From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1995:
Morarji Desai, 99, former prime minister of India, died April 9 in Bombay.
Current Indian prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao memorialized Desai in a joint session of the
Indian Parliament as “one of the most devoted disciples of Mahatma Gandhi, an able adminis-
trator and one of the finest human beings,” who often accompanied Gandhi to jail during the
struggle for Indian independence. Shirley McGreal of the International Primate Protection
League remembered Desai warmly for a different reason. “In 1977,” she recalled, “IPPL
amassed documents about the U.S. use or misuse of imported Indian rhesus monkey use in mili-
tary experiments,” in violation of the terms of a 20-year-old export agreement. Desai had been
elected prime minister in 1977, and McGreal knew that, like Gandhi, “Desai was a lifelong
vegetarian [in fact, a strict vegan] and animal lover.” She appealed to him. On December 3,
1977, Desai’s government barred monkey exports. “He saved a species and hundreds of thou-
sands of individual animals from suffering and death in foreign laboratories,” McGreal said.
“Powerful users exerted heavy pressure on Desai. He stood firm,” as have his successors. “In
an attempt at historical revisionism,” McGreal continued, “claims were made by U.S. scientists
that the Indian ban resulted from conservation concerns and the dwindling numbers of rhesuses.
IPPL contacted Desai, by then retired, for clarification. In a handwritten letter dated April 16,
1985, Desai stated, ‘You are quite correct in saying that I banned the export of monkeys on a
humanitarian basis and not because the number was lessening. I believe in preventing cruelty to
all living beings in any form.'” But the monkeys had become scarce. “Later,” McGreal con-
firmed, “a survey by the Zoological Survey of India determined that there were only 200,000
rhesus monkeys left in India. The trade had taken a heavy toll. The teeming millions of former
days had disappeared. Those monkeys left owe their lives and freedom to Morarji Desai. They
are his living monument.”