- K. R. Narayanan
name= Kocheril Raman Narayanan
President of India
July 25, 1997
July 25 2002
Shankar Dayal Sharma
October 27, 1920
November 9, 2005
New Delhi, India
Kocheril Raman Narayanan (Malayalam: കോച്ചേരില് രാമന് നാരായണന്;
27 October 1920— 9 November 2005), also known as K. R. Narayanan, was the tenth President of the Republic of India. He is the first Dalit and the only Malayalito have been President.
Uzhavoor, Kottayam districtof Kerala, and after a brief stint with journalism and studying political science at the London School of Economicswith the assistance of a scholarship, Narayanan began his public service career in India as a member of the Indian Foreign Serviceunder the Nehru administration. He served as ambassador to Japan, United Kingdom, Thailand, Turkey, People's Republic of Chinaand United States of Americaand was referred by Nehru as "the best diplomat of the country". [Manmohan Singh: [http://pmindia.nic.in/prelease/pcontent.asp?id=351 Condolence message] . Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] He entered politics at Indira Gandhi's request and won three successive general elections to the Lok Sabhaand served as a Minister of state in the Union cabinet under Rajiv Gandhi. Elected as Vice-President in 1992, Narayanan went on to become the President of India in 1997.
Narayanan is regarded as an independent and assertive President who set several precedents and enlarged the scope of the highest constitutional office. He described himself as a "working President" who worked "within the four corners of the Constitution"; something midway between an "executive President" who has direct power and a "rubber-stamp President" who endorses government decisions without question or deliberation. [http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/nic/narayanankr.pdf Interview] with K. R. Narayanan on Independence day, 15 Aug. 1998; by
N. Ram, Editor, Frontline ["K. R. Narayanan in conversation with N. Ram", "The Hindu", 10 Nov. 2005. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006] .] He used his discretionary powers as a President and deviated from convention and precedentin many situations, including - but not limited to — the appointment of the Prime Ministerin a hung Parliament, in dismissing a state governmentand imposing President's rulethere at the suggestion of the Union Cabinet, and during the Kargil conflict. He presided over the golden jubileecelebrations of Indian independence and in the country's general election of 1998 became the first Indian President to vote when in office, setting another new precedent.
K. R. Narayanan was born in his "tharavaadu" (
ancestral home), a small thatched hut at Perumthanam, Uzhavoor, as the fourth of seven children of Kocheril Raman Vaidyar, a physician practicing the traditional Indian medical systems of Siddhaand Ayurveda, and Punnaththuraveettil Paappiyamma. His family (belonging to the " Paravan" caste, whose members are assigned the task of plucking coconuts as per the caste system) was poor, but his father was respected for his medical acumen. He was born on 27 October 1920, but his uncle, who accompanied him on his first day in school, did not know his actual date of birth, and arbitrarily chose 27 October 1920for the records; Narayanan later chose to let it remain official.
Narayanan had his early schooling in Uzhavoor at the Government Lower Primary School, Kurichithanam (where he enrolled on
5 May 1927) and Our Lady of Lourdes Upper Primary School, Uzhavoor (1931-35). He walked to school for about 15 kilometres daily through paddy fields, and was often unable to pay the modest fees. He often listened to school lessons while standing outside the classroom, having been barred from attending because tuition fees were outstanding. The family lacked money to buy books and his elder brother K. R. Neelakantan, who was confined to home as he was suffering from asthma, used to borrow books from other students, copy them down, and give them to Narayanan. He matriculated from St. Mary's High School, Kuravilangad(1936-37) (he had studied at St. John's High School, Koothattukulam(1935-36) previously). He completed his intermediate at C. M. S. College, Kottayam (1938-40), aided by a merit scholarship.
Narayanan obtained his B. A. (Honours) and M.A. in
English literaturefrom 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).
