Date of Birth
Date of Demise
- Dr. Rajendra Prasad
Sri Mahadev Sahai
3rd December, 1884
Ziradei, Siwan Bihar
28th February, 1963
Dr. Rajendra Prasad, son of Mahadev Sahai, was born in
Zeradei, siwan, Bihar
on December 3, 1884. Being the youngest in a large joint family he
was greatly loved. He was strongly attached to his mother and elder brother Mahendra.
In Zeradei's diverse population, people lived together in onsiderable harmony. His
earliest memories were of playing "Kabaddi" with his Hindu and Muslim friends alike.
In keeping with the old customs of his village and family, he was married when he
was barely 12 years old to Rajvanshi Devi.
He was a brilliant student; standing first
in the entrance examination to the University of Calcutta, he wasawarded
a Rs.30/month scholarship. He joined the famed Calcutta Presidency College
in 1902. His scholarship, ironically, would pose the first test of his patriotism.
Gopal Krishna Gokhale had started the Servants of India Society in 1905 and asked
him to join. So strong was his sense of duty toward his family and education that
he, after much deliberation, refused Gokhale. But the decision would not rest easy
on him. He recalled, "I was miserable" and for the first time in his life his performance
in academia declined, and he barely cleared his law examinations.
Having made his choice, however, he set aside
the intruding thoughts, and focused on his studies with renewed vigor. In 1915,
He passed the
Masters in Law examination
with honors, winning a gold medal. Subsequently, he completed his Doctorate in Law
As an accomplished lawyer, however, he realized
it would be only a matter of time before he would be caught up in the turmoil of
the fight for independence. While Gandhiji was on a fact finding mission in Chamaparan
district of Bihar to address grievances of local peasants, he called on Dr. Rajendra
Prasad to come to Champaran with volunteers. He rushed to Champaran. Initially he
was not impressed with Gandhiji's appearance or conversation. In time, however,
he was deeply moved by the dedication, conviction and courage that Gandhiji displayed.
Here was a man alien of the parts, who had made the cause of the people of Champaran
his own. He decided that he would do everything he could to help, with his skills
as a lawyer and as an enthusiastic volunteer.
Gandhiji's influence greatly altered many of
his views, most importantly on caste and untouchability. Gandhiji made Dr. Rajendra
Prasad realize that the nation, working for a common cause, "became of one caste,
namely co-workers." He reduced the number of servants he had to one, and sought
ways to simplify his life. He no longer felt shame in sweeping the floor, or washing
his own utensils, tasks he had all along assumed others would do for him.
Whenever the people suffered, he was present
to help reduce
the pain. In 1914 floods ravaged Bihar and Bengal. He became a volunteer distributing
food and cloth to the flood victims. In 1934, Bihar was shaken by an earthquake,
which caused immense damage and loss of property. The quake, devastating by itself,
was followed by floods and an outbreak of malaria which heightened misery. He dove
right in with relief work, collecting food, clothes and medicine. His experiences
here led to similar efforts elsewhere too. In 1935, an earthquake hit Quetta. He
was not allowed to lend a hand because of Government restrictions. Nevertheless,
he set up relief committees in Sind and Punjab for the homeless victims who flocked
Dr. Prasad called for
non cooperation in Bihar
as part of Gandhiji's non-cooperation movement. He gave up his law practice and
National College near Patna,
1921. The college was later shifted to
Sadaqat Ashramon the banks of the Ganga.
The non-cooperation movement in Bihar spread like wildfire. Dr. Prasad toured the
state, holding public meeting fter another, collecting funds and galvanizing the
nation for a complete boycott of all schools, colleges and Government offices. He
urged the people to take to spinning and wear only khadi. Bihar and the entire nation
was taken by storm, the people responded to the leaders' call. The machinery of
the mighty British Raj was coming to a grinding halt. The British India Government
utilized the one and only option at its disposal-force. Mass arrests were made.
Lala Lajpat Rai, Jawaharlal Nehru, Deshbandhu Chittranjan Das and Maulana Azad were
arrested. Then it happened. Peaceful non- cooperation turned to violence in Chauri
Chaura, Uttar Pradesh. In light of the events at Chauri Chaura, Gandhiji suspended
the civil disobedience movement. The entire nation was hushed. A murmur of dissent
began within the top brass of the Congress. Gandhiji was criticized for what was
called the "Bardoli retreat."
He stood by his mentor, seeing the wisdom behind
Gandhiji's actions. Gandhiji did not want to set a precedent of violence for free
India. In March 1930, Gandhiji launched the
Salt Satyagraha. He planned to march from
Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi seashore to break the salt laws. A salt Satyagraha was
launched in Bihar under Dr. Prasad. Nakhas Pond in Patna was chosen as the site
of the Satyagraha. Batch after batch of volunteers courted arrest while making salt.
Many volunteers were injured. He called for more volunteers. Public opinion forced
the Government to withdraw the police and allow the volunteers to make salt. He
then sold the manufactured salt to raise funds. He was sentenced to six months imprisonment.
His service on the various fronts of the movement
for independence raised his profile considerably. He presided over the Bombay session
of the Indian National Congress in October 1934. Following the resignation of Subhash
Chandra Bose as the President of the Congress in April 1939,
He was elected President. He did
his best to heal the rifts created between the incompatible ideologies of Subhash
Chandra Bose and Gandhiji. Rabindranath Tagore wrote to him, "I feel assured in
my mind that your personality will help to soothe the injured souls and bring peace
and unity into an atmosphere of mistrust and chaos..."
As the freedom struggle progressed, the dark
shadow of communalism which had always lurked in the background, steadily grew.
To his dismay communal riots began spontaneously burst all over the nation and in
Bihar. He rushed from one scene to another to control the riots. Independence was
fast approaching and so was the prospect of partition. Dr. Prasad, who had such
fond memories of playing with his Hindu and Muslim friends in Zeradei, now had the
misfortune of witnessing the nation being ripped into two.
In July 1946, when the Constituent Assembly
was established to frame the Constitution of India, he was elected its President.
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.
Dr. Prasad transformed the imperial splendor of Rashtrapati Bhavan into an elegant
home. He visited many countries on missions of goodwill, as the new state sought
to establish and nourish new relationships. He stressed the need for peace in a
In 1962, after 12 years as President, Dr. Prasad
retired, and was subsequently
awarded the Bharat Ratna, the nation's highest civilian award. With the
many tumults of his vigorous and accomplished life, he recorded his life and the
decades before independence in manybooks, among the more noted of which are "Satyagraha atChamparan" (1922),
"India Divided" (1946), his autobiography "Atmakatha"
(1946), "Mahatma Gandhi and Bihar, Some Reminisences" (1949), and "Bapu ke Kadmon Mein" (1954).
Dr. Rajendra Prasad spent the last few months
of his life in retirement at the Sadaqat Ashram in Patna. He died on February 28,
1963. In her first citizen, India had imagined a life of possibilities, and seen
an unsurpassed dedication to making them real.