The journey from an Economic Laureate to India’s President : Rajendra Prasad

He left his remunerative legal and academic profession to underpin Gandhiji’s call to boycott the western academic system after immensely getting inspired by Gandhiji’s policies and qualities towards life and nation.

After India’s first general election in 1951-52, Dr Rajendra Prasad was elected independently of any political party as the first President of Independent India as ordained by the Constitution of India. He was a Professor, Principal, and Lawyer by profession who left everything for India’s fight against the Brits.

Dr Rajendra Prasad was born on December 3, 1884, in Ziradei of Siwan District, Bihar. He was born to Persian and Sanskrit Scholars Mahadev Saha Srivastava and Kamleshwari Devi, who taught him stories of Mahabharata and Ramayana. He was the youngest of four siblings; an elder brother and three elder sisters. After her mother’s demise in his childhood, his elder sister Bhagwati Devi looked after him.

At the age of five, his father had him tutored by a Maulavi, a renowned scholar who tutored him in Arithmetic, Persian, and Hindi. After completing his former education he moved to Chapra District School, and, later, for two years with his elder brother moved to T.L Ghosh’s Academy in Patna. He was provided with a scholarship of Rs 30 every month as he ranked first in an Entrance examination for the University of Calcutta. In 1905, he completed his graduation in Science from Presidency College, Calcutta, and later, completed his masters in Economics from the same in 1907. In 1906, he played a significant part in the formation of the Bihari Students Conference, which paved the way for several successful leaders like Anugrah Narayan and Krishna Singh who played a crucial part in the Champaran Movement and the Non-Cooperation Movement. In 1915, he passed the Master of Law from the same university and was awarded a gold medal. Finally, in 1937 he received his doctorate in law from Allahabad University.

In June 1896, at the early age of 12, Dr Prasad married Rajavanshi Devi, with whom he had a son Mrityunjaya Prasad.

During his days in academia, he worked with several institutions. He started his academic career as an English Professor, and later, after completing his Masters in Economics, he became the Principal of Langat Singh College in Muzaffarpur. In 1909, after dropping out of college Dr Prasad opted for legal studies at Ripon College in Calcutta, while pursuing a legal degree he joined Calcutta City College as a Professor of Economics in 1909.

In 1916, his legal career started with an appointment to the High Court of Bihar. He practised in the town of Bhagalpur. In 1917, he was among the first elected members of the Patna University Senate and Syndicate.

During the annual session of Congress in 1906 Dr Rajendra Prasad actively volunteered in the session. Finally, he officially joined the Indian National Congress in 1911. After meeting Mahatma Gandhi in 1916 during the Lucknow session, he was invited for missions in Champaran. He left his remunerative legal and academic profession to underpin Gandhiji’s call to boycott the western academic system after immensely getting inspired by Gandhiji’s policies and qualities towards life and nation, in further support of the call he made his son Mrityunjay Prasad drop out from an English school and enrolled him into Bihar Vidyapeeth, a traditional Indian schooling system he along with his acquaintance developed. During the Bombay session in October 1934 he was elected as the President of the Indian National Congress and again re-elected in 1939 after Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose resigned. On August 8, 1942, after Congress passed the Quit India Resolution in Bombay many Indian leaders were arrested along with Rajendra Prasad, he was sent to Bankipore Central Jail in Patna’s Sadaqat Ashram. After spending almost three years in jail Dr Prasad was finally released on June 25, 1945. After the establishment of the pro-tem government of Jawahar Lal Nehru with 12 other ministers Dr Prasad was assigned to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture on September 2, 1946. He was elected as the President of the Constituent Assembly on December 11, 1946. For the third time, he was elected as the President of the Congress after J.B. Kripalani resigned from the post on November 17, 1947.

He assigned himself as a fundraiser by establishing the Bihar Central Relief Committee on January 17 after facing the earthquake in jail on January 15, 1934, he raised a hefty amount of 38 lacs for the committee.

He once more formed a Central Relief Committee in Punjab, after an earthquake shook the Quetta region in 1935.

After millions of martyred, blood-shed, torture, pain, and struggle to an extent we cannot imagine today the tough fight against the Britishers for almost 200 years finally came to an end. India, at last, gained independence in 1947. Two and half years after independence the draft of the Constitution of India by Dr B.R Ambedkar by the Constituent Assembly was sanctioned on January 26, 1950. FINALLY, Dr Rajendra Prasad became the first President of Independent India. He formed several diplomatic relations across the globe for the nation. He was elected again for the second time in 1957, making him the first President to serve for two consecutive terms. During his tenure, he opened the gates of the Mughal Garden to the public for the first time, and ever since then, the place has been among the major tourist sites in Delhi.

After serving the nation for almost twelve years in 1962, he declared his voluntary retirement as the President of India. He returned to Patna on May 14, 1962, after officially abdicating the office. He spent his final days on the Bihar Vidyapeeth campus. He bid adieu to the world and left for his afterlife journey on 28 February 1963 at the age of 78. His wife passed away 4 months before him on September 9, 1962. He was buried at the Mahaprayan Ghat, Patna. He was honoured at the Rajendra Smriti Sangrahalaya in Kurji, Patna. The place is solely made to demonstrate the life and work of Dr Rajendra Prasad. To honour him Ghats in Banaras and Patna are named after him along with several other places.

In 1962, Dr Rajendra Prasad was honoured with India’s most prestigious award The Bharat Ratna.

In his lifetime he wrote several books;

  • Satyagraha in Champaran in 1922
  • Division of India in 1946
  • Atmakatha in 1947(written during his three-years imprisonment in Bankipore Jail )
  • Mahatma Gandhi and Bihar in 1949
  • Bapu ke Kadmon mein in 1954
  • Since Independence in 1960

His role in India’s struggle for independence and his duty as the President of India is substantial. He is among the prominent leaders of India, apart from his dynamic personality and the offices he held in his lifetime he was a simple and easygoing person with integrity and vision. Who left his well-established career to serve the greater good of Free India.