Everything you wanted to know about Morarji Desai – but were afraid to ask

The younger generation would not know much about Morarji Desai, except that he was briefly Prime Minister of India (true), that he was the longest lived person to hold that post (not quite true), that he advocated urine therapy (true) and quoted the Bible to prove that it recommended this (it doesn’t).

Most of the information  you need to know about him (including his drinking habits) will be here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morarji_Desai

but it does not highlight certain points, which is where this blogpost comes in.

To begin with, let us see how long he lived. He was born on 29 Feb 1896 and died on 10 April 1995, soon after celebrating his 99th birthday. If you use something like http://www.timeanddate.com/date/duration.html you can see this is 36,200 days (inclusive of both).

But then there is the little known Gulzarilal Nanda who is listed in the official records as Acting Prime Minister for 13 days in 1964 and 13 days again in 1966. No one else has been Acting Prime Minister-though it is not very clear who ran the country for half a day between the assassination of one PM and swearing in of the new one on 31 Oct 1984.

There have been Deputy Prime Ministers on some occasions but it is not a statutory position.

Anyway, Mr Nanda lived from 4 Jul 1898 to 15 Jan 1999 (about 100 years and 6 months) or more precisely 36,720 days and thus has a rightful claim to be the longest lived Indian Prime Minister.

Coming back to Morarjibhai, you could immediately realize that his true birthday came round every 4 years. But he was doubly unfortunate that 1900 was NOT a leap year and that his first real birthday came only when he was 8, on 29 Feb 1904. Why? Read up on leap years, and you will know that 1896 was a leap year , 1900 was not, although 2000 was. This extract from Wikipedia should do:

“February 29, also known as the leap day of the Gregorian calendar, is a date that occurs in most years that are divisible by 4, such as 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020. Years that are divisible by 100, but not by 400, do not contain a leap day; thus 1700, 1800, and 1900 did not contain a leap day while 1600 and 2000 did.”

Thus we see that he saw only 23 birthdays in his long life.

Also see:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2016/02/27/people-born-on-leap-day/

His earlier career details are seen here: “After graduating from Wilson College, Mumbai, he joined the civil service in Gujarat. Desai resigned as deputy collector of Godhra in May 1930 after being found guilty of going soft on Hindus during the riots of 1927-28 there.”

Had he stuck on, he would have probably been promoted to the IAS soon after independence.

It is not always remembered that he survived a crash of the official PM’s aircraft which claimed the lives of 5 Air Force men and injured several others:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Flashback-When-Morarji-walked-out-of-a-plane-wreck/articleshow/4966076.cms

A more detailed article is:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2016/02/20/when-the-prime-ministers-plane-crashed/

But most people know about his drinking habits, and the large number of PJs it spawned. It is not clear whether the soft drink Pee Cola had anything to do with him. It used to be available in India until the 1990s and is apparently still available in Ghana. Apparently the drink was promoted by one Mr Haren Patel who wanted to use his initial in the product. A Google search for Pee Cola seems to show it is still available in some parts of the world.

http://dizzyfrinks.com/drink/pee-cola/

One justification which he is supposed to have used is that “Even the Bible says that you should drink from your own cistern”. There is indeed such a quote in Proverbs 5: 15 but from the context you will realize it means quite something else:

13 Neither have I obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!

14 I was well nigh in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly.

15 Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.

16 Should thy springs be dispersed abroad, and rivers of water in the streets?

17 Let them be for thyself alone, and not for strangers with thee.

18 Let thy fountain be blessed; and rejoice in the wife of thy youth.

The Bible, like any other major religious work, has extensive commentary for every phrase and sentence. Here is one of the simpler ones:

“(15-20) Drink waters out of thine own cistern . . .—In these verses Solomon urges his disciples to follow after purity in the married life; he pictures in vivid terms the delights which it affords as compared with the pleasures of sin.”

You get the general idea. The same idea is expressed in much greater length in other commentaries. Whoever originally wrote this had much to say about fidelity to one’s spouse but nothing at all to say about beverages.

You do not hear much about urine therapy nowadays. Books on this subject are still available, including one (ostensibly by him):

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Miracles-Urine-Therapy-Morarji-Desai/dp/8187155396

However, at least one reviewer feels that it is a fake title written by someone else using Morarjibhai’s name. Such fake works of literature are often available from dubious sources in India and elsewhere such as novels ostensibly written by best-selling authors such as Arthur Hailey and Frederick Forsyth.

And he is still listed in the Guinness Book of Records:

http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/oldest-appointed-prime-minister

The record is:

“The oldest age at first appointment has been 81, in the case of Morarji Ranchhodji Desai (1896-1995) of India, March 1977.

Leading an opposition coalition, he prevailed in the 1977 elections, ending Gandhi’s emergency rule. He served as prime minister until 1979, when the coalition broke apart.

