VARAHAGIRI VENKATA GIRI
Shri Varahagiri Venkata Giri was born on August 10, 1894 and
died on June 23, 1980.
hri 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
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
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
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".