Dr Rajendra Prasad: Remembering the Man, and the President
This article was first published on 28 February 2018. It is being reposted from The Quint’s archives on the occasion of Dr Rajendra Prasad’s birth anniversary.
Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first President of independent India, was a man much beyond the tag. His contribution to the nation runs a lot deeper into the freedom struggle.
One of the prominent leaders of the Indian Nationalist Movement alongside Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and Lal Bahadur Shastri, he gave up practicing law in service to the country, just like Mahatma Gandhi .
On his birth anniversary, let's take a look at Prasad’s prolific life and career.
Born into a big joint family in Ziradei village of Siwan district in Bihar, his father, Mahadev Sahay was a scholar of Persian and Sanskrit language while his mother Kamleshwari Devi was a religious woman.
From the age of five, Prasad was tutored by a Maulvi to learn Persian, Hindi and Mathematics. Later, he was transferred to the Chhapra Zilla School. After that Prasad went on to study at RK Ghosh's Academy in Patna along with elder brother Mahendra Prasad.
He was married at the young age of 12 to Rajvanshi Devi.
Prasad: The Intellectual
Prasad stood first in the entrance examination for admission to the University of Calcutta, and was awarded a scholarship of Rs 30 per month. He joined the Presidency College in 1902.
He was initially a student of Science and his teachers included JC Bose and Prafulla Chandra Roy. Later, Prasad decided to switch his focus to Arts.
In 1907, the former president completed his Master’s degree in Economics from the University of Calcutta with a gold medal.
After teaching in various institutes and universities, he started practicing law at the Calcutta High Court in 1911.
The Freedom Struggle
In 1917, Mahatma Gandhi visited Champaran to support the cause of the peasants revolting against the forceful cultivation of Indigo by the British authorities. Gandhi invited Dr Prasad to the area to undertake a fact-finding mission regarding the claims of both the peasants and the British. Prasad, motivated by Gandhi, extended his full support to the movement.
In 1920, when Gandhi announced the Non-Cooperation Movement, Prasad gave up his lucrative law practice and dedicated himself to the cause of freedom. He led the movement in Bihar.
He was jailed twice by the British government, first during the Salt Satyagraha in 1931 and later in 1942, during the Quit India Movement.
The First President of India
Prasad was appointed the Food and Agriculture Minister in the interim government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1946. Soon, he was elected President of the Constituent Assembly on 11 December 1946. He presided over the Constituent Assembly from 1946 to 1949 and helped frame the Constitution of India.
On 26 January 1950, the Republic of India came into existence and Prasad was elected the first-ever president of the country.
He travelled the world extensively as the president of the country, building a diplomatic rapport with foreign nations. He is the only president who has served two full consecutive terms – 1952 and 1957.