SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT OF INDIA SHRI K.R. NARAYANAN ON THE OCCASION OF UNVEILING OF THE BUST OF DR. RAJENDRA PRASAD (SPEECH 03-Dec-1999)
New Delhi, Friday, 3rd December, 1999
I consider myself very fortunate and very highly honoured to be here with you today to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, one of the greatest sons of India and to have the good fortune to unveil his bust. This institution, Rajendra Bhavan Trust is itself the greatest memorial to him because this trust is carrying on the kind of work which Rajendra Babu would have loved to do. I understand that you are extending medical service to people around this area, run women`s development schemes, teaching them crafts and arts and also giving scholarships to poor people to come up in life. Dr. Rajendra Prasad was really a man devoted to service, his primary role as one the greatest leaders of India was that he served the people of India ardently and with sincerity.
He was one of the great lieutenants of Mahatma Gandhi. In fact, it was Sarojini Naidu who said once that `He was to Gandhiji what Saint John was to Christ`. Once Mahatma Gandhi himself said, `There is at least one man who would not hesitate to take the cup of poison from my hands`. That was the degree of trust Gandhiji had in Rajendra Babu.
He was not only the first President of India, but also an outstanding leader in the freedom struggle. Reference has been made to the work he did during the great earthquake of Bihar in 1934. He was in jail at that time and the Viceroy felt it fit to release him for organising relief work. And he endeared himself to the people by organising relief work so efficiently and effectively. India today cries out for personalities like Rajendra Babu to serve the people, when we are facing natural calamities. His contribution to the Constitution making is very well known. As the President of the Constituent Assembly, he not only shaped the Constitution of India but laid a model for all the Presiding officers of Parliament and Legislatures of India.
I recall what he said while inaugurating the Constituent Assembly as President. He said that `it is in the power of this Constituent Assembly to place before the world a model of a Constitution that will satisfy all our people, all groups of communities, all religions inhabiting this vast land, and which will ensure to everyone freedom of action, freedom of thought, freedom of belief and freedom of worship, which will guarantee to everyone opportunities for rising to his highest and which will guarantee to everyone freedom in all respects`.
In India these days, there is lot of talk about revising our Constitution. I think what Rajendra Babu said while introducing the Constitution in the Assembly, ought to be remembered and followed by whoever tries to revise our Constitution today.
He, as the President of India, considered himself as a symbol of unity. His ideas about the Presidency had become somewhat controversial during his period. I would like to read out what he said about the functions of the President of a less controversial nature. He said, `Whatever the strictly correct legal and constitutional position may be, there is no doubt that in the case of an elected President, people do look upon him also as a person having some authority in the governance of the country, and he can justify his position only by tendering such advice and giving such suggestions as he considers necessary to the Cabinet before it takes any decisions. Once a decision has been taken whether with or without his suggestions or even against his suggestions he has to act according to that decision`. He has thus, laid down the functions of the President of India under the Constitution in the correct perspective.
We often hear about the differences between Nehru and Rajendra Prasad. Of course, there were some differences in approach and ideology between them. But they were both children of the Indian revolution and they had affection, admiration and respect for each other, coming out of their love for India and service to the people of India. Nehru paid a great tribute to him and said, `He set a paradigm which has raised the dignity and honour of India. He was an example that India has to retain its Indianness and imbibe new things. In fact he has become a symbol of India. The period of 12 years, during which he remained as President, would be considered as India`s best epoch. In that period, whatever we did, we did under his supervision and with grace. When we committed a mistake, he would correct us. This period of 12 years would be regarded as his age`.
Today on his birthday, we have to think of the age of Rajendra Prasad and try to follow the good precedence that he set and the advice he gave especially service as the main motto of political leadership. I have great pleasure to join you all in paying my homage to this great humble, son of India, who led us during the freedom struggle and who did such outstanding service to the people of India after independence.
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Bureau, Government of India.