| Bhulabhai Desai was
born on 13 October 1877. He was the only son of
Jivanji who started life as a man of small means
and later became Government Pleader, Mukhitiyar.
Jivanji began to prosper and settled down near
Bulsar in Gujarat. Bhulabhai once said, I
was born a poor agriculturist and had to walk
five miles to school at the age of seven with
a view to learn the rudiments of Fujarati characters.
In 1895 Bhulabhai passed the Matriculation Examination
and joined the Elphinstone College in Bombay,
the premier institution of higher education in
He had a most distinguished University career,
taking first-class Honours in the B.A Examination
and getting the Wordsworth Prize an Scholarship
for distinction in History. Later, his father
having died, Bhulabhai decided to take to law,
but before graduating in law he accepted the appointment
of a Professor of English and History at the Gujarat
College inAhmedabad. During the years that he
worked as Professor in Ahmedabad he passed the
LL.B Examination. Having passed the Advocates
Examination of the Bombay High Court, he was enrolled
as an Advocate of the Court on 22 December 1905.
His rise at the Bar was phenomenally quick, and,
at the relatively young age of seven years at
the Bar, he was able to boast of a chamber which
had attracted to itself several juniors who were
knocking at the portals of the inner sanctum
of the seniors for admission into that charmed
circle. What made for his singular success
at the Bar was, more than anything else, the
keenness of his intellect and the persuasiveness
of his manner and language. His agile brain
not only kept pace with the working of the mind
of the Judge, but also anticipated in many ways
the Judges thinking.
His initial efforts in the political field were
somewhat slow and hesitant. At one time he joined
Mrs. Besants Home Rule League and addressed
several meetings. He was also a member of the
Liberal party for many years.
His first dedicated effort as lawyer in the cause
of his country was in connection with No
Tax satyagraha campaign in Bardoli, initiated
by Gandhi in 1922. It was a protest against a
revised assessment of land revenue which was totally
unjustified. The campaign was led by Sardar Patel.
The Government having appointment an Enquiry Committee
presided over by Mr. Broomfield, the District
Judge, Gandhi wrote a letter to Bhulabhai which
the Sardar took to him, requesting him to give
all his assistance in he Enquiry.
His masterly presentation of the facts at the
Enquiry resulted in recommendations to remit assessments
mounting to several lakhs of rupees. Bhulabhai
thus made a great contribution to the cause of
the agriculturist. The remission in Bardoli were
followed by very substantial remissions and suspensions
in the Punjab, the Central Provinces and elsewhere.
It is said that Out of this struggle and
enquiry Vallabhbhai emerged as Sardar Patel and
Bhulabhai emerged as advocate of the people.
He resigned from the Liberal Party and joined
the Congress in the 1930. Convinced of the boycott
of British goods, he established the Swadeshi
Sabha in Bombay to promote the boycott. On 25
July 1932 Bhulabhai was arrested in Bombay and
later sentenced to a years imprisonment
for his activities in relation to the Swadeshi
Sabha. He was detained at the Nasik Jail till
4 July 1933, when he was released on account of
serious of illness.
When the working committee of the Indian National
Congress was reorganized in 1934-35, Bhulabhai
became a member of the Committee. He took a leading
part in the formation of the Swara Party and in
the election campaign I 1934. He was elected to
the Central Assembly from Gujarat Constituency
in November 1934.
Bhulabhais labours for the country were
not able in tow fields of activity. One of them
was law, where he rendered signal service in the
Bardoli Enquiry and later in the I.N.A Trial.
The other was his leadership of the Congress Party
in the Legislative Assembly from early 1935. In
the Assembly he earned the respect and even the
admiration of his opponents.
As a leader of his party, he acted with restraint
and dignity, leaving his able lieutenants in
the Assembly to shoulder the burden of many
a debate. His career in the Assembly has been
compared to those of pre-eminent layer-politicians
who carved out names for themselves as Parliamentary
success in the early decades of the twentieth
century, such as Asquith, Edward Garson, E.
E. Smith and Sir John Simon. On the declaration
of the Second War in 1939, the Congress withdrew
its representatives from the Assembly.
Bhulabhai was not a believer in non-violence,
except as an instrument to be used on suitable
occasions. However, as a leading soldier in
the congress fight he was in the vanguard of
individual satyagraha. As President of the Bombay
Provincial Congress Committee and a member of
the Working Committee, he offered individual
satyagraha on 1 December 1940 and was arrested
and imprisoned. On this Occasion he remained
in prison till 16 September 1941.