With his family facing grave difficulties, he left for
Delhiand worked for some time as a journalist with " The Hindu" and " The Times of India" (1944-45). During this time he once interviewed Mahatma Gandhi[K. R. Narayanan's interview with M. K. Gandhi, 10 Apr. 1945; given in full in H. Y. Sharada Prasad: [http://www.iht.com/getina/files/271049.html "How an interview with Gandhi was spiked"] , "The Asian Age", n.d. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] in Bombayon his own volition ( 10 April 1945).Narayanan then went to England (1945) and studied political scienceunder Harold Laskiat the London School of Economics(LSE); [LSE counts K. R. Narayanan among its [http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/LSEIndia/pastAndPresent.htm distinguished alumni] ; his [http://www.lse.edu/collections/pressAndInformationOffice/newsAndEvents/archives/2000-2002/pressrelease-india.htm portrait] has been unveiled and placed in a position of honour; B. R. Ambedkar is the only other Indian to have been similarly honoured. (Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.)] he also attended lectures by Karl Popper, Lionel Robbins, and Friedrich Hayek. He obtained the honours degree of B. Sc. ( Economics) with a specialisation in political science, helped by a scholarship from J. R. D. Tata. [Some of his experiences as a Tata fellow are recounted [http://www.tata.com/0_about_us/history/lasting_legacies/20040811_k_narayanan.htm here] . (Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.)] During his years in London, he (along with fellow student K. N. Raj) was active in the India Leagueunder V. K. Krishna Menon. He was also the London correspondent of the "Social Welfare Weekly" published by K. M. Munshi. He shared lodgings with K. N. Raj and Veerasamy Ringadoo(who later became the first President of Mauritius); another close friend was Pierre Trudeau(who later became Prime minister of Canada).
Diplomat and academician
When Narayanan returned to India in 1948, Laski gave him a letter of introduction to Prime minister
Jawaharlal Nehru. Years later he narrated [Gopalkrishna Gandhi: [http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/thscrip/print.pl?file=20051202005812900.htm&date=fl2224/&prd=fline& "A remarkable life-story"] , "Frontline" 22 (24), 5-18 Nov. 2005. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] how he began his career in the public service:
When I finished with LSE, Laski, of his own, gave me a letter of introduction for Panditji. On reaching Delhi I sought an appointment with the PM. I suppose, because I was an Indian student returning home from London, I was given a time-slot. It was here in Parliament House that he met me. We talked for a few minutes about London and things like that and I could soon see that it was time for me to leave. So I said goodbye and as I left the room I handed over the letter from Laski, and stepped out into the great circular corridor outside. When I was half way round, I heard the sound of someone clapping from the direction I had just come. I turned to see Panditji [Nehru] beckoning me to come back. He had opened the letter as I left his room and read it. [Nehru asked:] "Why didn't you give this to me earlier?" [and KRN replied:] "Well, sir, I am sorry. I thought it would be enough if I just handed it over while leaving." After a few more questions, he asked me to see him again and very soon I found myself entering the Indian Foreign Service.In 1949, he joined the
Indian Foreign Service(IFS) on Nehru's request.Haresh Pandya: [http://www.guardian.co.uk/india/story/0,,1652976,00.html "K. R. Narayanan: Indian president from downtrodden caste"] , " The Guardian", 29 Nov. 2005. Retrieved 6 Mar. 2006.] 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-Chancellorof Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU) in Delhi from 1978-80; he would later describe this experience as the foundation for his public life.P. T. Thomas: "Interview with K. R. Narayanan", "Maanavasamskruthi" 1 (8), February 2005, in Malayalam. English translation of part of the interview, at CHRO web page: [http://www.nuke.humanrightskerala.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=5090 Part I] ; [http://www.nuke.humanrightskerala.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=5097 Part II] . Additional translation of question on his relationship with the Left front in [http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/thscrip/print.pl?file=2005030308811100.htm&date=2005/03/03/&prd=th& "Narayanan criticises Vajpayee for Gujarat riots"] , "The Hindu", 10 Nov. 2005. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] Subsequently he was called back from retirement to serve as Indian ambassador to the United States of America(USA) from 1980-84, under the Indira Gandhiadministration. Narayanan's tenures as Indian ambassador to China, the first such high level Indian diplomatic posting in that country after the 1962 Sino-Indian War, and to the USA where he helped arrange Ms. Gandhi's landmark 1982 visit to Washington during the Reagan presidency helped mend India's strained relations with both these countries. [His [http://pib.myiris.com/speech/article.php3?fl=010508171719 speech] at Peking University while on a state visit, briefly describes his vision of relations between India and China. (Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.) Narayanan spoke Chinese, and had a scholarly knowledge of Chinese culture and history, particularly the cultural exchanges between the two countries. His visit as President eased tensions that had developed with China after the Pokhrannuclear tests.] [His [http://pib.myiris.com/speech/article.php3?fl=D33180 banquet speech] welcoming Bill Clinton to Rashtrapati Bhavan briefly describes his vision of relations between India and the USA. (Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.)] Nehru, who had also been the Minister for External Affairs during his 16 years as PM, held that K. R. Narayanan was "the best diplomat of the country."(1955)
While working in
Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar), K. R. Narayanan met Ma Tint Tint, whom he later married in Delhi on 8 June 1951). Ma Tint Tint had been active in the YWCA, and on hearing that Narayanan was a student of Laski, had approached him to speak on political freedom before her circle of acquaintances. Their marriage needed a special dispensation from Nehru per Indian law, because Narayanan was in the IFS and she was a foreigner. Ma Tint Tint adopted the Indian name "Usha" and became an Indian citizen. Usha Narayanan(1923-24 th jan 2008) worked on several social welfare programmes for women and children in India. She also translated and published several Burmese short stories; a collection of translated stories by Thein Pe Myint, titled "Sweet and Sour", appeared in 1998. She is the only woman of foreign origin to have become the First Lady. They have two daughters, Chitra (who has served as Indian ambassador to Swedenand Turkey) and Amrita.
