insights on Desai’s personal life are also enlightening — like his decision to go jack-staying at the age of 81 or his choice to adopt celibacy. There are also details of the shocking controversy that Desai was paid informer for the CIA — allegations which have never been proved, but only go to show than no matter how clean, one can never stay away from controversy. In a brief accumulation, Arvindar Singh captures the various hues of Desai’s life and times.

Book: Morarji Desai — A Profile in Courage

Author: Arvindar Singh

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Pages: 192; Price: Rs 650

(Buy Renin Wilben)