salute to Citizen Narayanan
"Nation lost a true nationalist,
democrat and a messiah of the downtrodden''
on Nov, 10th 2005
his tenure as President he joined other citizens at a polling
booth to cast his vote
used his discretionary powers to innovate and improvise
diplomatic ice with China at a difficult time
twice returned for reconsideration questionable Union Cabinet
President never allowed concerns of propriety to divert
him from what he saw as his social mission
made a case for giving a sense of economic liberation
the masses ... that of land reform
Raman Narayanan inherited the presidential office at
a time the Head of State was firmly imprinted in the public
perception as a "rubber stamp" figure. The occupant
of the Rashtrapati Bhavan unfailingly acted on the aid and advice
of the Union Cabinet, rarely if at all went public with his
opinion. It was unthinkable that the first citizen could admit
to a political vision that was at variance with that of the
government of the day. President Narayanan defied the stereotype, pushing the envelope in areas that were
previously unexplored but without ever becoming activist in
a way that would have undermined his constitutional role. In
his own words, he was "not an executive President but a
working President, and working within four corners of the Constitution"
President Narayanan was a brilliant example
of a man who made his office rather than has his office make
him. On February 16, 1998, he joined other citizens at a polling
booth to cast his vote. This was unprecedented and naturally
the question arose whether this did not amount to a partisan
act. In fact, this long overdue gesture corrected the erroneous
impression that Presidents had to be apolitical in order to
be impartial; in asking to be seen to be exercising his franchise,
Mr. Narayanan underlined that he was the President
of a democratic nation.
Mr.Narayanan used his discretionary powers
to innovate and improvise. In the tricky area of Prime Ministerial
appointment in a hung Parliament situation, he established procedures
and principles that were based on sound reasoning. Up until
1996, Presidents followed the practice of calling the leader
of the single largest party in the Lok Sabha to form a government.
This mechanical approach led in 1996 to the farce of Atal Bihari
Vajpayee being invited to a form a government that collapsed
in 13 days. Mr. Narayanan rejected the notion that the single
largest party or coalition necessarily had the first claim to
office. Instead, the competence of the Prime Ministerial claimant
had to be judged by whether or not the person enjoyed the confidence
of the House. Thus he set a new precedent whereby it became
mandatory for a person staking a claim to the Prime Minister's
office to produce letters of support from alliance partners.
President Narayanan twice returned for reconsideration
questionable Union Cabinet decisions. In October 1997, the Inder
Kumar Gujral Government was forced to reconsider its decision
to dismiss Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, and in
September 1998, deferring to the President, the Vajpayee Government
went back on its decision to dismiss the Rabri Devi Government
Yet,Presidency was more than a constitutional office for Mr.Narayanan.
It was a means to remind the rulers of the country that progress
without a social conscience amounted to very little. The poor
Dalit boy who had seen and suffered gross social prejudice may
have reached the zenith of constitutional office but the elder
first citizen in his place still impatiently waited for the
dawn of a new era of economic equality and social justice, of
an India without communal tensions. Perhaps it was this restlessness
that caused President Narayanan often to speak from his heart,
without allowing concerns of propriety to divert him from what
he saw as his social mission. As India completed 51 years of
Independence, Mr. Narayanan departed from convention to speak
to N. Ram.
The televised conversation saw President Narayanan engage the questions frontally, with candor. He was emphatic
that India's parliamentary system could function "only
in an atmosphere of social and economic progress, and great
equality." There had been achievements "but the march
of society, of social change, has not been fast enough, nor
fundamental enough so far." India's liberalization was
irreversible, he said, but cautioned that "in a vast country
with millions of people and poverty rampant, we cannot liberalize
recklessly, in such a way that the balance of society is upset
and while some sections would flourish, make profits, the rest
of the people would be left without employment and be helpless."
Mr. Narayanan made a case for giving a sense of economic liberation
to the masses, "and for that, I think the basic thing we
have done or we attempted to do, in the beginning - and we have
not yet completed that process - is that of land reform."
The President spoke at length on issues of the time. "I
don't think nuclear weapons are necessary for the world,"
he said even as he distanced himself from the hawkish anti-China
rhetoric of the Vajpayee Government, describing as "temporary"
the problems between the two countries: "There has been
no change in India's need for living in harmony and in cooperation
with all our neighbors including Pakistan, and of course our
big neighbor China, and others." Mr.Narayanan's
remarks had the important consequence of breaking diplomatic
ice with China at a difficult time.
Mr.Narayanan was at the end of his Presidency when
communal riots broke out in Gujarat in March 2002. He went
on record to call it a "grave crisis of society and the
nation." The full extent of his anguish was revealed
much later when, in an interview given on the third anniversary
of the riots in March 2005, he said he had written to Prime
Minister Vajpayee seeking immediate deployment of the Army
to control the situation but to no avail. He went so far as
to suggest a conspiracy behind the pogrom involving the BJP
Governments in the State and at the Centre.