Parliamentarian, Union Minister and Vice-President
Narayanan entered politics at the request of
Indira Gandhiand won three successive general elections to the Lok Sabhain 1984, 1989, and 1991, as a representative of the Ottapalamconstituency in Palakkad, Kerala, on an Congress ticket. He was a Minister of Statein 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 patentcontrols in India. He sat in the opposition benches when the Congress was voted out of power during 1989-91. Narayanan was not included in the cabinet when the Congress returned to power in 1991. K. Karunakaran, Congress Chief Minister of Kerala, a political adversary of hisFact|date=July 2008, informed Narayanan that he was not made a minister because of him being a "Communist fellow-travellerFact|date=July 2008". He did not, however, respond when Narayanan pointed out that he had defeated Communist candidatesFact|date=July 2008 ( A. K. Balanand Lenin Rajendran, the latter twice) in all three elections.
K. R. Narayanan was elected as the
Vice-President of Indiaon 21 August 1992, under the Presidency of Shankar Dayal Sharma. His name had been proposed initially by V. P. Singh, former Prime Minister and the then leader of the Janata Dalparliamentary party. The Janata Daland the Left Fronthad jointly declared him as their candidate, and this had later garnered support from the Congress under P. V. Narasimha Rao, leading to a unanimousdecision on his election. On his relationship with the Left front, Narayanan later clarified that he was neither a devotee nor a blind opponent of Communism; they had known of his ideological differences, but had supported him as Vice-President (and later as President) because of special political circumstances that prevailed in the country. He had benefited from their support, and in turn, their political positions had gained acceptability. When the Babri Masjidwas demolished on 6 December 1992, he described the event as the "greatest tragedy India has faced since the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi".
K. R. Narayanan was elected to the Presidency of India [ [http://web.archive.org/web/19970801044230/alfa.nic.in/hm/p1.html Results of Presidential poll] , 17 Jul. 1997. Archived Aug. 1997.] (
17 July 1997) with 95% of the votes in the electoral college, as a result of the Presidential poll on 14 July. This is the only Presidential election to have been held with a minority governmentholding power at the centre. T. N. Seshanwas the sole opposing candidate, and all major parties save the Shiv Senasupported his candidature. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS) opposed him, on the grounds that they believed he was "not knowledgeable on Indian culture"dubious [cite web| last=Diwanji |first=Amberish K. |year=1997 |url=http://us.rediff.com/news/jul/11amber.htm |title= The importance of a dalit President|publisher=Rediff |accessdate=2006-05-02 ] , while Seshan alleged that Narayanan had been elected solely for being a Dalit.
He was sworn in as the President of India (
25 July 1997) by Chief Justice J. S. Verma in the Central Hall of Parliament. In his inaugural address, [K. R. Narayanan: [http://web.archive.org/web/19970804210818/alfa.nic.in/rb/krn_asum.htm Inaugural address] , 25 Jul. 1997. Archived Aug. 1997.] he said:
That the nation has found a consensus for its highest office in some one who has sprung from the grass-roots of our society and grown up in the dust and heat of this sacred land is symbolic of the fact that the concerns of the common man have now moved to the centre stage of our social and political life. It is this larger significance of my election rather than any personal sense of honour that makes me rejoice on this occasion.
