Morarji Desai: Everything you wanted to know about him-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).

Everything you need to know about him (including his drinking habits) will be here:  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 you can see this is 36,200 days (inclusive of both).

But then there is the little known Gulzarilal Nanda who is 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. 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.

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:

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.

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.

Although a small number of India and elsewhere still swear by urine therapy, you do not hear much about it now. You might come cross this book apparently written by Morarjibhai, which is still available on Amazon:

But the truth emerges in this customer review:

“4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By bee lady on 15 Aug. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Avid follower of urine therapy ( I know – I should be called The Pee Lady)
was very disappointed with this book.
First of all it was NOT written, as stated, by Moraji Desai, but by
an Indian urine practioner.
Moraji was world renowned for his practise of urine therapy and
was living proof of its health benefits etc.
The book was written in appalling English – and had whole sections
lifted from other well known books. Shame on the author for
his deceit.”
  So we see that at least one person (whose name turns out to be C. P. Mittal) did try using the PM’s name for unfair purposes.
Finally, we see that Morarjibhai still appears in the Guinness Book of World Records:
“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.”
Actually, Morarji Ranchhodji Desai , while not among the greatest Prime Ministers of our country, could be said to be more accomplished than several others who have held this position. There were probably not as many jokes about him as there were about, say, Manmohan Singh. But he does seem to have the most number of peculiar facts about himself.

Present and past US Presidents

First take a good look at this picture:


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:


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:

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).