INDIA got its thirteenth president in Smt. Pratibha Patil who succeeds in India’s missile man A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and also happens to be the first female president of our country. The entire process of her election, right from her candidature being declared by the Congress party to her getting elected was a stormy affair.
The election for the president in India till this one has been a sedate affair where consensus generated from different quarters resulted in the selection of the candidate.
Looking back at the previous Presidents of our country one finds that the thirteen presidents came to power in a similar fashion. Here’s a list of the presidents of India who held office before Mrs. Patil starting with Dr. Rajendra Prasad who became the country’s first president after it achieved its independence. Let’s look at some presidents with illustrious tenure.
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1. Rajendra Prasad University of Calcutta
The first president of Independent India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad was born in Zeradei, in the Siwan district of Bihar near Patna. He joined the Presidency College in 1902.
His dauntless determination towards the service of the nation inspired many students like Bihar Kesari Dr. Sri Krishna Sinha and Bihar Bibhuti. He passed in 1915 with a Gold medal in Masters in Law examination with honors. He went on to complete his Doctorate in Law.
He was elected as the President of the Indian National Congress during the Bombay session in October 1934 and again became the President when Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose resigned in 1939.
As the first President, he was independent and unwilling to allow the Prime Minister or the party to usurp his constitutional prerogatives. However, following the tussle over the enactment of the Hindu Code Bill, he moderated his stance.
2. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan University of Madras
An erudite scholar and one of the foremost scholars of comparative religion and philosophy of his time, he built a bridge between Eastern and Western thought showing each to be comprehensible within the terms of the other.
He introduced Western idealism into Indian philosophy and was the first scholar of importance to provide a comprehensive exegesis of India’s religious and philosophical literature to English-speaking peoples.
His academic appointments included the King George V Chair of Mental and Moral Science at the University of Calcutta (1921-?) and Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford University (1936-1939).
3. Zakir Hussain Aligarh Muslim University; University of Berlin
Zakir Hussain was born on February 8, 1897, and died on May 3, 1969. He was the third President of India from May 13, 1967, until his death. Hussain was born in Hyderabad.
After serving as the Governor of Bihar from 1957 to 1962, and as the Vice President of India from 1962 to 196. In his inaugural speech, he said that the whole of India was his home and all its people were his family.
4. Varahagiri Venkata Giri (acting) University College, Dublin
Varahagiri Venkata Giri was born on the 10 of August 1894 and was commonly known as V. V. Giri. He was the fourth president of the Republic of India. (August 24, 1969 – August 23, 1974).
Prior to becoming the President of India, he also served successfully as the governor of Uttar Pradesh (1957-1960), Kerala (1960-1965), and Mysore (1965-1967).
He was elected as Vice-President of India in 1967. Giri became acting president of India in 1969 upon the death in office of Zakir Hussain and decided to run for that position in the ensuing election.
The Congress Party led by Indira Gandhi chose to support Neelam Sanjiva Reddy for the position, but he was able to prevail anyway (reportedly due to a last-minute change in the decision by Indira Gandhi), serving until 1974.
He received India’s highest civilian decoration, the Bharat Ratna, in 1975.
5. Muhammad Hidayatullah (Acting) University of Nagpur; Trinity College, Cambridge; Lincoln’s Inn
Muhammad Hidayatullah was born in 1905 and died in 1992. He was the acting President of India in 1969 and the second Muslim to hold the post. Hidayatullah was succeeded by the previous President, Varahagiri Venkata Giri.
He was the first Muslim Chief Justice of India from January 1968 to February 1970. He was also Vice-President of India from August 1979 to August 1984. A National Law University has been established in his name at Raipur.
6. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed St. Stephen’s College, Delhi; St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge
Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed was born on May 13 1905 and died on February 11, 1977. He was President of India from 1974 to 1977. He was educated at St. Stephen`s College and St Catharine`s College, Cambridge, and subsequently became an active member of the Congress Party.
He was chosen for the presidency by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1974, becoming the third Muslim President in Delhi. He would later use his constitutional authority as head of state to allow her to rule by decree once the emergency rule was proclaimed in 1975. He died in office.
7. Basappa Danappa Jatti (acting) Sykes Law College, Kolhapur
Basappa Danappa Jatti was born on September 10, 1912, and died on June 7, 2002. Jatti graduated as a lawyer from Sykes Law College, Kolhapur, and became a leader in Jamakhandi. After the 1952 general elections, he was appointed Minister of Health and Labour of the then-Bombay Government.
Re-elected from the Jamkhandi constituency in the third general elections, Jatti was appointed Finance Minister on July 2, 1962, in the Nijalingappa Ministry. He became acting President for a brief period after the death of Fakruddin Ali Ahmed.
8. Neelam Sanjiva Reddy Government Arts College, Anantapur
Neelam Sanjiva Reddy was born on May 18, 1913, and died on June 1, 1996. He was the sixth President of the Republic of India, serving from 1977 to 1982. He was also Union Minister of Transport, Civil Aviation, Shipping, and Tourism from January 1966 to March 1967 in the Cabinet.
He was elected to the Lok Sabha from the Hindupur constituency in Andhra Pradesh. He was elected Speaker of Lok Sabha on March 17, 1967, where he won unprecedented acclaim and admiration. He was elected President by the electoral college in July 1977 and was the only person to be elected President of India unopposed.