;Golden jubilee of independenceThe principal event of the golden jubilee of Indian independence was President K. R. Narayanan's midnight address to the nation [K. R. Narayanan: [http://pib.myiris.com/speech/article.php3?fl=010620191911 Address on the golden jubilee of Indian independence] , 15 Aug. 1997. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] during the special session of Parliament convened on the night of
14 August; in this address, he identified the establishment of a democratic system of government and politics to be the greatest achievement of India since independence. The following morning, Prime Minister I. K. Gujral, addressing the nation [I. K. Gujral: [http://www.india50.com/speecH1.html Address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red fort on the golden jubilee of Indian independence] , 15 Aug. 1997. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] from the ramparts of the Red Fort, said:
When Gandhiji dreamt of India's future, he had said that the country will attain the real freedom only on the day when a Dalit would become the President of this country. This is our great fortune that today on the eve of golden jubilee of independence, we have been able to fulfil this dream of Gandhiji. In the person of Shri K. R. Narayanan we have been able to fulfil the dream of Gandhiji. Our President of whom the whole country is proud of, is from a very poor and downtrodden family and today he has endowed the Rashtrapati Bhavan with a new pride and respect. It is a matter of further happiness that the President has a very high place among the intellectuals of this country. This is a feather in the cap of our democracy that the backward sections of the society today are attaining their rightful place in society. All the countrymen today whether they are from minorities, scheduled castes [Dalits] , or scheduled tribes [Adivasis] -- are working unitedly for the development of the country.
;Participation in the electionsIn the general elections of 1998, K. R. Narayanan became the first sitting President to vote (
16 February 1998), casting his vote at a polling booth in a school within the Rashtrapati Bhavancomplex after standing in a queue like an ordinary citizen. He insisted on casting his vote, despite the departure from precedent being pointed out to him. Narayanan sought to change what was a long-standing practice of Indian presidents not voting during general elections.Sukumar Muralidharan: [http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl1505/15050260.htm "A role for the President"] , "Frontline" 15 (5), 7-20 Mar. 1998. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] Sukumar Muralidharan: [http://www.flonnet.com/fl1803/18031200.htm "A presidential intervention"] , "Frontline" 18 (3), 3-16 Feb. 2001. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] He also exercised his franchise as President in the 1999 general elections.
;Golden jubilee of the RepublicPresident K. R. Narayanan's address to the nationK. R. Narayanan: [http://www.indiatogether.org/opinions/speeches/krn2000.htm Address to the nation on the golden jubilee of the Republic] , 26 Jan. 2000. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] on the golden jubilee of the Indian Republic (
26 January 2000) is considered a landmark:V. Venkatesan: [http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl1703/17030280.htm "A wake-up call"] , "Frontline" 17 (3), 5-18 Feb. 2000. Retrieved 17 Mar. 2006.] it was the first timeAmmu Joseph: [http://www.humanscape.org/Humanscape/2000/April/hs40012t.htm "Areas of darkness"] , "Humanscape", April 2000] a President attempted to analyse, with due concern for growing disparities, the several ways in which the country had failedP. Sainath: [http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl1703/17030290.htm "Iron in the soul, decay in the brain"] , "Frontline" 17 (3), 5-18 Feb. 2000. Retrieved 17 Mar. 2006.] to provide economic justice to the Indian people, particularly the rural and agrarian population; he also stated that discontent was breeding and frustrations erupting in violence among the deprived sections of society. In his address to Parliament [K. R. Narayanan: [http://www.india-seminar.com/2000/487/487%20narayanan.htm Address to parliament on the golden jubilee of the Republic] , 26 Jan. 2000. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] later that day, he praised the work of B. R. Ambedkaron the Indian constitution and cautioned against attempts to change its basic structure, concurring with Ambedkar's preference for accountability and responsibility over the stability of the government. He reiterated this in stronger terms in his next Republic day address (2001);K. R. Narayanan: [http://meaindia.nic.in/speech/2001/01/25spc01.htm Address on Republic day] , 26 Jan. 2001. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] on this occasion, he took exception to certain proposals seeking to abridge the franchise, and pointed out the wisdom of reposing faith in the common men and women of India as a whole, rather than in some elite section of society.
In these addresses, he articulated opinions which departed in many ways from certain views of the A. B. Vajpayee government. [Sukumar Muralidharan, V. Venkatesan: [http://www.flonnet.com/fl1703/17030250.htm "A presidential intervention"] , "Frontline" 17 (3), 5 - 18 Feb. 2000. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.]
Exercise of Presidential discretion
President Narayanan introduced the important practice of explaining to the nation (by means of Rashtrapati Bhavan communiqués) the thinking that led to the various decisions he took while exercising his discretionary powers; this has led to openness and transparency in the functioning of the President.
