V. V. Giri was the Republic of India’s fourth President. His parents were ardent activists in the Indian independence struggle when he was born in Orissa. He became involved in the ‘Sin Fien’ Movement while studying law in Dublin, Ireland, and was finally banished from the country. When he returned to India, he became involved in the nascent labor movement. He rose through the ranks of the All-India Railwaymen’s Federation to become General Secretary and ultimately President. He also served as President of the All-India Trade Union Congress on two occasions. He served as Minister of Labour and Industries in the Madras state government constituted by the Congress Party. When the Congress administration resigned and the Quit India Movement was begun, he briefly returned to the labor movement. He was appointed High Commissioner in Ceylon after India’s independence, and he was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1952. In the central government, he was appointed Minister of Labour, but resigned in 1954. Following that, he was appointed to the governorships of Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, and Karnataka in that order. He was elected Vice President of India in 1967. Two years later, when President Zakir Husain died, he became Acting President and chose to run for President. He secured the seat by a razor-thin margin, thanks to the support of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed took over as President after him.
Childhood and Adolescence
Varahagiri Venkata Giri was born on August 10, 1894, into a Telugu-speaking Brahmin family in Berhampur, Odisha. V. V. Jogayya Pantulu, his father, was a notable lawyer and political leader, and his mother, Subhadramma, was also involved in the national struggle.
He received his early schooling at Berhampur’s Khallikote College. He moved to Ireland in 1913 to study law at University College Dublin.
The Irish war for independence inspired him greatly while he was in Dublin. He was influenced by De Valera and became friends with Collins, Pearee, Desmond Fitzgerald, MacNeil, Connolly, and others.
His purported role in the Easter Uprising and his engagement in the Sinn Féin Movement led to his exile from Ireland in 1916. He returned to India after that.
Career of V. V. Giri
He registered at the Madras High Court and began his legal practice after returning to India. He also joined Annie Beasant’s Home Rule Movement and became a member of the Congress party.
He enthusiastically supported Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement in 1920, and he was imprisoned two years later for campaigning against the selling of liquor in shops.
He was truly worried about the safety and well-being of India’s working class. As a result, he was involved in the labor and trade union movements throughout his career. He co-founded the All India Railwaymen’s Federation with a few others in 1923 and served as its General Secretary for more than ten years.
He became President of the All India Trade Union Congress in 1926. (AITUC). As the Workers’ Representative, he attended various international events, including the International Labour Conference and the Trade Union Congress, both held in Geneva in 1927, and the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1931-1932.
The Bengal Nagpur Railway Association was also founded by him. He organized a successful nonviolent strike by the association’s workers for their rights in 1928; the British Raj and the railway administration met their demands as a result of the peaceful protest.
He co-founded the Indian Trade Union Federation with N. M. Joshi in 1929. (ITUF). This is due to the fact that he and other liberal leaders wanted to work with the Royal Commission of Labour, whereas the majority of the AITUC wanted to reject it. Finally, in 1939, the two organizations united, and he was elected President of the AITUC for the second time in 1942.
Meanwhile, in 1934, he was elected to the Imperial Legislative Assembly. He was a spokesman on labor and trade union issues, and he remained a member until 1937.
In the 1936 general elections, he defeated the Raja of Bobbili and was elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly. He served in the Congress government of C. Rajagopalachari as Minister of Labour and Industry from 1937 to 1939.
He was elected Governor of the Indian National Congress’s National Planning Committee in 1938. The Congress ministries resigned the next year, protesting the British government’s plan to bring India into World War II. He rejoined the labor movement and was arrested and held in detention until March 1941.
He was imprisoned once more in 1942 for his involvement in the Quit India Movement. He was held in the Vellore and Amravati jails for three years until being released in 1945.
He was re-elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly in the 1946 general elections and was appointed Minister of Labour under T. Prakasam.
He served as India’s first High Commissioner to Sri Lanka from 1947 until 1951. He was elected from the Pathapatnam Lok Sabha Constituency in the Madras State in the first General Election of independent India in 1951.
He was appointed Minister of Labour in 1952. His programs popularized the ‘Giri Approach,’ which encourages discussion between management and workers to assist resolve labor disputes. When the government objected to the strategy and chose to cut bank employees’ compensation, he famously resigned from his cabinet position in 1954.
In the 1957 general elections, he was defeated in the Parvatipuram constituency. He was, however, named Governor not long after. He served as Governor of Uttar Pradesh from June 1957 to June 1960, Governor of Kerala from 1960 to 1965, and Governor of Karnataka from 1965 to 1967.
As Governor of three different states, he pioneered innovative initiatives and established himself as a mentor to the next generation. Meanwhile, he was elected President of the Indian Conference of Social Work in 1958.
He was elected as India’s third Vice President in May 1967 and served for the next two years. When President Zakir Hussain died on May 3, 1969, he was immediately elevated to the position of Acting President.
He was adamant on becoming President. As a result, on July 20, 1969, he resigned as Acting President to run for President as an independent candidate. He did, however, issue an ordinance before retiring that nationalized 14 banks and insurance firms.
He was elected President on August 24, 1969, after winning the Presidential election. He served a complete five-year tenure in office. As an independent candidate, he became the first and only person to be elected President.
Major Projects of V. V. Giri
He was a pivotal role in India’s trade union movement. It was because of his efforts that the working class was able to demand and obtain their rights. He not only organized India’s labor force and improved their living conditions, but he also incorporated them in the country’s freedom war.
He was the author of two key publications, one on ‘Industrial Relations’ and the other on ‘Labour Problems in Indian Industry.’ His realistic yet human approach to organizing labor forces was highlighted in these writings.
Achievements & Awards
In 1975, the Government of India awarded Giri the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, for his services to public affairs.
Personal History and Legacy
V.V. Giri had a large family with Saraswati Bai; the couple had 14 children together.
On June 24, 1980, he died of a heart attack in Chennai (formerly Madras).
In 1995, the National Labour Institute was renamed after him to honor his contributions to India’s labor movement. V.V Giri National Labour Institute is the name given to it currently.