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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More about long-lived leaders

India does have some entries here, which have even been cited in the Guinness Book of Records.

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

So Morarji Desai (81) is the oldest to be elected Prime Minister for the first time. The case of Philippe Petain (84) is different as he was appointed “Chief of State” and not elected. This appointment came when France was about to be taken over by the invading German forces.

LK Advani (born November 1927) is now 90+ and may have hopes of surpassing Morarjibhai’s record.

There are, of course, others like Mahathir Mohamad who have been elected prime minister (but not for the first time) at a greater age. Other examples include William Gladstone of Britain (82+ when he became PM for the fourth time) and Ronald Reagan (73+ when he was elected President for the second time).

The oldest to become PM of Britain for the first time was Viscount Palmerston (70+) in 1855. India’s war of independence occurred during his first tenure of 1855-58. The change to direct rule in India came during the short tenure of his successor (The Earl of Derby) in 1858-59. Palmerston returned for his second term which was in 1859-1865.

The oldest to become President of the US for the first time is Donald Trump (70+). Incidentally, he, Bill Clinton and George Bush (Jr) were all born in 1946.

These links may be useful:

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

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

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

Contrary to popular belief, Gulzarilal Nanda had a longer lifespan than Morarji Desai. Both crossed 99. (But Morarji Desai celebrated his birthday only in leap years, which is another matter).

Alec Douglas-Home was among the longest-lived Prime Ministers of Britain, though also among the most obscure of those who served in the 20th century.

He was the only British PM to have played first-class cricket. He did not do too well, but at least had better figures than Nawaz Sharif.

Present and past US Presidents (Updated in 2018)

First take a good look at this picture:

USPres

This picture was taken in late 1991. It shows the then President George Bush (Sr) along with all four of his living predecessors: Reagan, Carter, Ford and Nixon. All five of them have autographed the original photograph. This original, along with a certificate of authenticity, can be purchased for USD 7,500 (about INR 470,000). See below:

Presidents-5

If the incumbent President Barack Obama were to have a similar opportunity, he could also be accompanied by all four of his living predecessors. Only two of the five in the above picture survive, having crossed 90.

As of January 2015, there are four living former presidents:

President Term of office Date of birth
Jimmy Carter 1977–1981 October 1, 1924 (age 90)
George H. W. Bush 1989–1993 June 12, 1924 (age 90)
Bill Clinton 1993–2001 August 19, 1946 (age 68)
George W. Bush 2001–2009 July 6, 1946 (age 68)

Although George Bush (Sr) also had a W in his name, no one thought of calling him Dubya.

An interesting coincidence is that Carter and Bush (Sr) were both born in 1924, while Clinton and Bush (Jr) were both born in 1946. Prior to Carter, both Nixon and Ford were born in 1913.

As in the case of the British royal family, every possible bit of trivia has been teased out of Presidential history. For instance, there have been times when 5 ex-Presidents were living. The last such instance was between January 2001 (George Bush (Jr)’s inauguration and June 2004 (Reagan’s death), with Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush (Sr) and Clinton. And there have been some occasions when there were no living ex-Presidents. Obviously this was true of George Washington’s presidency in 1789-1797 but it occurred a few more times, the last occasion being between February 1973 (Johnson’s death) and August 1974 (Nixon’s resignation). A listing of the number of living Presidents and ex-Presidents at any point of time since 1789 can be seen here:

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

Throughout the 8 years of Obama’s two terms, the 4 ex-Presidents were living. When Trump succeeded him in January 2017, Obama become the 5th ex-President co-existing with him. This is a record, though it has happened before a few times. Details can be seen from the link above.

In the US, any aspiring school quizzer worth his or her salt would have to know the names of all Presidents and their terms. By college level, they would have to know the Vice-Presidents as well. This comes in useful because there are enough obscure Presidents and Vice-Presidents to generate many questions. In connection with Vice-Presidents, Woodrow Wilson is believed to have said “There were two brothers. One went to sea and the other became Vice-President. Neither was heard of again.”

Indeed, relatively few Vice-Presidents are elected to the Presidency immediately after their Vice-Presidency. Bush (Sr) was the first to do so in over a century. Richard Nixon had a gap of 8 years before he was elected President.

Now, if you are from India, you only have a data set starting from 1947 (and 1950 for Presidents and 1952 for Vice-Presidents). See if you can recite from memory all the Presidents, Vice-Presidents and Prime Ministers (Yes, Gulzarilal Nanda also counts). Toss in the few who have been designated Deputy Prime Minister. (Not in UPA-1 or 2 or at present).