Philippe Petain (1856-1951), although not `Prime Minister’, became `Chief of State’ of the French State on July 10, 1940, at the age of 84.”

Strictly speaking, Marshall Petain was not elected to this post but was appointed, at the time France was about to surrender to the invading Germans.

There are others such as Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad (92) and British PM William Gladstone (82) who have become Prime Ministers (but not for the first time) at more advanced ages. LK Advani (born November 1927, 90+ at the time of writing) may still harbour  hopes of becoming Prime Minister for the first time in his 90s.

While Morarji Desai was not the best of India’s Prime Ministers, he was not the worst either. And he is associated with more peculiar trivia than other long-serving Indian leaders.

 

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Today is MH 370 Day

We generally know March 8 as International Women’s Day. In years to come it may well become known as MH 370 Day. On this day in 2014, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 239 aboard disappeared soon after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on a flight listed as MH 370. It was a totally routine flight until the transponder was switched off at 17.19 UTC/GMT (or 22.49 IST). Three years later, the final location and fate of the plane and its occupants remain a mystery.

Whatever is generally known is given here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaysia_Airlines_Flight_370

There are numerous forums/mailing lists still devoted to this incident. One of the better ones is

http://jeffwise.net/

You may also be interested in this bit I wrote about the Indian angle. It has some general information about the Andaman and Nicobar Islands:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/03/07/mh-370-the-indian-angle/

 

 

When the Prime Minister’s plane crashed

Morarji Desai is remembered for various things (particularly his drinking habits and his birthday on February 29), and more seriously for being the first non-Congress Prime Minister (for what it is worth). He was also one of the few major political figures of India to escape a fatal plane crash (unlike Sardar Patel’s case in 1949 where no one was injured although the plane was written off).

A bit of legend has come up regarding this crash, citing the valiant crew of the IAF who “sacrificed their lives in order to save the passengers”. Things have not been helped because the results of inquiries into military aviation accidents are not generally released to the press.

In contrast, the DGCA now does put detailed accident reports on its website www.dgca.in

Click on the Aircraft tab and then Accident/Incident

Summaries of civil aviation accident reports going back to 1960 can also be seen there. You can even get this information back to 1950 through RTI.

Anyway, we come back to the crash of an IAF TU-124 near Jorhat on November 4, 1977. I was not able to obtain any Indian newspaper for that period. The basic details can be seen here:

https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19771105-0

The only picture available on the net:

As you can see, the front portion was badly damaged but the rest of the aircraft was relatively intact. The TU-124 was carrying 11 crew and 9 passengers. 5 of the crew in the front portion were killed while some of the passengers and other crew were injured, some seriously including the PM’s son Kanti and the then CM of Arunachal PK Thungon. The PM appears to have been unscathed.

Now the report of the inquiry commission headed by Air Marshal Subbiah does not seem to be available to the public. The next best reference may be this blogpost by a retired senior IAF officer:

https://tkstales.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/754/

Read it carefully. Many of the follow-up comments are of interest.

It does seem to be due to human error, but whether the crew or someone else in the IAF was responsible is still unclear.

The accident site appears to be near Takelagaon village near Bhalukmara railway station, about 10 km south-west of Jorhat airport.

https://www.google.co.in/maps/@26.6644431,94.1154097,14z

Update: A first-person account written by one of the IAF officers who survived the crash It has a few more pictures:

http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/history/1970s/1364-jorhat-crash.html

Footnote: More about Morarji Desai here:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/morarji-desai-everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-him-but-were-afraid-to-ask/

 

When Sardar Patel walked out from a plane crash (Revised)

A little known fact about Sardar Patel: he had a little adventure when his plane force-landed near Shahpura about 65 km north of Jaipur on March 29, 1949 where he was going to attend the inauguration of the new state of Rajasthan. He and the other occupants of the  aircraft were unhurt, but his whereabouts were not known for a few hours until he reappeared in Jaipur. The other passengers included his daughter Maniben and the Maharaja of Patiala.

Today Shahpura is a small and bustling town on the Delhi-Jaipur highway.

Here is a link to the Indian Express of March 31, 1949. It can be magnified to suit the reader’s convenience:

The Indian Express – Google News Archive Search

It is not clear from these reports whether it was an aircraft of the Air Force or some other government agency, and it is wrongly mentioned to be a Dove (see the link below):

This link from veteran aviation writer PVS Jagan: http://jaganpvs.tripod.com/trivia05.htm

tells us that it was an RIAF Devon piloted by Flt Lt KG Bhimrao. Although the aircraft was written off, no one was injured.

The confusion arose because the de Havilland Dove and Devon were essentially the same aircraft, although the military version was called the Devon. Some information and pictures here:

http://defenceforumindia.com/forum/threads/historical-fighter-planes-of-india.48691/page-8

The biographical film “Sardar” (1993) with Paresh Rawal in the title role briefly shows this incident near the close of the film, though one would not expect the technical details to be accurate in a popular film like this.

