Dr. Rajendra Prasad (1884 - 1963)
The First President of India
Life and Journy of Dr. Rajendra Prasad
The family shunned ostentations, lived simply and mixed freely with the co-villagers. Disparities were not irritating. There was a sense of community, fellow-feeling and kindliness. All shared in the festivals and the Poojas. The flow of village life was quiet and gentle. All this left a deep impression on young Rajendra's mind. The village came to symbolize peace and repose.
At the age of five young Rajendra was, according to the practice in the community to which he belonged, put under a Maulavi who taught him Persian. Later, he was taught Hindi and arithmetic. After the completion of this traditional education he was put in the Chapra Zilla School, from which he moved to R.K. Ghosh's Academy in Patna in order to be with his only brother, Mahendra Prasad, who was eight years older than him and who had joined the Patna College. When Mahendra Prasad moved to Calcutta in 1897, Rajendra was admitted into the Hathwa High School. Soon he rejoined the Chapra Zilla School, from where he passed the Entrance examination of the Calcutta University at the age of eighteen, in 1902, standing first in the first division. When it is remembered that the educational jurisdiction of the Calcutta University extended from Sadiya, the easternmost frontier of British India, to a little beyond Peshawar on the north-west, the feat appears truly remarkable. He had been married for five years at that time. His wife Rajbanshi Devi was a true-to-tradition Hindu lady, merging her identity totally in that of the husband.
After passing the Entrance examination Rajendra Prasad joined the Presidency College, Calcutta, and both brothers lived together for a time in room of the Eden Hindu Hostel. A plaque still commemorates his stay, for practically the whole of his University career, in that room. Not many from Bihar had joined that metropolitan institution. But, before long, Rajendra Prasad gained immense popularity. This was demonstrated in a remarkable early moment in 1904 when as a Third year student he won in the first annual election for the post of Secretary of the College Union against a senior student belonging to a rich aristocratic family of Calcutta. Those were days when junior students did not speak to their seniors unless spoken to. Rajendra Prasad had, moreover, neither sought nor worked for the post. Dr. P.K. Roy, the Principal, in whose presence the election had taken place by show of hands, was astounded by the result, more than a thousand against seven, and enquired as to what made Rajendra Prasad so popular. The great scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose and the highly respected P.C. Ray wanted him to offer Science, but he preferred Arts, for though he had topped in I.A. he had not topped in the Science subjects. While his remarkable distinguished academic career continued and he capped it with a First in the M.A. and a First in Master of Law, other ideas occupied his mind and heart. He had been initiated into the cult of 'Swadeshi' by his elder brother, even before his arrival in Calcutta. Now he joined, while in B.A. (Hons.) Class, the Dawn Society run by Satish Chandra Mukherjee, Sister Nivedita, Surendranath Banerjee and many other luminaries gave discourses here. There were debating and essay-writing competitions and he bagged many of the prizes. A new awareness was dawning on him. The anti-partition agitation stirred him. The processions, the slogans, the speeches touched new chords. He collected the Bihari students in Calcutta and they conducted activities similar to those conducted by the Dawn Society. The formation of the Bihari Students' Conference followed in 1908. It was the first organization of its kind in the whole of India. It not only led to an awakening, it nurtured and produced practically the entire political leadership of the twenties in Bihar.