He supported the freedom movement of the people of Ireland though it cost him his degree. The welfare of workers was uppermost in his mind and he gave a new direction to the trade union movement. At the same time, he impressed upon the workers not to cause inconvenience to the common people during strikes. He resigned from the post of Union Labour Minister following differences with the judgment of the Industrial Tribunal on the banking sector, thus upholding ethical values in politics. He was Varahagiri Venkata Giri, India's fourth President, popularly known as V.V. Giri.
Born on August 10, 1894 in Berhampore, he was the son of noted advocate and freedom fighter, Jogayya Panthulu. He had his early education at the Kallikote College, Berhampur. He went to Dublin in 1913 to study law. At that time the Irish citizens were fighting for their freedom. The freedom struggle in Ireland left a deep impact on him and inspired by Irish revolutionary leaders like Williams De Valera and Collins, he joined the Sinn Fein group and supported their cause.
The British Government served an ultimatum on him to leave the country and he returned to India without taking his Law degree.
Giri was greatly disturbed by the news of the atrocities of the South African Government towards Indians there. He wrote a small booklet entitled, "South African Horror", and sent copies of it to India. One such parcel containing the booklet fell into the hands of the Customs people.
On return from England in 1916, he practised as an advocate for some time in Madras. On the call of Mahatma Gandhi, he gave up practice and joined the freedom movement and was jailed on several occasions. His first meeting with Mahatma Gandhi in 1914, left a lasting impression on Giri, who played a key role in the trade union movement and in protecting the interests of workers. He was associated with several trade unions. He attended the International Labour Conference in Geneva in 1926 and the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1931 as a representative of the workers.
Giri founded the Bengal Nagpur Railway Association and spearheaded the railway strike, which created history in the trade union movement in the country. He served as president and secretary of the All-India Railway Workers Federation for over a decade. He was president of the All India Trade Union Congress twice.
Giri was elected to the Central Legislature in 1934. In 1938-39, in the Rajaji Cabinet in Madras Presidency he became minister in charge of Labour, Industry and Cooperation. He served as minister in the cabinet of his political guru - Tanguturi Prakasam Panthulu - in Madras Province in 1946-47. He was the Indian High Commissioner in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) between 1947 and 1951 and Member of Parliament during 1952-57.
He had also served as Governor of Uttar Pradesh (1961-65) and Kerala(1961-65). He was elected as the Vice President of India on May 13, 1967.
When the then President, Zakir Hussain, died while in office on May 3, 1969, Giri stood for the Presidential election as an Independent candidate. The Congress pitted Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy as his opponent. Giri created political history when he won the polls in the keen contest, supported by Indira Gandhi.
Perhaps no other politician had adorned so many posts as Giri. The Government of India honoured him with the `Bharat Ratna' in 1975.
Giri authored two important books, one on "Industrial Relations" and the other on "Labour problems in Indian industry". He was honoured with several degrees by various universities. The Benaras Hindu University and Andhra and Lucknow Universities conferred the degree of D.Litt on him and the Universities of Agra, Moscow and Bulgaria honoured him with the degree of LLD.
The statue of this able statesman, who worked for the welfare of workers, stands majestically on Beach Road.