During his incarnation he wrote
| occasionally a diary
expressing fully his views on many matters. Speaking
of Gandhi, he wrote: The more you examine
his ways, vies, theories, practices, his idea
is to build a rudimentary society where man is
so plain and simple, life is so sparse that then
there is little or nothing to quarrel about; a
negation of raising the standard of life beyond
a cottage and a cow and an acre of land, and charkha
above all. For either you use modern science and
take the risk of its evils coming with its goods,
or remain with charkha and the bullock stage of
Like many other intellectual followers of Gandhi,
while loyally practicing his doctrines, he remained
completely unconvinced of their soundness or benefit
to the country. In July and August 1942 the Quit
India Resolution was passed by the Working Committee
and the All India Congress Committee. Having regard
to the manner in which his mind was working when
he was in jail, there would appear to be little
doubt that he almost emphatically disapproved
of these resolutions.
The period of nearly three years, August 1942
to June 1945, which followed Quit India Resolution,
was one of grave darkness and doubt for the Congress.
Gandhi, who had been released from prison by reason
of his illness, was in favour of breaking the
deadlock which had arisen, and the Viceroy was
willing that an Interim Government should be formed
jointly by the Congress and the Muslim League
evolved a formula for the formation of an Interim
Government, which was approved by Gandhi, and
they entered into a pact in writing, known as
the Desai-Liaquat Pact. Indubitable
documentary evidence and Gandhis own later
statements clearly established that in entering
into the pact Bhulabahi had Gandhis approval
Notwithstanding this fact, the Working Committee
of the Congress after its release in June 1945
took the view that Bhulabhai had entered into
the Pact without the approval of Gandhi and in
order to obtain an advantage for himself. When
later the Congress submitted its names to the
Viceroy for the proposed Interim Government, it
did not mention Bhulabhais name; and when
it put forward candidates for the elections, it
omitted his name from its list. The public always
felt that grave injustice had been done to Bhulabhai.
Notwithstanding the manner in which the Working
Committee and Gandhi had treated him, he still
retained his great popularity.
The crowning glory of Bhulabhais career
was the part he played in defending the I.N.A
prisoners at the Red Fort Trial Towards the end
of 1945. Though there were seventeen advocates
in the Court Room, including Nehru wearing
a barristers gown which he had not donned
for thirty years, the leading counsel for
defense was Bhulabahi whose brilliant searching
advocacy and cross-examination rang a bell throughout
India. Even though he was ill and notwithstanding
the injustice done to him by the Congress, he
responded to the call for service. The trial started
on 5 November 1945 and ended on 31 December 1945.
The record spread over 387 closely printed pages,
30 witnesses having been examined for the prosecution,
12 for the defense, and numerous documents having
been exhibited. Bhulabahis speech for the
defense spread over several days. So great were
his intellectual powers and so powerful his memory,
notwithstanding his age and health, that the whole
of his speech for the defense was delivered ex-tempore
and without the assistance of any notes. A British
Professor of Law, who witnessed the trial, gives
his impression of Bhulabhais speech in these
Bhulabhai was an aged and sick man at the
time. However, he carried the major burden
of the defense, and, at the end, although carried
into court in a chair he delivered himself of
an oration which may rank with the greatest of
addresses in the history of English advocacy.
Without a note and without repeating himself,
he conducted himself in the most dignified manner
imaginable and those who were privileged to hear
him will never forget the experience.
The honor and Law of the Indian National
Army are on trial before this Court, he
thundered, and the right to wage war on
the part of a subject nation for their liberation.
Among the many pleas he urged for the defense,
none caught the public imagination more than his
contention that members of a subject nation trying
militarily to free their country could not be
guilty of an offence under the municipal law.
After the trial he returned to Bombay, and
soon thereafter he took seriously ill, reaching
his end on 6 May 1946. He was survived by his
son and daughter-in-law, his wife having died
many years before his death.
One would be justified in saying that here
was a person who was intensely human, a great
intellectual, an erudite lawyer and advocate,
an eloquent and skillful parliamentarian and
an unstinting and devoted servant of the Mother-land.
Many noble and patriotic hands laboured at the
erection of the edifice of Free India. Bhulabhais
contribution to this great task was substantial