Remembering the political brilliance of Dr. Rajendra Prasad
By: Er. Prabhat Kishore
Dr. Rajendra Prasad was a symbol of nationalism due to his efficiency, devotion to service, intellectual brilliance, truthfulness, sincerity, and gentleness by entering public life as Gandhiji’s associate in Champaran. This pioneering leader of the Indian freedom struggle, with his service and support of Sardar Patel, held the highest office of the President of Congress, President of the Constituent Assembly and then the first President of the Republic of India for twelve years.
Dr. Rajendra Prasad was born on the 3rd December 1884 in Jiradei village of Siwan district in Bihar. After completing his early education in Chhapra and T.K. Ghosh Academy, Patna, he was enrolled in FA in the Presidency College, Kolkata in the year 1902. He passed the MA (Economics) honours in 1907, BL in 1910 and ML (Master of Law) in 1915 from the University of Kolkata. After this, he started practicing in the Calcutta High Court.
Rajendra Babu started his public life in the year 1905 with the Bang-Bhang movement. He became a member of the All India Congress Committee in 1911. After the establishment of Patna High Court in 1916, he shifted to Patna and started practicing law. In Patna, there was less opportunity for advocacy and more opportunity to participate in public work.
In the Lucknow Congress of 1916, a delegation of farmers from Champaran met Gandhiji and narrated the atrocities of the Foreigners. Gandhiji reached Motihari and personally saw the plight of indigo peasants by the British. He called Rajendra Prasad and some other lawyers from Patna to Champaran and asked them to pen the sad story of the farmers. The statements of about 22 to 25 thousand raiyats were recorded. In Champaran, the work of emancipating the farmers from slavery was going on, while in Gujarat, under the leadership of Vallabhbhai Patel, the farmers of Kheda were performing satyagraha. Rajendra Babu went to Kheda to meet Patel and gave moral support to the movement. After about two years of agitation, the British indigo managers left Champaran.
In September 1920, Rajendra Prasad was completely engrossed in the service of the country by giving up his advocacy. For the promotion of the national movement, he started the publication of “Desh” in Hindi and “Searchlight” in English, which gave a big boost to the national freedom movement. On January 15, 1934, in the devastating earthquake of Bihar, lakhs of houses collapsed, wells were filled with sand and there was panic all around. An NGO named ‘Bihar Central Relief Committee’ was formed under the chairmanship of Rajendra Babu and efforts were made to control the situation with the money received in the relief fund. Gandhiji, Sardar Patel, Kripalani and others worked with full commitment and coordination in their help. Demolition was converted into construction and Rajendra Babu was given the title of ‘Deshratna’ by the countrymen.
In 1934, for the first time, Rajendra Babu was elected as the Congress President. Under his presidency, the Golden Jubilee year was celebrated in the Bombay session in October 1934 to commemorate the 50 years of the Congress. He established the ‘Deshi Rajya Praja Mandal’ in the native states. When Subhash Chandra Bose was elected president for the second time in the Tripura Congress session, he was facing fierce opposition from Gandhiji. Subhash Babu called a meeting of the All India Congress Committee in Kolkata on 28 April 1939, in which he resigned when his leadership was not disclosed and Rajendra Babu was asked to take over the post of Congress President for the second time.
In the “Quit India” movement of 1942, all the top leaders were arrested. Rajendra Babu was arrested in a sick condition and kept in Bankipur Jail of Patna. On 15 June 1945, he along with other leaders, was released from the prison. On 16 February 1946, the British Prime Minister announced the constitution of a three-member “Cabinet Mission” and on 23 March 1946, its members Pethick Lawrence, Sir Stafford Cripps and A.V. Alexander came to India.
After talks with various political and social leaders in India by the three-member mission, two plans were published by the British Government. The first plan published on 16 May 1946 was related to the formation of the Constituent Assembly and the second plan published on 16 June 1946 was related to the formation of an Interim government at the Centre. After accepting the plan on 16 June 1946, a twelve-member cabinet under the leadership of the Congress President Jawaharlal Nehru was sworn in on 2nd September 1946 and Rajendra Babu was inducted as the Minister of Agriculture and Food.
