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‘Son of soil’, worked with Modi in his 20s — Who is Morarji Desai’s great-grandson Madhukeshwar

Madhukeshwar Desai takes pride in downplaying his political legacy, says his great-grandfather was not his inspiration for joining politics.

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New Delhi: Earlier this November, a senior journalist tweeted that late prime minister Morarji Desai had told him that “Hindutva loonies” were “turning Hinduism into an Abrahamic religion”. It was a comment that rankled Madhukeshwar Desai, a 34-year-old lawyer who has been the vice president of the BJP’s youth wing, the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), since 2013.

“It’s become fashionable to attribute [an] agenda or sensationalism to Morarji bhai to sell a book or story,” Madhukeshwar retorted in a tweet of his own. What many people are not aware of is that Madhukeshwar is the great-grandson of Morarji Desai — and the youth leader prefers to keep it that way.

Indeed, the younger Desai, who has been in politics for over a decade, takes pride in downplaying his political legacy. “Regardless of how tall your great-grandfather is, you have to do your growing yourself,” Madhukeshwar told ThePrint.

Another reason that he chooses not to foghorn his family history is that his great-grandfather was not his inspiration for joining politics. “While he was an extremely important political figure, he was not my reason for joining politics. I am more inspired by him personally than politically,” he added.

Madhukeshwar has also underscored that Morarji himself disapproved of the political baton being passed down the family tree. This is something he has written about earlier. Morarji’s “baton”, Madhukeshwar wrote in a Times of India blog, “was specifically off limits for family. The baton was for Chandrashekhar, Subramanian Swamy, L. K. Advani, Vajpayee, and many more non-Congress leaders… He believed that India as a democratic institution cannot be dynastic.”


Also Read: Morarji Desai — the Indian Prime Minister who won Pakistan’s highest civilian honour


Illustrious antecedents

Morarji Desai was a prominent leader during India’s freedom struggle and served as a minister in the provincial government of Bombay prior to independence. Despite not always seeing eye to eye with Jawaharlal Nehru, he held ministerial positions in the successive Congress governments.

He is arguably best remembered for his falling out with Indira Gandhi in 1969, after which he defected and started the Congress (0; for old) party as a contender against the Congress (I; for Indira). He went on to become a harsh critic of Indira, and was jailed for nearly two years after Emergency was announced in 1975. After his release in 1977, he helmed the Janata Party, a coalition of political outfits that opposed Indira, and led it to electoral victory that year. The coalition government was short-lived and Morarji resigned as PM in 1979, but in his two years in power, he was credited with improving India-Pakistan relations and was even awarded the Nishan-e-Pakistan, Pakistan’s highest civilian award, in 1986.

While Morarji’s son Kanti Desai was a controversial figure who made headlines in the late 70s, he never joined politics despite many offers because his father forbade it. The rest of the family stayed away from politics too, until Madhukeshwar decided to take the plunge.

Calling his family “fiercely private”, Desai said he met with little enthusiasm when he decided to enter public life. However, he told ThePrint that it was a move that his family had seen coming.

Family’s ‘anti-Congressism’

According to Madhukeshwar, his political inclinations became evident from a young age. “As a schoolboy, I was always interested in the politics section of the newspaper and never the sports. I fought to be head boy in school. Even in college at Christ University, I formed a small group of people to start a student body,” he said.

In 2010, when he was in his early 20s, Madhukeshwar started working with L.K. Advani and helped him with his speeches. In 2011, he even accompanied Advani on his Jan Chetna Yatra, during which they covered 20 states in 45 days.

In 2012, Madhukeshwar was personally called by “Narendra bhai” to south Gujarat and tasked with travelling to tribal villages to spread the message of the BJP. He entered politics formally in 2013, when he was elevated directly to the position of vice-president of the BJYM.

When asked whether he ever considered joining the Congress, the party in which his great-grandfather established his political career, Madhukeshwar scoffed. “If you’re a young person today, you don’t want a glass ceiling over your head when you work. You want an ideological basis. You want to know that there will be a democratic process within the party. You want to know that you will be taken care of. There is no room for any of that in the Congress.”

He also stressed that the BJP had been his choice even at a time when it did not enjoy the majority it does today.

On whether his family ever tried to nudge him towards the Congress, Madhukeshwar’s answer was categorical: “The only thing which my family is political about is their deep-rooted anti-Congressism.”

Plans for the future

Madhukeshwar has been the vice-president of the BJYM for over eight years, but when asked whether he has plans to stand for elections, he was non-committal and said he would follow what the party decided. “When you join the BJP, you’re allowed to play to your strengths. There is collective wisdom before individual ambition and they take care of you,” he said.

A lawyer by training, Madhukeshwar has more than politics to keep him busy. He is the CEO of Mumbai Centre for International Arbitration (MCIA) which he set up in 2015. The organisation is essentially an arbitration forum to resolve commercial disputes.

“It takes up a lot of my time,” said Madhukeshwar, adding that his career complements his political role. “Working with other professionals, one is exposed to different points of views. You understand what it means to be a professional in India, and can therefore approach politics keeping that in mind,” he explained.

The young leader is also on the executive board of the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence, so how does he juggle all his commitments? His answer comes quickly. “The party (BJP) is my first priority, the second is my professional role, and everything else comes afterwards,” Madhukeshwar said.

Born in Mumbai, where he currently lives with his wife and son, Madhukeshwar calls himself a “son of the soil”, citing his heritage. “I am Gujarati (his paternal great grandparents), Marathi (his paternal grandmother) and Kannadiga (his mother). And my wife is a journalist who is Malayali. So, the entire Desai family has taken over the Western Ghats,” he said.


Also Read: Morarji Desai, the prime minister for whom time in PMO was ‘tougher than prison’


 

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