Rashtrapati Bhavan of India

The first President of independent India was Dr. Rajendra Prasad. He took oath as first President of India on 26th January 1950.

Unveiling the Legacy of India’s First President: Dr. Rajendra Prasad

India’s first president, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, holds a special place in history. This article unveils his remarkable life, achievements, and enduring impact. Let’s delve into the story of this iconic leader and his role in shaping India’s destiny.

Dr. Rajendra Prasad - First President of Independent India
Dr. Rajendra Prasad – First President of Independent India

Early Life and Family

Dr. Rajendra Prasad was born on December 3, 1884, in Ziradei village, located in the Siwan district of Bihar when India was under British rule. He came from a modest background. His father, Mahadev Sahai Srivastava, was knowledgeable in Sanskrit and Persian languages. His mother, Kamleshwari Devi, was a religious woman who used to narrate stories from Hindu religious texts to Rajendra Prasad when he was a child. He was the youngest among his siblings, having an elder brother and three elder sisters. Sadly, his mother passed away when he was young, and his older sister took care of him. His dedication to learning led him to excel in his studies, earning degrees in law and economics. This thirst for knowledge marked the beginning of his extraordinary journey.

Education and Career

Dr. Rajendra Prasad began his early education in his village before moving to a school in the Chapra District. Following the customs of the time, he got married at the young age of 12 in 1896. His brilliance shone through, as he secured the top position in the University of Calcutta’s entrance exam, earning him a scholarship of Rs 30 per month. This achievement allowed him to join the esteemed Presidency College in Calcutta in 1902. He completed his MA in Economics in 1907. During his college days, he actively participated in social causes by becoming a member of both the Dawn Society and the Servants of India Society.

Dr. Rajendra Prasad with his wife Smt. Rajavanshi Devi
Dr. Rajendra Prasad with his wife Smt. Rajavanshi Devi (Bombay Congress, October 1934)
Credits: Autobiography of Dr. Rajendra Prasad (National Book Trust, India)

Upon completing his M.A. in Economics, he became an English professor at Muzaffarpur’s Langat Singh College in Bihar, eventually rising to the position of principal. However, he decided to pursue legal studies and enrolled in Ripon College, Calcutta (now known as Surendranath Law College). In 1909, while studying law in Kolkata, he also held the role of a Professor of Economics at Calcutta City College.

In 1915, Dr. Prasad took the master’s in law examination at the Department of Law, University of Calcutta, earning not only a pass but also a gold medal. He furthered his education by obtaining a Doctorate in Law from Allahabad University. In 1916, he began his career at the High Court of Bihar and Odisha.

Role in India’s Independence Movement

Dr. Rajendra Prasad played a significant and influential role in India’s journey towards independence from British colonial rule. His contributions to the independence movement were marked by his dedication, leadership, and commitment to nonviolent principles.

Involvement in the Indian National Congress

Dr. Prasad’s entry into the Indian National Congress marked the beginning of his active participation in the struggle for India’s freedom. His journey with the Indian National Congress began in 1906 when he volunteered during the annual session in Calcutta while he was studying there. He officially joined the Congress in 1911 during another session in Calcutta. It was during the 1916 Lucknow Session that he met Mahatma Gandhi. After witnessing Gandhi’s dedication and courage during a fact-finding mission in Champaran, Prasad was deeply moved. He aligned himself with Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance, or satyagraha, and became known for his unwavering commitment to the cause and his strong moral character.

Dr. Rajendra Prasad with Mahatma Gandhi
Dr. Rajendra Prasad with Mahatma Gandhi

Prasad took on the role of President of the Indian National Congress first in the October 1934 Bombay session. He later assumed the presidency again in 1939 when Subhash Chandra Bose resigned. The historic Quit India Resolution was passed by Congress on August 8, 1942, in Bombay, leading to the arrest of many Indian leaders.

