Out first President may be truly described as one of the finest representatives of modern India, a product of Western culture with an outlook on life essentially Indian. His life reflects synthesis of cultures and varied experiences through which he passed his life.
Rajandra Prasad was born in a Bihar village in Chapra on December 3, 1884, the son of a landlord. His first school was the Chapra District School, where the Headmaster, Khirode Chandra Ray Chaudhury, recognized his remarkable gifts. He passed the Entrance examination from the Patna District School, standing first in the Calcutta University, whose jurisdiction in those days extended from Bengal 'undivided) and Bihar to Burma including Assam, Orissa etc.
He now came to Calcutta and joined the Presidency College where he studied Science with Dr. J. C. Bose and Dr. P. C. Ray as also the Humanities. Again he topped the list of successful candidates at the next examination (F.A). He graduated with Honours in English in 1906 and History and secured the Eshan scholarship. The next year he took his M. A. degree (in English) and in 1910 he took his degree in Law and joined the bar of the Calcutta High Court. When Patna High Court was established (1917), he shifted his practice to that Court.
Meanwhile, from his student-day in Calcutta, he came under the influence of Satis Mukherjee's 'Dawn Society'. He also acted as a volunteer at the Calcutta session of the Congress in 1906 and heard the speeches of the leaders of the time, Surendranath Banerjee, Gokhale and others. In 1917, his fateful meeting with Gandhiji took place over the Champaran agrarian troubles. So deep was the Mahatma's influence over Rajendra Prasad, that he joined the Congress, after the Satyagraha movement. He became President of the Bihar Congress unit in 1920. Soon then he became the General Secretary of the Congress. He joined the Civil Disobedience Movement and suffered arrest and imprisonment in 1930. He did a youngman's job in organising relief in the areas divested by the Bihar Earthquake of 1934. Rajendra Prasad's dignity, sincerity, devotion had by now so impressed his older colleagues that in 1934 he was elected President of the National Congress at its Mumbai (Bombay) Session.
The years ahead were full of internal dissensions in the Congress between the old guards, rightists and the rising socialists, led by Jawharlal and Subash Chandra. But in 1939 Subhas Chandra was elected President of the Congress for the 2nd time against Gandhiji's wishes. However, Subhas Chandra had to resign shortly after. Always conciliatory, and, above all, as a devoted disciple of Gandhiji, only Rajendra Prasad was found suitable to fill the vacant Presidential Chair — in April 1939 at Calcutta. Passions were running high at that time but Dr. Rajendra Prasad quietly carried on his duty. Events now moved fast. The Second World War had broken out. Gandhiji felt disappointed with the British attitude.
The Cripps Mission came from England with offers of a settlement after the War but failed. The proposals were rejected and now Gandhiji (1942) raised the revolutionary slogan asking the British to 'Quit India'. Immediately the leaders were arrested, including Rajendra Prasad and put them into jail during the continuance of the 2nd World War. Between 1945-47, he was Food Minister in the Interim Coalition Government at the Centre. After Independence, he was the automatic choice for the Chairmanship of the Constituent Assembly. When the new Constitution came into force in 1950, the mantle fell on Dr. Rajendra Prasad's broad shoulders as the First President of free India.
Rajendra Prasad held the high office of President of the Indian Republic for two terms, upto 1962. With his balanced judgment, his refusal to be moved by temporary passion, he was the fittest person to formulate a code of behaviour as between the President and his Cabinet. He toured the whole of India and brought home to the people a sense of national values.
Dr. Rajendra Prasad retired to a life of well-earned rest at Sadakat Asram in Bihar. Next year, on February 28, 1963 he died all too suddenly, after a brief illness. His last words were 'Lord, now let thy servants depart in peace'.