28 February 1963: Rajendra Prasad, first President of India, passed away

Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first president of independent India, was known to be one of the greatest political leaders as well as social reformers, who in spite of being a product of the Western culture was a true Indian at heart. A lawyer by profession, this disciple of Gandhiji was one of the most crucial leaders of the Indian national movement from Bihar. His contribution to the Indian freedom struggle remains unforgettable.

Early life and educational Background

Rajendra Prasad was born in a small village of the Siwan district of Bihar in 1884. He was the youngest child of Mahadev Sahai, a Persian and Sanskrit scholar, and Kamleshwari Devi. At the young age of five, he was sent to a Muslim scholar who gave him lessons in Persian, mathematics and Hindi. At the age of 12, he got married to Rajvanshi Devi. Later he went to the district school and his excellent merit got him the first rank in the entrance examination of the Calcutta University. He was awarded a scholarship of Rs. 30 per month. In 1902, he joined the Presidency College of Calcutta, taking science as his subject, and was taught by veterans like A.J.C. Bose and P.C. Roy. Later on, switching to Arts, Prasad graduated in English Honours in 1906 and completed his M.A. degree within a year. By 1915, he completed his degree in Law and soon joined the Calcutta High Court as a lawyer. Later he also went to finish his doctorate in Law in the subsequent years.

Influence of Gandhiji and nationalist activities

While he was a student in Calcutta, Prasad was an active member of the Dawn Society founded by S. Mukherjee. He also volunteered for the Calcutta Session of the Indian National Congress in 1906 and got inspired by the speeches of great leaders. However, his life took a complete turn towards the Freedom Struggle of India when he met Gandhiji in 1917 and was deeply impressed by his ideologies; Prasad joined the Congress and worked actively for the party. By 1920, he was elected the President of Bihar Congress. In the 1930s Prasad joined the Civil Disobedience movement and was arrested. In 1934, he worked a lot to collect funds for the sufferers of the Bihar earthquake and managed to impress several senior leaders of the Congress. This led to his being elected the President of the National Congress in the same year in Mumbai. Prasad was so influenced with Gandhiji that he responded to his mission of boycotting Western culture by asking his son to leave university and join Bihar Vidyapeeth.

Way ahead in politics

In 1939, when Subhash Chandra Bose resigned from the party, Prasad once again became the President of the National Congress. As India was taking steps ahead towards its independence, circumstances were rapidly changing. In 1942, when Gandhiji started the Quit India movement, several leaders including Prasad were arrested and sent to jail. However, during the interim coalition Indian government from 1945 to 1947, Prasad was made the food minister. As India got its independence in 1947, with the launch of the new constitution of 1950, Prasad was elected to be the first President of India. He served the country for 12 years, till 1962.

Later Life and Death

For his unparalleled contribution to Indian independence, Prasad was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1962, with his retirement in the same year. His notable literary works include Satyagraha in Champaran (1922), Atmakatha (1946) which was his autobiography, and Bapu ke Kadmon Mein (1954). However, in 1962, Prasad lost his beloved wife Rajavanshi Devi, and this poignant incident deteriorated his health to a considerable extent. He spent the last few months of his life in the Sadaqat Ashram of Patna and breathed his last on 28 February 1963.


Also on this day:

1948 – Bineshwar Brahma, Indian religious leader, was born

1951 – Karsan Ghavri, Indian cricketer, was born

1979 – Srikanth, Indian actor, was born

1928 – C.V. Raman discovered the Raman Effect, which won him the Nobel Prize and caused the day to be observed as National Science Day

1936 – Kamala Nehru, wife of Jawaharlal Nehru, died

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