Dr. Rajendra Prasad


Dr. Rajendra Prasad was the first President of India. Rajendra Prasad was a great freedom-fighter, and the architect of the Indian Constitution, having served as President of the Constituent Assembly that drafted the Constitution of the Republic from 1948 to 1950. He had also served as a Cabinet Minister briefly in the first Government of Independent India. He was a crucial leader of the Indian Independence Movement. Prasad was born in Jiradei, in the Siwan district of Bihar. His father, Mahadev Sahay, was a Persian and Sanskrit language scholar; his mother, Kamleshwari Devi, was a devout lady who would tell stories from the Ramayana to her son. At the age of 5, the young Rajendra Prasad was sent to a Maulavi for learning Persian. After that he was sent to Chapra Zilla School for further primary studies.

He was married at the age of 12 to Rajvanshi Devi. He then went on to study at R.K. Ghosh's Academy in Patna to be with his older brother Mahendra Prasad. Soon afterward, however, he rejoined the Chapra Zilla School, and it was from there that he passed the entrance examination of Calcutta University, at the age of 18. He stood first in the first division of that examination. He then joined the Presidency College, Calcutta. He was initially a student of science and his teachers included J.C .Bose and Prafulla Chandra Roy. Later he decided to switch his focus to the arts. Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy, who was impressed by his intellect and dedication asked him on the occasion "Why have you deserted your class?." Prasad lived with his brother in the Eden Hindu Hostel. A plaque still commemorates his stay in that room. He had been initiated into the Swadeshi movement by his brother. He then joined the Dawn Society run by Satish Chandra Mukherjee, and Sister Nivedita. In 1911, he joined the A.I.C.C. However, his family estate was in bad condition. He was looked upon as the provider. But he sought permission from his brother in a letter to join the Indian freedom movement. He wrote, "Ambitions I have none, except to be of some service to the Motherland". The shock of his brother, however, held him to the family. In 1916, Rajendra Prasad joined the High Court of Bihar, and Orissa. Such was his intellect and his integrity, that often when his adversary failed to cite a precedent, the judges asked Rajendra Prasad to cite a precedent against himself. After meeting Mahatma Gandhi, he quit as a Senator of the University, much to the regret of the British Vice-Chancellor.He also responded to the call by the Mahatma to boycott Western education by asking his son Mrityunjaya Prasad, a brilliant student to drop out of the University and enroll himself in Bihar Vidyapeeth, an institution he had along with his colleagues founded on the traditional Indian model. He wrote articles for Searchlight and the Desh and collected funds for these papers. He toured a lot, explaining, lecturing and exhorting. When the earthquake of Bihar occurred on January 15, 1934, Rajendra Prasad was in jail. He was released two days later. He set himself for the task of raising funds. The Viceroy had also raised a fund. However, while Rajendra Prasad's fund collected over 38 Lakhs (Rs. 3,800,000), the Viceroy could only manage one-third of that amount. The way relief was organized left nothing to be desired. Nationalist India expressed its admiration by electing him to the President of the Bombay session of the Indian National Congress.

After India became independent he was elected the President of India. As President, he used his moderating influence so silently and unobtrusively that he neither reigned nor ruled. His sister Bhagwati Devi died on the night of 25 January 1960. She doted on her dearly-loved younger brother. It must have taken Rajendra Prasad all his will power to have taken the Republic Day salute as usual, on the following day. It was only on return from the parade that he set about the task of cremation. In 1962, after 12 years as President, he announced his decision to retire. He was subsequently awarded the Bharat Ratna, the nation's highest civilian award. Within months of his retirement, early in September 1962, his wife Rajvanshi Devi passed away. In a letter written a month before his death to one devoted to him, he said, "I have a feeling that the end is near, end of the energy to do, end of my very existence". He died on 28 February 1963 with 'Ram Ram Ram' on his lips. Because of the enormous public adulation he enjoyed, he was referred to as Desh Ratna or the Jewel of the country. His legacy is being ably carried forward by his great grandson Ashoka Jahnavi-Prasad, a psychiatrist and a scientist of international repute who introduced sodium valproate as a safer alternative to lithium salts in the treatment of bipolar disorders.

Prasad acted independently of politics, following the expected role of the president as per the constitution. Following the tussle over the enactment of the Hindu Code Bill, he took a more active role in state affairs. In 1962, after serving twelve years as the president, he announced his decision to retire. After relinquishing the office of the President of India on May 1962, he returned to Patna on 14 May 1962 and preferred to stay in the campus of Bihar Vidyapeeth. He was subsequently awarded the Bharat Ratna, the nation's highest civilian award. He died on 28 February 1963.

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