Gems of Congress: Deshratna Dr. Rajendra Prasad

Dr. Shashi Kumar Singh, Ph.D., D.Litt

Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the inaugural President of India, an eminent figure in the Indian freedom struggle, a favourite of Mahatma Gandhi and a vigilant member of his non-violent movement, was one of the great personalities of the Indian National Congress. He became the President of the Indian National Congress thrice - in 1934, in 1939 and in 1947 and discharged his responsibilities quite efficiently. His multifaceted persona reflected the virtues admired by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi Ji entrusted pivotal responsibilities to three key associates - Among them, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who represented the youthful enthusiasm in the freedom struggle, the second one whom we also call the ‘Iron Man’, was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who was a practical leader with strong will and the third one was Dr. Rajendra Prasad who was a leader on whom Gandhiji had immense faith and who stood every test of Gandhiji.

Dr. Rajendra Prasad was born on December 03, 1884, in Jiradei, a Saran of Bihar province and now Siwan district. His father Mahadev Sahay was one of the leading scholars of Sanskrit andPersian and his mother Kamleshwari Devi was a devout woman with high ideals.


At the age of 5, Rajendra Prasad’s parents started sending him to a Maulvi, so that he could acquire knowledge of Persian and Urdu. Dr. Rajendra Prasad’s primary education took place in his village, Jiradei. He was inclined towards studies since childhood. For school education, Rajendra Prasad was admitted to the district school of Chhapra (Bihar) where he completed his studies till eighth grade. Meanwhile, due to old customs and traditions, he got married to a girl named Rajvanshi Devi at the age of 13. Later, along with his elder brother Mahendra Prasad, he started going to TK Ghosh Academy in Patna for studies. After this, he appeared in the examination for admission to the University of Calcutta, in which he scored very good marks. He started getting a scholarship of Rs. 30 every month. For the first time, a young man from his village had succeeded in getting admission to Calcutta University, which was certainly a matter of pride for Rajendra Prasad and his family. In 1902, Shri Prasad joined the Presidency College, from where he graduated. In 1907, he did M.A. in Economics from the University of Calcutta. In 1915, he completed his master’s degree for which he was awarded the Gold Medal. After this, he also obtained a doctorate in law from Allahabad University.

Early entry into politics:

To pursue higher education, Shri Rajendra Prasad was admitted to Presidency College, Kolkata. His popularity was demonstrated when he defeated a senior student from an aristocratic family in the first annual election for the post of Secretary of the College Union. He was then a third-year student and was gradually getting involved in public life. This was the same time when there was great political chaos going on in Bengal and there was a new awakening in the patriotism of Shri Rajendra Prasad. He became an active member of the “DAWN SOCIETY” established and run by Satish Chandra Mukherjee in Calcutta. He was very agitated on the issue of the partition of Bengal. The Swadeshi and boycott movements also left a lasting impact on him. Due to the above influences, he joined the Indian National Congress and was elected representative of the All-India Congress Committee.

Dr. Rajendra Prasad gathered Bihari students in Calcutta. He started organizing awareness programs among the students like the activities conducted by “DAWN”. Due to his efforts, the ‘Bihar Students’ Conference’ was formed in 1908. It not only paved the way for awakening but also practically nurtured and created the important political leadership of the second decade of the twentieth century. Gopal Krishna Gokhale, one of the greatest nationalists of that time and leading leader of the Indian National Congress, also advised him to join his organization ‘Servants of India Society’ in Pune. However, Dr. Rajendra Prasad was unable to do so due to a lack of permission from elder brother Shri Mahendra Prasad and the financial needs of the family.

Contact with Gandhiji and active role in the freedom movement

Dr. Rajendra Prasad’s first meeting with Gandhiji took place in Calcutta in the year 1915, when a meeting was organized there in honour of Gandhiji. In December 1916, he again saw Gandhiji at the Congress’ session in Lucknow. It was here that Champaran’sfarmer leaders Rajkumar Shukla and Brajkishore Prasad had appealed to Gandhiji to come to Champaran. Are solution was also taken in the convention on the situation in Champaran. The year 1917 was an important turning point in the life of Dr. Rajendra Prasad. He came close to Gandhiji in the Calcutta session of Congress, but he did not know that while going to Champaran for the investigation mission, Gandhiji would first come to his house in Patna. He reached Motihari with volunteers on Gandhiji’s call and stayed with him wherever Gandhiji went. He prepared a list of farmers who had been exploited by the planters and investigated with volunteers. Gandhiji was arrested and later released after the government agreed to appoint a committee to look into the matter. This was a huge moral victory for Gandhiji and only after this, Gandhiji became a “Mahatma”. Thus, Dr. Rajendra Prasad played an important role in making him ‘Mahatma’ from Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi.

In 1919, there was a wave of the ‘Civil Disobedience Movement’ all over India. Gandhiji appealed to boycott all schools and government offices. After this Dr. Prasad left his advocacy profession. During the Champaran movement, Dr. Rajendra Prasad became a loyal companion of Gandhiji. After coming under the influence of Gandhiji, he abandoned his old and conservative ideology and participated in the freedom movement with a new energy. Congress had started the movement in 1931. During this period, Dr. Prasad had to go to jail several times. In 1934, he was made the President of the Bombay Congress. He was made President more than once. He participated in the Quit India Movement in 1942, during which he was arrested and kept under house arrest.

Dr. Rajendra Prasad as Congress President

Dr. Rajendra Prasad became the Chairman of the reception committee of ‘Gaya Congress’ in 1922. He was the President of the Bihar Provincial Congress Committee for many years. He was continuously a member of the Executive Committee of the Congress. Dr. Rajendra Prasad became the President of the ‘Indian National Congress’ in Bombay in October 1934. After the resignation of Subhash Chandra Bose in 1939, Dr. Rajendra Prasad became the acting President of Congress. After the resignation of Acharya Kripalani, Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected President of All-India Congress Committee for the third time in November 1947.

