12 March 1913: Yashwantrao Chavan, former union minister, was born

Yashwantrao Balwantrao Chavan, union minister and Maharashtra’s first chief minister, was born in the state’s Sangli district on 12 March 1913.

He was raised by his uncle and mother after his father’s death. He took part in the independence movement and in 1932 was sent to jail by the British for hoisting the tricolour. 

He studied history and political science in Bombay. Since he took part in the freedom struggle he was introduced to important leaders in the Congress such as Vallabhbhai Patel (the future home minister) and Jawaharlal Nehru (the country’s first prime minister).

Chavan was again jailed in 1942 during the Quit India movement. A little before Independence he got elected to the Bombay state legislative assembly. He went on to become a minister in the next state administration.

In 1957 he was elected from Karad constituency. At that time Bombay was a bilingual state, Gujarati and Marathi being the two major languages. Chavan thus became chief minister of undivided Bombay. Meanwhile, there were huge protests in support of a new state for Marathi-speaking people (which Chavan favoured), and the leaders of the movement lobbied for Bombay city as the capital of the new state.

Dozens of lives were lost in the agitation. Subsequently, the two new states of Gujarat and Maharashtra were created. Officially they came into being on 1 May 1960.

Chavan became the chief minister of the new state of Maharashtra. He took several steps to develop the state. For instance he passed the Cooperative Societies Act and brought industries to backward areas, thus laying the stepping stones for a modern, industrialised state.

But just two years later he was summoned by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to Delhi in wake of India’s 1962 debacle in the border war with China, and made the union defence minister. It is evident that Nehru had high regard for Chavan’s abilities.

In his tribute to Chavan during his centenary celebrations in March 2013, President Pranab Mukherjee said: “His was not an easy task when the State of Maharashtra was formed in 1960 with Mumbai as its capital. Mumbai had already become a financial capital of the country and a true cosmopolitan city. He had to convince the industry that the investment climate will remain conducive, even after formation of a linguistic state, and he succeeded . . . Y.B. Chavan with his single-minded commitment raised the morale of Indian Armed Forces which resulted in decisive victories in 1965 and 1971 wars.” 

Chavan was a contender for the post of prime minister at one stage in the 1960s.

He became the union home minister in the Indira Gandhi cabinet. Among the other vital portfolios he subsequently held were those of finance minister and foreign minister. Thanks to his earlier stint in the defence ministry, Chavan had a good sense of the armed forces’ requirements in the 1971 war when he was the union finance minister.

For a short while in the post-Emergency phase Chavan opposed Indira Gandhi and was deputy chief minister in the Charan Singh regime. But he mended fences with Indira later and was made Chairman of the Finance Commission.

He died at the age of 71 on 25 November 1984.

Looking at Yashwantrao Chavan’s legacy, Ajit Ranade wrote in Mumbai Mirror in March 2012: “YB thought he was going to Delhi temporarily, but ended up staying there for 22 years, and died in Delhi in 1984. He had already served his home state’s assembly for almost two decades. When he died he had Rs 36,000 as bank balance, and a small one bedroom house as bequest. The Panchayati Raj that we celebrate today was YB’s original pioneering contribution. Electing grassroots people to becoming heads of panchayats, zilla parishads and eventually members of state and national legislatures, was his dream, a process started by him.”

Also on this day:

1938 — Vijay Mehra, Indian cricketer, was born

1954 — Anish Kapoor, Indian artist based in London, was born

1959 — Lakshmi Rajagopalan, Carnatic vocalist, was born

1984 — Shreya Ghoshal, Indian playback singer, was born

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