Khandubhai Kasanji Desai was born on 23 October 1898 in Bulsar, Gujarat. He studied at the Bhai Avabai High School, Bulsar and enrolled in Wilson College, Bombay (1920). He discontinued his education at Wilson College on Gandhi’s call to boycott schools and colleges as a part of the Non-Cooperation Movement.
He later resumed his studies at the Gujarat Vidyapeeth, Ahmedabad – a university established by Gandhi. After graduating, Desai worked as a Headmaster at the National School, Bombay.
He had a keen interest in finance, economics and labour relations.
Role in India’s Independence Movement
Desai joined the Independence Movement at a young age. During the non-cooperation movement, he got the opportunity to interact with Shankarlal Banker – an associate of Gandhi. Banker inspired him to join the textile labour movement led by Gulzarilal Nanda – an activist and economist who worked on labour issues.
Desai was a member of the Indian National Congress (1934 – 52). He served in the Ahmedabad Municipality (1935 – 49). He was elected to the Bombay Legislative Assembly twice (1937 – 39 and 1946 – 50).
He became the Secretary of the Textile Labour Association and went on to be elected as its General Secretary as well. As a leader of the textile labour movement, he stressed on the importance of personality development of labourers to improve their socio-political position. He believed that this would reduce the chances of industrial and feudal institutions to exploit labourers.
His work and expertise around labour issues was recognised and earned him appointments to various government committees such as Textile Enquiry Committee, Bombay (1938 – 39), Profit Sharing Committee (1949 – 50) and Fair Wage Enquiry Committee.
Three months before Indian independence, he co-founded the Indian National Trade Union Congress – the Congress Party’s trade union wing. He became its first General Secretary (1947 – 52) and eventually its President (1949 – 52).
Contribution to Constitution Making
Desai was elected to the Constituent Assembly from Bombay Presidency on a Congress party ticket. He was not an active participant in the Assembly and made only two substantive speeches.
Desai led the Indian contingent at the International Labour Organisation in 1950. He was elected to the first Lok Sabha in 1952 and served as India’s third Labour Minister (1954 – 57). He introduced policies that protected Indian labour interests which included lay-off benefits.
Desai then became a member of the Rajya Sabha (1959 – 1966). Two years later, he was appointed as the Governor of Andhra Pradesh (1968 – 1975).
He passed away on 17 April 1975.
- Desai supported the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s decision to join the Commonwealth of Nations. He stated that the masses of the country welcomed the decision in light of promoting world peace without losing sovereignty.
- During the third reading of the Constitution, he argued that high salaries and emoluments guaranteed to constitutional authorities could threaten India’s public funds.