The Golden Jubilee session of the Indian National Congress was held in Bombay on October 24-28, 1934, under the chairmanship of Dr. Rajendra Prasad in which KP Jariman was the chairman of the reception committee. The following resolutions were passed in the Golden Jubilee session of the Indian National Congress held under the chairmanship of Dr. Rajendra Prasad.

In the Golden Jubilee session, the All-India Congress Committee’s proposal regarding the Parliamentary Board and its policies was approved. The nation was congratulated for remaining steadfast in the fight for freedom despite courageous sacrifices and many tortures. Resolutions were passed for the establishment of the All-India Village Industries Association. It was decided to organize Congress Exhibitions by A-I-S-A and All-India Village Industries (A-I-V-I-A) and it was also decided that these exhibitions would not be organized by the Reception Committee. The experiments done in the Congress Constitution were given effective form. For elected membership, it will be necessary to have a labour franchise and always wear Khaddar (Khadi-made clothes). It was decided to keep the number of Congress delegates at most 2000. The number of members of the All-India Congress Committee was reduced to half. It was decided to elect representatives at the rate of one for every 500 primary members. In this session, Gandhiji demanded that the basic mantra of Congress be replaced from ‘Peaceful and lawful methods’ to ‘Truth and non-violence’. But his demand was not accepted. Constructive programs, Swadeshi, the situation of Indians settled abroad, and a resolution to do Satyagraha in individual ‘Civil Disobedience Campaign’ was passed. The resolution passed in the Golden Jubilee session of the Congress under the chairmanship of Dr. Rajendra Prasad gave a new direction to the Indian National Congress and its implementation proved to be a milestone for the freedom movement.

Constituent Assembly and Dr. Rajendra Prasad:

Even though India gained independence on August 15, 1947, the Constituent Assembly was formed sometime before that. Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Bhimrao Ambedkar played main roles in the making of the Constitution. Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected Chairman of the Indian Constitution Committee. It was Dr. Prasad who gave recognition to the Constitution by signing it.

Dr. Rajendra Prasad as President:

Dr. Rajendra Prasad was the first President of independent India. When our Republic came into force on January 26, 1950, Dr. Prasad was honoured with this post. After independence, in the first government formed under the leadership of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Rajendra Prasad was entrusted with the work of the Food and Agriculture Department as Cabinet Minister. Along with this, he was appointed the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly of India for drafting the Constitution. Dr. Rajendra Prasad was Gandhi Ji’s one of the main disciples who was determined to sacrifice even his life for the independence of India. His name is mainly taken as a freedom fighter. Dr. Rajendra Prasad was the main leader of Bihar. He also had to endure jail torture during the ‘Break the Salt Law’ movement and the ‘Quit India Movement’. After becoming the President, Dr. Prasad wanted to take decisions independently in a non-partisan manner, hence he retired from the Congress Party. Dr. Prasad laid more emphasis on the development of education in India, he also gave his advice in this regard to Nehru Ji’s government many times.

On January 26, 1950, India got its first President Dr. Rajendra Prasad. Presidential elections were held again in 1957, in which Dr. Rajendra Prasad was again elected as the President. This was the first and last time when the same person became President twice consecutively. He remained in this highest post till 1962. He resigned from his post in 1962 and went to Patna and started living his life by staying in Bihar Vidyapeeth and doing public service. Dr. Rajendra Prasad was honoured with many awards and honours. In 1962, he was awarded India’s best civilian honour ‘Bharat Ratna’ for his political and social contribution. He was a scholar, talented, determined and a man with a liberal outlook.

His sister Bhagwati Devi died on January 25, 1950, a day before the coming into force of the Indian Constitution, but he went to attend the cremation only after the ceremony of the establishment of the Indian Republic. Rajendra Babu’s attire was graceful, concealing the fact that he was a remarkably talented and distinguished individual. Despite his appearance resembling that of an ordinary farmer, his true persona exuded talent and sophistication.

While conferring the honorary degree of ‘Doctor of LAW’ on him by Allahabad University, it was said – “Babu Rajendra Prasad has presented a shining example of simple and selfless service in his life. When the pinnacle of success in the legal profession was not far off, he felt the call to national work and, abandoning all prospects of personal future advancement, he accepted work among the poor and destitute peasants in the villages.”

Sarojini Naidu had written about him - “His extraordinary talent, the unique sweetness of his nature, the largeness of his character and the quality of extreme sacrifice have perhaps made him more widely and personally beloved than all our leaders. He has the same place among Gandhiji’s closest disciples as St. John had near Jesus Christ.

DeshratnaDr. Rajendra Prasad is an example of simplicity connected to the country’s soil, who became the first President of independent India. But he was the only President of India who after leaving his office, gave up his luxurious life to embrace a simple ascetic life. His life journey, which started from Bihar, came to an end on February 28, 1963, in Bihar. His last rites were performed at Bans Ghat on the banks of Ganga in Patna.

Dr. Rajendra Prasad remained the President for 12 years, but led his life in such a way that he could embrace even the poorest man in the village. An example of simplicity is that after being the President for 12 years, as a former President, he could get treatment for his deteriorating health anywhere in the country and abroad, but he did not consider it appropriate to take any government facility for even this. He returned to the same dilapidated house in Patna from where his political journey had started. He had also said, “I will return to the place from where I came.” And he walked the talk.

The Author is a Member, AICC and Chairman of Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee (VicharVibhag)