;Appointment of the Prime minister and dissolution of ParliamentDuring his Presidency, Narayanan dissolved the Lok Sabha twice after determining through consultations across the political spectrum, that no one was in a position to secure the confidence of the house. Congress president
Sitaram Kesriwithdrew his party's support of the I. K. Gujral government and staked his claim to form the government on 28 November 1997. Gujral advised Narayanan of the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. President Narayanan determined that no one would be able to secure a majority in the Lok Sabha and accepted Gujral's advice [K. R. Narayanan: [http://web.archive.org/web/19980119180543/alfa.nic.in/rb/pr003.htm Rashtrapati Bhavan communique concerning the dissolution of the eleventh Lok Sabha] , 4 Dec, 1997. Archived Jan. 1998.] ( 4 December). In the ensuing general elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) emerged as the single largest party, leading the largest pre-election coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and the coalition leader Vajpayee staked his claim to form the government, though at that point he did not have a majority. Narayanan asked Vajpayee to furnish letters of support to demonstrate the NDA's ability to secure a majority. Vajpayee was able to meet this demand after support for the NDA grew, and subsequently he was appointed Prime minister [K. R. Narayanan: [http://web.archive.org/web/19990218135627/alfa.nic.in/rb/pr032.htm Rashtrapati Bhavan communique concerning the appointment of the Prime minister] , 15 Mar. 1998. Archived Feb. 1999.] ( 15 March 1998) on the condition (which was met) that a vote of confidence be secured within 10 days. One of the coalition partners supporting the minority government (the AIADMKunder J. Jayalalithaa) wrote a letter to the President withdrawing support on 14 April 1999, and Narayanan advised Vajpayee to seek a vote of confidencein the Lok Sabha. This motion was defeated ( 17 April). Both Vajpayee and the Leader of the Opposition, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, then staked claims to form the government. Narayanan asked the NDA and the Congress party to show proof of support since the loss of the confidence vote. When evidence from neither party was forthcoming, Narayanan informed the Prime minister that fresh elections seemed to be the only way to resolve the crisis in governance. The Lok Sabha was then dissolved at Vajpayee's advice [K. R. Narayanan: [http://web.archive.org/web/20010220235512/alfa.nic.in/rb/pr119.htm Rashtrapati Bhavan communique concerning the dissolution of the twelfth Lok Sabha] , 26 Apr. 1999. Archived Feb. 2001.] ( 26 April). (In the ensuing general elections, the NDA secured a majority and Vajpayee was reappointed Prime minister [K. R. Narayanan: [http://web.archive.org/web/20001012185035/alfa.nic.in/rb/pr160.htm Rashtrapati Bhavan communique concerning the appointment of the Prime minister] , 11 Oct. 1999. Archived Oct. 2000] ( 11 October 1999) in a straightforward manner.)
In these decisions, President Narayanan set a new precedent concerning the appointment of a Prime minister — if no party or pre-election coalition had a majority, then a person would be appointed Prime minister only if he was able to convince the President (through letters of support from allied parties) of his ability to secure the confidence of the house. In doing so, he diverged from the actions of his predecessors who had been faced with the task of appointing a Prime minister from a
hung parliament, Presidents N. Sanjiva Reddy, R. Venkataraman, and Shankar Dayal Sharma: the latter two had followed the practice of inviting the leader of the single largest party or pre-election coalition to form the government without investigating their ability to secure the confidence of the house.
;Imposition of President's rulePresident Narayanan returned for reconsideration the advices from the Union cabinet to impose
President's rulein a state, in accordance with Article 356, in two instances: one from the Gujral government ( 22 October 1997) seeking to dismiss the Kalyan Singhgovernment in Uttar Pradesh, [Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, Praveen Swami: [http://www.flonnet.com/fl1422/14220040.htm "A crisis defused"] , "Frontline" 14 (22), 1-14 Nov. 1997. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] and the other from the Vajpayee government ( 25 September 1998) seeking to dismiss the Rabri Devigovernment in Bihar. [ Praveen Swami, Sudha Mahalingam: [http://www.thehindu.com/fline/fl1521/15210040.htm "The BJP's Bihar fiasco"] , "Frontline" 15 (21), 10-23 Oct. 1998. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] In both instances, he cited the Supreme court judgement of 1994 on " S. R. Bommai vs. Union of India" and exercised his discretion. In both cases, the cabinet honoured the President's reservations. These remain the only occasions when a President urged such a reconsideration, and have set an important precedent concerning federalismand the rights of state governments.
