Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dr Rajendra Prasad (December 3, 1884 — February 28, 1963

WHEN Dr Rajendra Prasad passed with a first class first in the entrance examination of the Calcutta University, the Hindustan Review said rather prophetically: "The young Rajendra is a brilliant student by all accounts. We wonder what the future has in store for him. We hope he will live to occupy a seat on the Bench of the High Court of his province, and receive the letter of appointment."

Dr Rajendra PrasadBut Rajendra Prasad went much farther; not only did he become the President of the Congress Party in 1932, but he also went on to become the first President of independent India in 1950.

Dr Rajendra Prasad was born in village Zeradei, Bihar, and was the youngest child in a family of three daughters and two sons. He studied at Presidency College, Calcutta, and passed the First Arts examination with top marks. He got an M. A. B. L and LL. M. and was all set for a brilliant academic career, but when he became a member of the Dawn Society, he came under the spell of nationalism. "Association with the Society stirred my thoughts. Examinations no longer held my attention, and my imagination was caught by public and social affairs."

Dr Prasad came in contact with Gandhi during the Champaran Satyagraha in 1917. Gandhi decided to enquire into the problems of indigo cultivators, but the district authorities and the members of the Planters Association tried to stop him. An externment order was passed by the District Magistrate which Gandhi disobeyed. Rajendra Prasad was greatly impressed by Gandhi's courage. At the time, Gandhi needed people with legal knowledge to record the statements of the indigo farmers, and he chose volunteers — the prominent among them being Gorakh Prasad, Brij Kishore Prasad, and of course, Rajendra Prasad.

Dr Prasad founded the English daily Searchlight in 1918, and the Hindi weekly Desh in 1920. He took active part in the Non-Cooperation Movement by starting along with Mazharul Haq, the Swaraj Sabha. When Gandhi called off the Civil Disobedience Movement, many of his staunch followers criticised him, but Rajendra Prasad was one of the few who stood by him. He was at the forefront of the Salt Satyagraha. In the beginning the authorities were hesitant to arrest Rajendra Prasad for fear of disturbances that might follow, but they finally arrested him and jailed him for six months.

When Subhas Chandra Bose resigned as President of the Congress Party in 1939, Rajendra Prasad was asked to fill the vacuum.

As World War II broke out, most of the members of the Working Committee were of the view that they should support the war if the British agreed to the demand for a National Government. But Gandhi differed with them, because supporting war would mean supporting violence. Rajendra Prasad supported Gandhi, and even went to the extent of resigning from the Working Committee, although he was later persuaded to withdraw his resignation.

The Quit India Movement got a very enthusiastic response from every region, especially from Bihar, but Rajendra Prasad was upset as there were reports of violence in Bihar.

Dr. Prasad was elected India's first President on 26 January 1950. He served as Interim President till 1952, when he was formally elected President after the first general elections. He occupied the chair until May 12, 1962. Many tried to persuade him to continue, but he firmly declined.

A great scholar that he was, he was awarded a doctorate by Patna University, an LL. D. by the Sagar University, Mysore University, and the Osmania University.

Dr Prasad had great expectations from the forthcoming generations: "It is the youth who would succeed to the heritage of history as also to the burdens and responsibilities of the future. The happiness and prosperity of our people would depend very largely on their idealism and enthusiasm, devotion and loyalty."

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