Shri Varahagiri Venkata Giri



Shri Varahagiri Venkata Giri was born on 10 August, 1894 at Berhampore in Ganjam district at that time in the Madras Presidency and now in Orissa. He came of a rather well-off Brahmin family. His father Shri V.V. Jogaiah Pantulu was a prosperous lawyer at Berhampore and the leader of the local Bar. He also took a prominent part in the nationalist movement. In the twenties he joined the Swarajya Party founded by Pandit Motilal Nehru and Chittaranjan Das and was a member of the Central Legislative Assembly from 1927 to 1930. He was also elected to the Madras Legislative Council after the introduction of the Act of 1935. Jogaiah was also interested in the Bengal Nagpur Railway Workers' Union. The example of his father and the family atmosphere naturally influenced the mind and career of V.V. Giri. Shri V.V. Giri was married at an early age. The name of his wife is Saraswati Bai.

After his early education in his home-town Giri went to Ireland and joined the University of Dublin for higher studies. It was here that he came under the spell of the freedom struggle in Ireland and drew his inspiration from De Valera. He became associated with the Sinn Fein Movement and came in close contact with De Valera, Collins, Pearee, Desmond Fitzgerald, MacNeil, Connolly and others. Giri was called to the Bar during World War I and returned to India in 1916.

Giri returned to India not only as a militant nationalist but deeply concerned about the well-being of the working people. The Irish Trade Union Movement had impressed him a good deal and when he returned to India he started taking a keen interest in the labour movement. Giri started practice in his home-town Berhampore but he also took an active part in the nationalist movement. He joined the Home Rule League and also the Indian National Congress. When Gandhi launched his Non-Cooperation Movement, Giri gave up his lucrative practice at the Bar and plunged himself into the movement. He was arrested and suffered imprisonment for a short period.

As early as 1922 he identified himself closely with the organization of the working classes and became a trusted lieutenant of N.M. Joshi. From that time onwards his main sphere of work was the Trade Union movement. To this day he is proud above all else of being a trade unionist. His identity and deep affinity with the working people is the main-spring of his strength. In 1923 he became one of the founders of the All India Railwaymen's Federation. He was twice elected President of the Trade Union Congress, in 1926 and 1942. As a leading trade unionist he attended many international gatherings. In 1927 he attended the International Labour Conference at Geneva. He also attended the Trade Union Congress at Geneva. In 1931-1932 he attended the Second Round Table Conference in London as the Workers' Representative.

During the Civil Disobedience Movement in the early thirties Giri, as a prominent labour leader, did much to organize trade unions in support of the nationalist movement. He was a member of the Indian Legislative Assembly from 1934 to 1937. In a house dominated by stalwarts like Satyamurty, Bhulabhai Desai, Jinnah, Govind Ballabh Pant, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Asaf Ali and others, Giri soon made his mark as a forceful speaker, specially on labour questions.

In the 1936 General Election in Madras, after the introduction of the Act of 1935, Giri was put up as the Congress candidate in Bobbili against the Raja of Bobbili, the most powerful political personality in the Madras Presidency. The Raja of Bobbili was the leader of the Justice Party and the Chief Minister of the Province; and the constituency was the traditional family strong-hold. The contest was like David tackling Goliath. In this contest between a feudal leader and a popular leader, the victory of the people's man heralded a decisive turning of the political tide. After the election when C. Rajagopalachari formed the Congress Ministry in Madras in 1937, V.V. Giri was naturally taken into the Cabinet and given the portfolio of Labour. Again after the General Election of 1946 in Madras Giri was taken into the Cabinet formed by T. Prakasam and given the portfolio of Labour. Later Giri was appointed India's High Commissioner in Ceylon.

Before long he returned to his favourite forum, the lelgislature. He was a member of the Lok Sabha from 1952 to 1957. From 1952 to 1954 he was a member of the Union Cabinet and was given the portfolio of Labour. When an issue arose that involved the interest of labour, Giri resigned to uphold his cherished principles. Eventually, the Government had to come round to his viewpoint.

After 1957 began a long spell of gubernatorial assignments for Giri. Successively he served as Governor of Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Mysore. He won friends everywhere, initiated new activities and became a mentor for the younger generation. It was during these years that he imparted new depth and dimension to social work as the President of the Indian Conference of Social Work, to which office he was elected in 1958.

In 1967, during the period of turmoil, he was invited to be the Vice-President. Fate willed that Dr. Zakir Hussain should not complete his term as the President. On his death on 3 May, 1969, V.V. Giri had to officiate as the President. Giri was so clear about his manifest destiny that without bothering about party support he offered himself as a candidate for the Presidential election, confident of popular approval. He was elected (1969) the fourth President of the Republic with the acclaim of the people. With him the arena of the election shifted from the close preserve of politicians to the broad wishes of the people.

Giri has written two important books, one on "Industrial Relations" and the other on "Labour Problems in Indian Industry". He has been a socialist of long standing, but never a doctrinaire socialist, always a pragmatist. His approach is at once practical and human. In his opinion of the tree of socialism the root is man. Even today he gives expression to his economic and social thoughts in terms of "jobs for the millions".