Mahadev Desai, Gandhi's Personal Secretary, Dies From Heart Failure

Gandhi and the entire Congress Working Committee were arrested in Bombay by the British on 9 August 1942.

Gandhi was held for two years in the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. It was here that Gandhi suffered two terrible blows in his personal life. His 50-year old secretary Mahadev Desai died of a heart attack 6 days later and his wife Kasturba died after 18 months imprisonment in 22 February 1944; six weeks later Gandhi suffered a severe malaria attack. He was released before the end of the war on 6 May 1944 because of his failing health and necessary surgery; the Raj did not want him to die in prison and enrage the nation. Although the Quit India movement had moderate success in its objective, the ruthless suppression of the movement brought order to India by the end of 1943. At the end of the war, the British gave clear indications that power would be transferred to Indian hands. At this point Gandhi called off the struggle, and around 100,000 political prisoners were released, including the Congress's leadership.

Desai was a young lawyer in Ahmedabad when he decided to join Gandhi along with Narhari Parikh, Mohanlal Pandya and Ravi Shankar Vyas, and became his most devoted secretary for over 25 years, from 1917 to 1942. The four were the earliest supporters of Gandhi.

Mahadev Desai was arrested with Gandhi during all the nationalist revolts. The chief period of interest is the time Gandhi was incarcerated in the Yeravda Jail near Pune, Maharashtra from 1931 to 1934. Desai wrote most of his important works on Gandhi during this period. He was arrested on the morning of August 9 after Gandhi's call to the British to Quit India and sent to the Aga Khan Palace for imprisonment. He died on August 15, 1942, at the age of 50.

Gandhi was devastated by Desai's death at a young age. Both Gandhi and his wife Kasturba Gandhi had seen him as their son, and his death was mourned by Gandhi's supporters across the country.

He wrote several books on the non-violent struggles led by Gandhi in India, and a diary called Day to Day with Gandhi in nine volumes.

Besides writing a day-to-day diary, Desai also contributed regularly to Young India and Navajivan, two journals of which Gandhi was the editor. During Gandhi's incarceration, Mahadev took up the responsibility of the editor of Navajivan. He also translated Gandhi's autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, into English.
Yeravda Jail

Motilal Nehru, father of Jawaharlal Nehru, requisitioned the services of Mahadev Desai in 1920 from Gandhi to edit the daily newspaper, Independent, from Allahabad. Desai created a sensation by bringing out a hand-written cyclostyled newspaper after the printing press was confiscated by the British government. Desai was sentenced to one year rigorous imprisonment for his writing. In prison, Desai saw that the jail authorities mistreated prisoners, frequently flogging them. His report describing the life inside an Indian jail, published in Young India and Navajivan, compelled the British authorities to bring about some drastic jail reform measures.

Desai was among the founding members of the All India Newspaper Editors' Conference. He also frequently contributed to various nationalist Indian newspapers such as Free Press, Bombay Chronicle, Hindustan Times, The Hindu and Amrita Bazar Patrika.

His son Narayan Desai is also a non-violent activist.