;Kargil conflictA military conflict was developed in
Kargilon the Line of Control(LoC) with Pakistanin May 1999. The Vajpayee government had lost a no-confidence vote in Lok Sabha earlier that year and the opposition failed to form the next government. The Lok Sabha had been dissolved and a caretaker governmentwas in office. This caused a problem with democratic accountability, as every major government decision is expected to be discussed, deliberated and consented by the parliament. Narayanan suggested to Vajpayee that the Rajya Sabhabe convened to discuss the conflict, as demanded by several opposition parties (citing the precedent of Nehru convening a parliamentary session on Vajpayee's demand during the Sino-Indian war in 1962 ) though there was no precedent of convoking the Rajya Sabha in isolation during an interregnum. [V. Venkatesan: [http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl1615/16150230.htm "Political echoes"] , "Frontline" 16 (15), 17-30 Jul. 1999. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] Further, Narayanan was briefed by the chiefs of the three arms of the Indian Armed Forceson the conduct of the conflict. His Republic day address next year began by paying homage to the soldiers who had died defending the nation.
Concern for social and economic justice
President Narayanan in his speeches consistently sought to remind the nation of its duties and obligations towards the Dalits and
Adivasis, the minorities, and the poor and downtrodden. He called the nation's attention to various recalcitrant social ills and evils, such as atrocities against women and children, caste discrimination and the ingrained attitudes it nurtured, abuse of the environment and public utilities, corruption and lack of accountability in the delivery of public services, religious fundamentalism, advertisement-driven consumerism, and flouting of human rights, and lamented the absence of public concern, political debate, and civic action to address them. Drawing from the experiences of his own home state Kerala, he pointed out that education was at the root of human and economic development. He hoped that the establishment would not fear the awakening of the masses through education, and spoke of the need to have faith in the people. [K. R. Narayanan: [http://pib.myiris.com/speech/article.php3?fl=010618202022 Speech] while inaugurating the new complex of the Kerala Legislature, 22 May1998. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.]
President Narayanan spoke on various occasions on the condition of the Dalits, Adivasis, and other backward sections of society, and the various iniquities they faced (often in defiance of law), such as denial of civic amenities,
ostracism, harassment and violence (particularly against women), and displacement by ill-conceived development projects.K. R. Narayanan: [http://web.archive.org/web/20000607182210/alfa.nic.in/rb/dalit98.htm Message] on the first World convention of the Dalit international organisation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 11 Oct. 1998. Archived Jun. 2006.]
He felt that the policy of reservations for the backward sections in education and the public sector had remained unfulfilled due to administrative distortions and narrow interpretations, and needed to be implemented with renewed vigour and sincerity; apprehensive of what he described as a counter-revolution among some privileged sections seeking to reverse progressive policies, he reminded the nation that these benefits were not charity, but had been provided by way of human rights and social justice to sections constituting a large portion of the population and contributing to the economy as landless agricultural labourers and industrial workers. In his 2002 Republic day address, [K. R. Narayanan: [http://meaindia.nic.in/event/2002/01/25event01.htm Address on Republic day] , 26 Jan. 2002. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] he drew attention to the Bhopal declaration [ [http://www.ambedkar.org/News/TheBhopalDeclaration.htm Bhopal declaration] . Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] on the Dalit and Adivasi agenda for the 21st century and spoke of the necessity of the private sector adopting policies to promote equitable representation of the backward sections in their enterprises. In a governmental note on higher judicial appointments (which leaked to the press; [V. K. Madhavan Kutty: [http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl1603/16030240.htm "Behind the leak"] , "Frontline" 16 (3), 30 Jan. - 12 Feb. 1999. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] January 1999), he observed that eligible persons from the backward sections were available and that their under-representation or non-representation was not justifiable; [Sukumar Muralidharan: [http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl1603/16030220.htm "Wanted intervention, phoney controversy"] , "Frontline" 16 (3), 30 Jan. - 12 Feb. 1999. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.]
K. G. Balakrishnan, a Dalit, was elevated to the Supreme court ( 8 June 2000), the fourth such instance, and the only one since 1989.
He felt that Ambedkar's exhortation to "educate, organise, agitate" continued to be relevant; with the Dalits forming a quarter of the population in a democracy with universal adult franchise, he felt that the ultimate destiny of the backward sections lay in the hands of the backward sections themselves, organised socially and politically.
When the Australian missionary and social worker
Graham Stainesand his two minor sons were burned alive ( 22 January 1999), President Narayanan condemned it as a barbarous crime belonging to the world's inventory of black deeds. [K. R. Narayanan: [http://web.archive.org/web/19991008051634/alfa.nic.in/rb/pr092.htm Letter] on the murder of Graham Staines and his two minor sons, 24 Jan. 1999. Archived Oct. 1999.]