9. Giani Zail Singh University of Delhi
Giani Zail Singh was elected to the highest office of the President of India on July 15, 1982, and took the oath of office on July 25, 1982. He was critiqued for his subservient attitude to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
He was President when Indira Gandhi launched Operation Blue Star, an attack on terrorists occupying the highest sacred shrine of Sikhs that flushed them out. Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister after the assassination of his mother by two of her Sikh bodyguards.
Even though Zail Singh had strained relations with Rajiv Gandhi, he declined to embarrass his government by seeking re-election as President of India with the support of non-Congress parties. Following his accidental death, Zail Singh was cremated in the vicinity of the Raj Ghat.
10. Ramaswamy Venkataraman University of Madras
Ramaswamy Venkataraman was born on December 4, 1910, was the 8th President of the Republic of India, serving from 1987 to 1992. Before his election as President, Venkataraman served nearly 4 years as the 7th Vice-President.
He is currently the third oldest living former head of state in the world behind Aden Abdullah Osman Daar and Anthony Mamo. He is also the only living former President of India. Although re-elected to Parliament in 1957, Venkataraman resigned his seat in the Lok Sabha to join the State Government of Madras as a Minister.
There Shri Venkataraman held the portfolios of Industries, Labour, Cooperation, Power, Transport, and Commercial Taxes from 1957 to 1967. During this time, he was also the Leader of the Upper House, namely, the Madras Legislative Council.
11. Shankar Dayal Sharma St Johns College, Agra; University of Allahabad; University of Lucknow;
Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge; Lincoln’s Inn; Harvard Law School
Shankar Dayal Sharma was born on August 19, 1918, and died on December 26, 1999. He was the 9th President of the Republic of India serving from 1992 to 1997. Sharma served as Vice-President until 1992 when he was elected President.
During his five-year term, he was active in ceremonial matters and was in charge of dismissing and appointing governors. During his last year as President, it was his responsibility to swear in three prime ministers. He did not run for a second term as President.
12. Kocheril Raman Narayanan University of Travancore; London School of Economics
K. R. Narayanan was born in a small thatched hut at Perumthanam, Uzhavoor. In 1949, he joined the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) on Nehru’s request.
Narayanan obtained his B. A. (Honours) and M.A. in English literature from the University of Travancore (1940-43), standing first in the university (thus becoming the first Dalit to obtain this degree with first class in Travancore).
He worked as a diplomat in the embassies at Rangoon, Tokyo, London, Canberra, and Hanoi. He was the Indian ambassador to Thailand (1967-69), Turkey (1973-75), and the People’s Republic of China (1976-78).
He taught at the Delhi School of Economics (DSE) (1954) and was Jawaharlal Nehru fellow (1970-72) and secretary to the Ministry of external affairs (1976). He retired in 1978. After his retirement, he served as the Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi from 1978-80; he would later describe this experience as the foundation for his public life.
Narayanan entered politics at the request of Indira Gandhi and won three successive general elections to the Lok Sabha in 1984, 1989, and 1991, as a representative of the Ottapalam constituency in Palakkad, Kerala, on a Congress ticket.
He was a Minister of State in the Union cabinet under Rajiv Gandhi, holding the portfolios of Planning (1985), External Affairs (1985-86), and Science and Technology (1986-89). As a Member of Parliament, he resisted international pressure to tighten patent controls in India.
Narayanan was elected to the Presidency of India (17 July 1997) with 95% of the votes in the electoral college, as a result of the Presidential poll on 14 July.
13. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam St Joseph’s College, Tiruchirapalli, Madras Institute of Technology
Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was born on October 15, 1931, in Tamil Nadu, India. APJ Abdul Kalam was born in 1931 in a middle-class family in Rameshwaram, a town well-known for its Hindu shrines. His father, a devout Muslim, owned boats that he rented out to local fishermen and was a good friend of Hindu religious leaders and the school teachers at Rameshwaram.
APJ Abdul Kalam mentions in his biography that to support his studies, he started his career as a newspaper vendor. A scholar, erudite personality, and visionary, the rocket scientist has penned several books and has engineered India’s space dreams to a large extent. He became the twelfth President of India, serving from 2002 to 2007
14. Pratibha Patil Mooljee Jaitha College, Jalgaon; Government Law College, Mumbai
Mrs. Pratibha Patil took the oath as the President of India on 5th August setting a record in the largest democracy of the world by becoming the first woman to occupy the office. But was she a candidate of consensus or convenience is something that is debatable.
When her name was announced by Congress many people failed to identify as to who was the individual. Despite having been active in regional politics and holding the office of Governor of Rajasthan, she kept a low profile even in active politics!
Mrs. Patil’s name sprung up when Left and Congress headed for a collision course and failed to agree on a consensus candidate on the first attempt. For a country with a women’s reservation bill on the anvil waiting to be passed, the election of Mrs. Patil would come as a fillip.
Looking at Mrs. Patil makes one wonder if she is a consensus candidate or meant to be a consensus candidate for the Government in terms of signing bills and legislation. Her name was proposed by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and came as a surprise to many in the political ring owing to her rather low profile in politics.
It could be possible that perhaps many people in the country end up comparing Mrs. Patil with her predecessors like Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who earned the respect of the multitude by his contribution to the country’s space program before becoming the president of India.
Not only was he respected for his knowledge, but he also had the guts to send a bill to be reconsidered by the government. This brought about a lot of embarrassment for the government for incidents such as this rarely occurred. People began to respect him for his intellect, sensitivity, and integrity. So a comparison in this regard would be unfair to some extent.
Mrs. Patil has a term of 5 years to serve the nation and win the adulation of her countrymen. More than that she would have to make sure that actions speak louder than words in proving all those wring who call him a rubber stamp!!