25th November 1985: Yashwantrao Chavan, Indian politician, passed away

One of the most renowned leaders from Maharashtra, Yashwantrao Balwantrao Chavan was born on March 12, 1913, in Devrashtre village (now in the Maharashtra’s Sangli District). Chavan, who was the first Chief Minister of Maharashtra and later held several important portfolios in the union cabinet, died on November 25, 1984, in Delhi after suffering a heart attack.  

His father died when he was young. His mother and uncle brought him up. As a youngster he took part in the freedom movement. He was fined in 1930 for taking part in the Non-Cooperation movement and jailed in 1932 for hoisting the Indian flag.

He secured a degree from Bombay University in history and political science. He came to know senior Congress leaders such as Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru in the course of the independence struggle, and became president of the Satara District Congress in 1940. He participated in the famous All India Congress Committee session of 1942 in which the Quit India movement was launched, and was jailed for taking active part in the movement.

Chavan was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Bombay state in 1946, and became minister of civil supplies, social welfare and forests in the next government. After being elected from Karad constituency in 1957, he became the state leader of the Congress and chief minister of Bombay, which was then a bilingual state. Though Chavan did not join the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti, a popular agitation in favour of a separate state for Marathi-speaking people, he participated in the larger struggle for the creation of Maharashtra and went on to become the first chief minister of the new state.  

As chief minister he passed the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act, which came into force in 1962, for the “orderly development of the cooperative movement” in the state, according to a research paper titled ‘Leadership of Yashwantrao Chavan in Modern

Maharashtra: historical review’ by Dr. Bhavana Patole. “He [Chavan] specifically promoted the industrial development in the backward regions like Vidarbha, Marathwada and Konkan,” the paper adds, and “laid the solid foundation of agricultural and industrial transformation in Maharashtra”.

Recalling Chavan’s transition from Maharashtra to national politics, in an article in Pune Mirror in March 2012, Ajit Ranade wrote: “He was summoned to Delhi by Nehru, after the humiliation of the war with China, and (defence minister) Krishna Menon’s resignation. Morale in the armed forces was utterly low…. YB had just embarked on building a brand new state which was born on May 1, 1960, after a considerable struggle, in which he participated. He wrote to Nehru that he had zero knowledge or competence to become defence minister of India. But owing to the affection and confidence reposed on him he had to bid farewell to his dear state.”

Chavan, who had the challenging task of overseeing defence preparedness and modernisation in wake of the 1962 debacle in the border war with China, was also defence minister in Lal Bahadur Shastri cabinet during the 1965 India-Pakistan War. When Shastri died, Chavan was one of the several contenders for the post of Prime Minister, but the most powerful job in the country eventually went to Indira Gandhi. In 1966, Chavan became Home Minister in the Indira Gandhi government. He was the one to introduce the bill in Parliament that annulled princes’ privileges.

He went on to become the Finance Minister in 1970 and Foreign Minister in 1974. During the India-Pakistan War of December 1971, Chavan, who had a good understanding of the demands of war thanks to his years in the defence ministry, took steps to boost the morale of the defence forces. Recalling his interaction with Chavan during the war, well-known defence analyst K. Subrahmanyam, who in 1971 was the director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, wrote in the Indian Express in 2005: “Chavan called me and solicited my suggestions for schemes which would boost the morale of the army. I suggested two steps which I had tried to push through as a deputy secretary in the Ministry of Defence during 1962 and 1965 wars and had failed because of opposition from the Finance Ministry. They were that all disabled servicemen should be given lifetime employment and children of servicemen killed in action should get government-funded university education to the extent they deserved. I told Chavan he could then implement them as he was the finance minister. He did.”

In 1978 Chavan joined a faction of the Congress that was opposed to Indira Gandhi. For a short while he was Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in the Charan Singh government. But he returned to the party fold in 1982, and was appointed Chairman of the Finance Commission.  

Recalling Chavan’s contribution to the country in the various positions he held in his political career, President Pranab Mukherjee said during a speech in 2013: “He raised the morale of the Indian armed forces resulting in decisive victories in the war against Pakistan in 1965 and the Bangladesh liberation war against Pakistan in 1971. Same was the contribution as the chairman of the eighth planning commission in the early 80s. The precedents laid by him were followed by his successors in the planning commission.”

Also on this day: 

1898 — Debaki Bose, Bengali film director and writer, was born 

1926 — Ranganath Misra, Chief Justice of India and chairman of the National Human Rights Commission of India, was born  

1987 — Major Ramaswamy Parameswaran, who was decorated with the Param Vir Chakra, died

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