Towards the end of his Presidency, communal riots broke out in
Gujarat(February 2002). President Narayanan was deeply pained and anguished, and described it as a grave crisis of the society and the nation; he called it the duty of every Indian to strive to restore peace and thus preserve and strengthen the foundations of the state and the tradition of tolerance. Narayanan sought the intervention of the Indian Armyto protect the minority Muslimpopulation — a move that was not accepted by the country's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP). He did not stand the election for a second Presidential term due to the lack of support from the ruling government. After the demission of Presidential office, he lent his support to alternative globalisation movements like the World Social Forum. [ [http://web.archive.org/web/20020821204337/presidentofindia.nic.in/S/html/press_release/press-new/pr370.htm President stays away from Holi celebrations] , 28 Mar. 2002. Archived Aug. 2002.] [ [http://web.archive.org/web/20020823091659/presidentofindia.nic.in/S/html/press_release/press-new/pr381.htm Press release] on the President meeting with victims of Gujarat violence, 27 Apr. 2002. Archived Aug. 2002.] [K. R. Narayanan: [http://web.archive.org/web/20020823092104/presidentofindia.nic.in/S/html/press_release/press-new/pr383.htm Message] to the nation on Gujarat violence, 29 Apr. 2002. Archived Aug. 2002.] After he had left the Presidency, and after the Vajpayee government had been voted out of power in the general elections of May 2004, in an interview on the third anniversary of the riots (in February 2005), he said;
There was governmental and administrative support for the communal riots in Gujarat. I gave several letters to Prime Minister Vajpayee in this regard on this issue. I met him personally and talked to him directly. But Vajpayee did not do anything effective.He also stated that constitutional limits on his powers had prevented him from doing anything further. [ [http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/thscrip/print.pl?file=2005030408891100.htm&date=2005/03/04/&prd=th& "Constitution limited my powers: Narayanan"] , "The Hindu", 3 Mar. 2005. Retrieved Mar. 2006.] Throughout his Presidency, Narayanan adopted the policy of not visiting places of worship or godmen/godwomen; he is the only President to have followed this practice.
I requested him to send the army to Gujarat and suppress the riots. The military was sent, but they were not given powers to shoot. If the military was given powers to shoot at the perpetrators of violence, recurrence of tragedies in Gujarat could have been avoided.
However, both the state(the
Narendra Modigovernment) and central government did not do so. I feel there was a conspiracy involving the state and central governments behind the Gujarat riots.
Demission of office
As Narayanan's tenure neared its end, various sections of public opinion looked forward to a second term of his Presidency. The NDA had a slender majority in the electoral college. Narayanan offered to be a consensus candidate. The Opposition parties (including the Congress, the Left Front,
Janata Dal (Secular), and various regional parties) supported a second term for him, and Sonia Gandhi met him to request his candidature; Vajpayee then met Narayanan, informed him that there was no consensus within the NDA on the question, and advised against his candidature. The NDA then proposed to elevate the Vice-President Krishan Kantas a consensus; this drew support from the Opposition and an agreement to this effect was conveyed by Vajpayee's representative to the Congress. However, within a day, the NDA unable to reach an internal consensus, decided to propose another candidate Dr.P. C. Alexander. Alexander's candidature drew disapproval of the Opposition parties. The Opposition parties approached Narayanan and renewed their request to seek a second term. The NDA then put forth a third candidate Abdul Kalam as their official choice, without seeking consensus; one opposition party (the Samajwadi Partyunder Mulayam Singh Yadav) dissipated the unity of the Opposition by supporting this proposal. Narayanan opted himself out from a contest at this point. [Purnima S. Tripathi, Sukumar Muralidharan: [http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl1912/19120270.htm "Elusive consensus"] , "Frontline" 19 (12), 8-21 Jun. 2002. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] [V. Venkatesan: [http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl1913/19130110.htm "The political dynamics"] , "Frontline" 19 (13), 22 Jun.-5 Jul. 2002. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.]
When asked about these events later, Narayanan accused the BJP of scuttling a second term of his Presidency. He stated that the BJP had tried to implement an insidious agenda spread across several sectors seeking to subvert the secular ideals of the nation; he made particular reference to the efforts by
Murli Manohar Joshi(the then HRD minister) to secure the reins of education to the cause of spreading the Hindutvaideology of the BJP, and to the illegitimate attempts to secure important appointments in various sectors for supporters of this ideology; he had intervened in these matters within the bounds permitted by democratic and constitutional norms, but the BJP had resented his actions.