The Sardar’s  colleague Jagjivan Ram had not been so fortunate. He was seriously injured in a BOAC airliner’s crash in Iran shortly before Independence in which several people were killed. So he was the only cabinet minister who was unable to attend the Independence celebrations on August 15, 1947. A brief account of the crash is here (though it does not mention his name):

http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19470716-0

There are, of course, several prominent Indians in politics who have been killed in aviation accidents, ranging from senior ministers such as Mohan Kumaramangalam and Madhavrao Scindia to other powerful persons such as Sanjay Gandhi and Dhirendra Brahmachari.

Footnote: The Maharaja of Patiala was one of the passengers on the Sardar’s aircraft. Earlier, as Yuvraj of Patiala, he had played one Test match for India in 1933-34 scoring a fifty. He would have played more Tests for India if he was not actively involved in politics. His son Captain Amarinder Singh, continues to be an important force in Punjab’s politics.

 

 

Spotlight on the Arakkonam airfield

Arakkonam (formerly Arkonam) is well known to railway followers because it is an important junction as well as electric loco shed, but has recently come into prominence because the inundation of Chennai airport caused some commercial flights to be operated from there. To be precise, this is the NAS (Naval Air Station) at Arakkonam which the Navy calls INS Rajali.

Most basic information can be seen here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/INS_Rajali

Although it started off as an IAF base in the 1940s, it was abandoned soon after WW2 and was reactivated for the long-range reconnaissance aircraft of the Navy during the late 1980s. The TU-142s and now the Poseidon P-8s have made good use of the 4.1 km runway which has been claimed to be the longest military runway in Asia.

Here you can see the locations of Chennai international airport (MAA), IAF Tambaram and INS Rajali marked with the small gold stars.

Chennai area

One can see that INS Rajali is about 50 km west of MAA, while IAF Tambaram is only 10 km away. At least there is no chance of a confused airline pilot landing his 747 at INS Rajali by mistake, though this has happened once at Tambaram in recent years.

Here is a closer view of INS Rajali:

INS Rajali

Though it is not very clearly shown, the railway line from Chengalpattu runs along the highway right by the boundary wall of the base. The Railways have been planning to electrify this section for a long time but the Navy have objected to the presence of the traction equipment being an obstacle to the flight path. Thus an alternative line is being built further from the airfield, but this seems to have dragged on for several years. This new line is not shown in the map. Meanwhile  the diesel-hauled trains continue to run past the base.

This is not the first time that military airfields have been used a a backup. Sulur for Coimbatore and Avantipur for Srinagar are other examples. The inaugural flight of Jet Airways to Coimbatore did land at Sulur by mistake. Apart from the Saudia 747 which wrongly landed at Tambaram, there have been several incidents including a mid-air collision and another which totalled a DC-8 which were caused by the proximity of BOM to Juhu. More about these later.

With all these movements of heavy aircraft, it is fortunate that this airfield has not seen a major aviation accident yet. However, India’s experimental AWACS on an Avro frame did crash a few km away in 1999, apparently putting an end to DRDO’s efforts in that direction.

MH 370: The saga STILL continues

I have written on this topic before. Here is a summary of what was known in December 2014:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2014/12/27/mh-370-the-saga-continues

and a later comment on the Indian angle:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/03/07/mh-370-the-indian-angle/

As mentioned earlier, one forum which attracts a fair number of well-informed comments is:

http://jeffwise.net/

Sometimes a single article attracts over 1200 comments, which are worth reading if you want to know about this deepest of mysteries.

Basically the old idea that the crash’s location was determined by the BFO transmissions is being given less credence now-so if the plane did not go to the southern Indian Ocean, where else could it have gone? This aspect is studied by Victor Iannello here:

http://jeffwise.net/2015/04/29/guest-post-northern-routes-for-mh370-ending-at-airports/#more-3915

Anyone a bit familiar with Indian aviation would see something wrong in his scenario. Look at the map and then see my comment (among the first few).

Past air crashes linked to pilot’s actions

Much is being said about the crash of Germanwings’ flight 4U9525, including the fact that the co-pilot was somehow responsible for this. It is not always possible to exactly identify the cause in accidents of this sort, but there is fairly strong evidence in several instances which have not been highlighted in the press so far. This list appears to be more exhaustive:

http://www.itv.com/news/2015-03-26/eight-pilot-suicides-recorded-in-past-40-years-killing-hundreds-of-passengers-crew-and-people-on-the-ground/

This seems to draw mainly from the site: http://aviation-safety.net/  One can also see the Wikipedia articles for more details of the respective incidents.

There is even one from India which did not get much publicity as it was not a commercial flight:

http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19920827-2

And of course, something of this sort might have happened in the case of MH 370 although there are several other theories which can explain its disappearance.