After becoming the Prime Minister of the Interim Government, Nehru had to leave the post of Congress President. As per Patel’s wish, Acharya J.V. Kripalani became the President of Meerut Congress. Acharya Kripalani resigned from the post of Congress President on 17 November 1947 due to differences of opinion between the government and the Congress organization. Then Gandhi wanted socialist Jayaprakash as president and Nehru wanted Acharya Narendra Dev, but eventually Patel’s choice Rajendra Prasad was made Congress president. After some time he resigned from the post of Agriculture and Food Minister.
According to the long-term plan announced on 16 May 1946 and accepted by the Congress, the Constituent Assembly of India sat (in the Central Hall of the Lok Sabha) on 9 December 1946. Nehruji wanted N. Gopalaswami Iyengar to be made its permanent chairman, but ultimately Patel’s choice Rajendra Babu was elected permanent chairman. On 15 August 1947, power was handed over to the Government of India by the British Government, which was transferred to the President of the Sovereign Constituent Council of India. At 12 o’clock in the midnight of 15th August, Rajendra Prasad proposed that the Viceroy should be informed that – (1) the Constituent Assembly of India has assumed the authority of India, (2) the Constituent Assembly of India has accepted the recommendation that Lord Mountbatten should not be the Viceroy but only the Governor-General with effect from August 15, 1947, and (3) this message should be conveyed to Mountbatten by the Speaker and Jawaharlal Nehru.
The work of the Constituent Assembly started on 11 December 1946 and was completed and passed on 24 January 1950. Dr. Rajendra Prasad had received the blessings of Sardar Patel for the nomination of the first President of independent India, but Nehru wanted the then Governor General Chakravarti Rajagopalachari to get this responsibility. Patel could have agreed if it had been handled efficiently. But Sardar Patel changed his mind for two reasons. Firstly, Rajendra Babu was the choice of most of the members of the Party. The members of the Constituent Assembly did not forget the incident during Quit India Movement when Rajendra Babu went to jail but Rajaji was pleading for reconciliation with British Raj and Muslim League.
When the Chief Whip Mr. S.N. Sinha, quipped that the members of the Constituent Assembly were of the view that without Patel, Nehru could not make Rajaji the President, Nehru tried to prove that he would do so on his own. He wrote to Rajendra Babu that he had spoken to Sardar Patel and he agreed that the present system should be continued i.e. Governor General Rajaji should be allowed to become the President, whereas in reality Nehruji has no talk with Patel on this issue. Both Rajendra Babu and Nehruji met Patel in Mumbai. Later in the party meeting also it seemed that Nehru would obviously lose, but handling the matter, Patel told Nehru that after his return from London, an appropriate decision would be taken on this issue. Writing a letter to Patel that night, Nehru threatened to resign if Rajaji did not become the President. Nehruji continued his campaign to get Rajendra Babu out of the field; but Rajendra Babu, blessed by Patel, remained adamant. Sensing Patel’s choice, the wishes of the members and the adverse situation, Rajaji announced his withdrawal from the field.
Finally, on 24 January 1946, Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected unanimously by the Constituent Assembly and became the first President of the Republic of India on 26 January 1950. Praising Patel’s confidence on the issue, Rajaji commented “this is the victory of versed Patel and the defeat of the hasty Nehru”. After retiring from the post of President on 3 May 1962, he came to Sadaqat Ashram, Patna. He took the last breath of his life on 28 February 1963.
The traditions and constitutional conventions upheld by Rajendra Babu as the President of the Republic of India are the biggest contributors to the stability of the Republic of India. Dressed in Khaddar from bottom to top, physique like a country farmer, humble eyes, chubby moustache – Rajendra Babu, the epitome of such proud gentleness, will always be an example to the Indian masses.
(The author is a technocrat & educationist. He holds Master in Engineering from M.N. Regional Engineering College, Allahabad/Prayagraj)