Born into a Dalit family in Uzhavoor village
in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore, Narayanan was
the fourth of seven children in the household of Kocheril
Raman Vaidyar, an ayurvedic physician. Though he was born
on February 4, 1921, an uncle who accompanied him to the local
primary school on his first day did not know his actual date
of birth and chose October 27, 1920 - a date which has remained
on the records ever since. He was later enrolled in an English
medium high school at Kuravilangad, some eight km away, and
often he covered the distance to and from school on foot.
there were no education concessions for Dalits and it was with
great difficulty that his father paid the fees for him. However,
while in high school, Narayanan occasionally
received financial help from Gandhiji's Harijan Sevak Sangh.
As his brother, K.R. Bhaskaran, once said, though Narayanan
had the fortune to attend some of the best academic institutions
in the world later, his real education was at home, under the
tutelage of his elder brother, Neelakantan, who died at the
young age of 34. Too poor to pay the fees or even buy textbooks,
Narayanan was helped out by his elder brother who would borrow
texts from others and copy them down for him. "The idea
that liberation could be achieved only through education was
instilled in him at an early age," said Mr. Bhaskaran.
At the University of Travancore, Narayanan
read English Literature and received a first class in B.A. and
M.A. Presumably due to caste considerations, he was denied a
permanent teaching job in the university as was the norm for
toppers at the time. Hurt and agitated, the young Narayanan
boycotted the convocation ceremony and refused to accept his
degree certificate. Fifty years later, when he was President
of India, his certificate was handed over to him at a special
After a number of inconsequential jobs, Narayanan
was offered a studentship in journalism by The Hindu in Madras.
Around the same time, he received a favorable response from
the J.N. Tata Endowment to his application for a scholarship
to pursue higher studies abroad. Admission to the London School
of Economics was arranged for the academic year commencing 1945,
following which Narayanan returned to Madras to work for The
Hindu. The following year, he worked briefly with The Times
of India in Bombay where he had occasion to meet and interview
Mahatma Gandhi. In the summer of 1945, Narayanan
set sail for London. While his ship halted at Port Said, news
came that the war in Europe had ended.
At the London School of Economics, Narayanan
plunged into his academic work and also had time to take part
in the activities of V.K. Krishna Menon's India League. He developed
a close rapport with Professor Harold J. Laski and was also
taught by distinguished professors Lionel Robbins, Karl Popper
and Friedrich Hayek. Among his friends at the LSE was Pierre
Trudeau, who later became the Prime Minister of Canada.
the LSE's prized B.Sc. (Econ.) with a rare first division, Mr.Narayanan
returned to India armed with a letter of introduction from Laski
to Jawaharlal Nehru. The Prime Minister gave him an audience
that lasted 20 minutes and asked him to leave his curriculum
vitae behind. Soon after, Narayanan received an offer to join
the Indian Foreign Service, which he did in 1949. As a young
diplomat, Mr.Narayanan's first posting was
in Rangoon, where he met his future wife, a Burmese woman named
Tint Tint who subsequently took on the name Usha. They married
in 1950 in New Delhi after Nehru granted special permission
for an IFS officer to marry a foreign national.
After postings in Tokyo, London, Canberra and Hanoi, Mr.Narayanan
served as India's Ambassador to Thailand (1967-69), Turkey (1973-75),
and most importantly, the People's Republic of China (1976-78),
where he was the first Indian Ambassador posted since the 1962
war. It was during Mr. Narayanan's time in Beijing that political,
economic and trade normalization was established between India
In 1978, Mr.Narayanan retired from the Foreign
Service, but was quickly drafted as Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal
Nehru University. In 1980, he was sent by Prime Minister Indira
Gandhi as India's Ambassador to the United States, where he
helped arrange Ms. Gandhi's landmark 1982 visit to Washington
during the Reagan presidency. Upon returning from the U.S.,
he entered parliamentary politics, contesting from Ottapalam
in Kerala in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections.
In his first term as a Member of Parliament, Mr.Narayanan
was inducted into the Rajiv Gandhi Cabinet as Minister of State
for Planning. He later became Minister of State in the Ministry
of External Affairs and then in the Ministry of Science and
Technology. Though the Congress lost the 1989 elections, Mr.
Narayanan held on to his seat. In August 1992, as an ordinary
sitting MP, his name was proposed by the Congress for Vice-President.
His nomination received all-party support and on August 21,
he was sworn in to the country's second-highest constitutional
post. On July 25, 1997, Mr. Narayanan took office as the 10th
He is survived by his wife Usha, and two daughters,
Chitra and Amrita.
Visit K R Narayanan's Profile in SocialPulse.com
: The Hindu