On July 25th 1997, K.R. Narayanan was sworn in as the tenth President of India becoming the first Dalit to hold the prestigious office.
It was due to a request from Indira Gandhi that Narayanan joined politics and won three consecutive general elections to the Lok Sabha and served as a Minister of State in the Union Cabinet, under then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Narayanan was elected as a Vice President in 1992 and went on to serve as the President in 1997.
Narayanan won the Presidency Elections in 1997 with 95% votes in the electoral college. So far, this is the only presidential election which was held with a minority government in power at the centre. Narayanan has been described as a “working President” and not just a “rubber stamp” President. Narayanan was an independent and a confident President who widened the horizon of the highest constitutional office in the country.
As a President, Narayanan used his powers to appoint a Prime Minister in a hung parliament, dismissed a state government and imposed President's rule in the state during the Kargil conflict. He was also the first President to stand in line like an ordinary citizen and vote in the 1998 General Elections, something which had not been done before; hence changing the tradition of Presidents not voting in the general elections.
Narayanan introduced a new and transparent practice of communicating his thinking to the nation that went behind many decisions he took while exercising his power. Narayanan set a precedent by doing many things differently. One of them was regarding the appointment of a Prime Minister. If no one party or a pre-elected coalition had a majority, then an individual would only be able to become Prime Minister if he could convince the President (through letters of support from their allies) of their ability to secure the confidence of the house.
Narayanan also used his Presidential discretion to impose President's rule in two states during his term: One was dismissing Kalyan Singh’s government in Uttar Pradesh. The second was Rabri Devi’s government in Bihar. This was the only time a President of India took such a decision and set a future precedent regarding the rights of state governments.
President Narayanan constantly reminded the nation of their responsibility towards the poor and downtrodden in society, especially the Dalits and Adivasis (tribals) and other minorities. He was also against social evils, such as violence against women and children, caste discrimination, corruption and religious fanaticism. Citing examples from his home state Kerala, Narayanan believed that education was the foundation of economic development and progress and believed that everyone in India must have access to education.
Narayanan’s term as President ended on July 25th 2002 and he passed away on November 9th 2005. Subsequently, he was cremated with full state honours.
Also On This Day:
1929 - Somnath Chatterjee, former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, is born.
1958 - Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay is inaugurated.
1991 - Dr. V. K. R. V. Rao, former minister, died.