Active Participation in Civil Disobedience Movements

During pivotal moments such as the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1920 and the Salt Satyagraha led by Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Rajendra Prasad emerged as a key figure in Bihar. He left his successful law career and university responsibilities to support the cause. He organized protests, led marches, and motivated others to peacefully oppose British laws. His leadership inspired countless individuals to join the movement, giving it greater strength and reach.

In response to Gandhi’s call to boycott Western education, Prasad founded Bihar Vidyapeeth, an institution following traditional Indian principles, and even had his son, Mrityunjaya Prasad, enroll there.

Advocacy for Farmers’ Rights

Dr. Prasad had a deep connection with the farming community, and he used his platform to advocate for the rights of farmers and peasants. He protested against unjust land laws and campaigned for land reforms that would improve the lives of rural Indians. His efforts aimed to create a fair and equitable society where every citizen could thrive.

Becoming the First President

India achieved independence from the British on 15 August 1947, initially as a dominion within the Commonwealth of Nations with George VI as king, represented in the country by a governor-general. Following independence, the Constituent Assembly of India, under the leadership of B. R. Ambedkar, undertook the process of drafting a completely new constitution for the country. The Constitution of India was eventually enacted on 26 November 1949 and came into force on 26 January 1950, making India a republic. The offices of monarch and governor-general were replaced by the new office of President of India.

The president of India is the head of state of the Republic of India. The president is the nominal head of the executive, the first citizen of the country, as well as the commander-in-chief of the Indian Armed Forces.

Dr. Prasad’s journey to becoming India’s first president was a testament to his leadership. Through his unwavering commitment and remarkable qualities, he secured his nomination and subsequent election.

After the Interim Government was set up on September 2, 1946, with Jawaharlal Nehru as the leader, Dr. Rajendra Prasad was given the responsibility of the Food and Agriculture department. Later, on December 11, 1946, he was chosen as the President of the Constituent Assembly. Then, on November 17, 1947, he became the President of the Congress Party for the third time, taking over from J. B. Kripalani who had resigned.  Two and a half years after independence, on January 26, 1950, the Constitution of independent India was ratified and he was elected the nation’s first President. As the President of India, Prasad duly acted and resigned from congress party, as required by the Constitution, and was independent of any political party.

Dr. Rajendra Prasad taking oath as first president of Independent India
The first Chief Justice of India, HJ Kania, administering the oath to the first President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, in the Durbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhawan on 26 January 1950

Presidential Tenure and Achievements

During his presidency, Dr. Prasad spearheaded vital initiatives. He fostered amicable international relations, representing India on the global stage. He visited many countries on missions of goodwill, as the new state sought to establish and nourish new relationships. His emphasis on rural development and economic progress underscored his dedication to enhancing the lives of ordinary citizens. He stressed the need for peace in a nuclear age.

He was re-elected for two consecutive terms in 1952 and 1957 and is the only President of India to achieve this feat. The Mughal Gardens at the Rashtrapati Bhavan were open to public for about a month for the first time during his tenure, and since then it has been a big attraction for people in Delhi and many other parts of the country.

Legacy and Impact

Dr. Prasad retired from public life in 1962 because of his deteriorating health and was bestowed with the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in the nation. He shared the account of his life in an autobiography named “Atmakatha” published in 1946. In addition, he wrote other books such as “India Divided” (1946) and “Mahatma Gandhi and Bihar, Some Reminiscences” (1949). During his last months of retirement, Dr. Rajendra Prasad resided at the tranquil Sadaqat Ashram in Patna, where he peacefully passed away on February 28, 1963, at the age of 78.

Dr. Rajendra Prasad’s legacy lives on through his significant contributions. His influence on India’s political landscape and unwavering commitment to democratic values continue to guide leaders. His principles serve as a cornerstone for future generations, leaving an indelible imprint on the nation’s governance.

Conclusion

Dr. Rajendra Prasad’s journey from a humble background to India’s presidency inspires us all. His dedication and visionary leadership remind us of the potential for positive change. Exploring the life of India’s first president encourages us to cherish our history, value the present, and work towards a brighter future. Dr. Prasad’s legacy is a beacon of hope, urging us to strive for progress and prosperity.

 

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