In his farewell address to the nation [K. R. Narayanan: [http://pib.myiris.com/speech/article.php3?fl=020725151520 Farewell address to the nation] , 24 Jul. 2002. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] (
24 July 2002), K. R. Narayanan set his hopes for social action and progress on the service of the nation by its youth. He reflected on his varied experiences of the essential goodness and wisdom of the Indian people, recalling how he had grown up in Uzhavoor among adherents of several religions, how religious tolerance and harmony had prevailed, how upper-caste Hindus and well-off Christians had helped him in his early studies, and how upper-caste Hindus as well as Christians and Muslims had worked together enthusiastically for his election campaigns in Ottapalam. He said that the credibility and endurance of India's unity and democracy are founded on its tradition of tolerance, and spoke of the need for Hindus, who form the majority, to express the traditional spirit of their religion.
As the President of India, I had lots of experiences that were full of pain and helplessness. There were occasions when I could do nothing for people and for the nation. These experiences have pained me a lot. They have depressed me a lot. I have agonised because of the limitations of power. Power and the helplessness surrounding it are a peculiar tragedy, in fact.
After his retirement as President, K. R. Narayanan, along with his wife Usha, lived his remaining years in a modest bungalow (34, Prithviraj Road) in Delhi.
World Social Forum(WSF) in Mumbai( 21 January 2004), he lent his support to the alternative globalisation movement. Addressing the forum at its concluding session, he praised the WSF for demanding freedom in its most comprehensive form, and was happy that people had assembled under an important idea, rather than for narrow political ends; after reflecting on corporations displacing governments in various countries, and on how Mahatma Gandhihad fought British colonisers non-violently with the strength of the masses, he predicted that vocal masses the world over would successfully fight by non-violent means the capturing of the world's resources by a few corporations in the name of globalisation. He urged the people to struggle against power corporates and militarism and fight those aspects of globalisation which were against the interests of the people; he hailed people's power as a renascent factor of international politics.
K. R. Narayanan dedicated (
15 February 2005) his "tharavaadu" at Uzhavoor to the Santhigiri ashramin Pothencodefor the purpose of establishing the Navajyothisree Karunakara Guru research centre for Siddha and Ayurveda. [Manmohan Singh: [http://pmindia.nic.in/speech/content.asp?id=74 Speech] on the dedication of K. R. Narayanan's "tharavaadu" for establishing a research centre in Indian medicine ( [http://www.santhigiri.org/conf2005/about_conf.html Navajyothisree Karunakara Guru research centre for Siddha and Ayurveda] ), 15 Feb. 2005. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] This turned out to be his last return to Uzhavoor.
K. R. Narayanan died on
9 November 2005at the Army Research and Referral Hospital, New Delhi, after being briefly ill with pneumonia and consequent renal failure. He was cremated with full state honours at sunset the following day; the last rites were performed by his nephew Dr. P. V. Ramachandran, at "Ekta sthal" on the banks of the River Yamuna(adjacent to "Shanti van", the memorial of his mentor Jawaharlal Nehru).
His daughter, Chitra (Indian ambassador to Turkey), on behalf of her mother (Usha), sister (Amrita), and the rest of his family, expressed her appreciation for the outpouring of grief from all over the country and abroad; she added that K. R. Narayanan would be remembered for his great love for the nation and for his immense moral strength and courage.
Four siblings, K. R. Gowri, K. R. Bhargavi, K. R. Bharathi, and K. R. Bhaskaran, survived him; two elder brothers had died when Narayanan was in his twenties. His elder sister Gowri (a homoeopath, who remained unmarried) and his younger brother Bhaskaran (a teacher, also unmarried) had been living in Uzhavoor. Villagers of Uzhavoor marched silently to the "tharavaadu" of K. R. Narayanan and paid him reverent homage.
;From the sidelines of societyAbout his life and its message, [Venkitesh Ramakrishnan: [http://www.flonnet.com/fl2224/stories/20051202005012500.htm "Citizen President"] , "Frontline" 22 (24), 5-18 Nov. 2005. Retrieved 24 Feb. 2006.] K. R. Narayanan said:
I see and understand both the symbolic as well as the substantive elements of my life. Sometimes I visualise it as a journey of an individual from a remote village on the sidelines of society to the hub of social standing. But at the same time I also realise that my life encapsulates the ability of the democratic system to accommodate and empower marginalised sections of society.
Narayanan died in
New Delhiat the age of 85.
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