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Zakir Husain
President Zakir Husain 1998 stamp of India (cropped).jpg
Husain's portrait on a 1998 post stamp of India
3rd President of India
In office
13 May 1967 – 3 May 1969
Prime MinisterIndira Gandhi
Vice PresidentVarahagiri Venkata Giri
Preceded bySarvepalli Radhakrishnan
Succeeded byVarahagiri Venkata Giri
(acting)
2nd Vice President of India
In office
13 May 1962 – 13 May 1967
PresidentSarvepalli Radhakrishnan
Prime MinisterJawaharlal Nehru
Lal Bahadur Shastri
Indira Gandhi
Preceded bySarvepalli Radhakrishnan
Succeeded byVarahagiri Venkata Giri
4th Governor of Bihar
In office
6 July 1957 – 11 May 1962
Chief MinisterKrishna Sinha
Deep Narayan Singh
Preceded byR. R. Diwakar
Succeeded byMadabhushi Ananthasayanam Ayyangar
Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha
(nominated)
In office
3 April 1952 – 2 April 1962
Personal details
Born(1897-02-08)8 February 1897
Hyderabad, Hyderabad State, British India
(present-day Telangana, India)[1]
Died3 May 1969(1969-05-03) (aged 72)
New Delhi, Delhi, India
Political partyIndependent
SpouseShah Jahan Begum
Children2
Alma materUniversity of Lucknow
Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College Aligarh (MA)
University of Berlin (PhD)
Profession
AwardsBharat Ratna (1963)
Padma Vibhushan (1954)

Zakir Husain Khan (8 February 1897 – 3 May 1969) was an Indian economist and politician who served as the third president of India, from 13 May 1967 until his death on 3 May 1969.

He previously served as the governor of Bihar from 1957 to 1962 and as the second vice president of India from 1962 to 1967. He was also the co-founder of Jamia Milia Islamia, serving as its vice-chancellor from 1928. Under Husain, Jamia became closely associated with the Indian freedom movement. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna (India's highest civilian honour) in 1963.

He was the first Muslim president of India and the first Indian president to die in office. At Gandhi’s invitation, he also became chairman of the National Committee on Basic Education, established in 1937 to design a Gandhian syllabus for schools.[2]

Family and early life

Husain was born in Hyderabad State in Central India. He was a Pashtun Muslim from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, who hailed from the Kheshgi and Afridi families.[3][4][5][6][7] They had first settled at Malihabad in the United Provinces before moving to the Deccan in the 19th century. When Husain was a young boy, his family emigrated from Hyderabad to Qaimganj.

Zakir Hussain was the second of seven sons. Most of his family members chose to embrace Pakistan at the partition of India. His brother Mahmud Husain joined the Pakistan Movement many years before partition and was a leading light of Jinnah's Muslim League to the extent that he was made a member of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. Beginning 1951, he served as Pakistan's Education Minister and Minister of Kashmir Affairs at a crucial time. Hussain's nephew, Anwar Husain, served as director of Pakistan Television Corporation. His nephew, Rahimuddin Khan, served as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee of the Pakistan Army and as Governor of Balochistan and Sindh.[8][9]

Those of Hussain's kin who chose to remain in India, did equally well for themselves under the patronage of the Congress party, both before and after Hussain himself rose to hold the top-most office of the land. His younger brother, Yousuf Husain, became pro-vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University while his nephew, Masud Husain, was vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia.[10] Hussain's own son-in-law, Khurshid Alam Khan, served as Governor of Karnataka for many years, and his grandson, Salman Khurshid, a Congress party politician, was Foreign Minister of India under Manmohan Singh.

Husain's father, Fida Husain Khan, died when he was ten years old; his mother died in 1921, when he was fourteen. Husain's early primary education was completed in Hyderabad.[11] He completed High school from Islamia High School, Etawah, and then graduated in Economics from Christian Degree College, University of Lucknow.[12] After Graduation, he moved to Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, then affiliated with the University of Allahabad, where he was a prominent student leader.[13] He received his doctorate in economics from the University of Berlin in 1926.[14] In 1915, at the age of 18, he married Shah Jahan Begum and had two daughters, Saeeda Khan and Safia Rehman.[15]

Career

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Sheikh-ul-Jamia, Jamia Milia Islamia (1926-1948)

In 1920, Mahatma Gandhi visited the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh where he urged non-cooperation with the British Raj. In response to Gandhi’s appeal, a group of students and faculty joined the Non-Cooperation Movement. In October 1920 they established the Independent National University aimed at imparting education free from colonial influence. Later renamed the Jamia Millia Islamia, it shifted in 1925 from Aligarh to Delhi. Husain was one of the founders of this private university which had Maulana Muhammad Ali as its first “Sheikh-ul-Jamia” (vice-chancellor) and Hakim Ajmal Khan as the first "Amir-i-Jamia” (chancellor).[16][17][18] Jamia, as the Turkish educationist Halide Edib noted, had two purposes: “First, to train the Muslim youth with definite ideas of their rights and duties as Indian citizens. Second, to coordinate Islamic thought and behaviour with Hindu. The general aim is to create a harmonious nationhood without Muslims losing their Islamic identity. In its aim, if not always in its procedure, it is nearer to Gandhian Movement than any other Islamic institution I have come across.”[19] In its early years, Jamia faced shortage of funds and its continued existence was uncertain especially after the Non-Cooperation Movement and the Khilafat Committee closed down.[20]

Husain left for Germany in 1922 to do a doctorate in economics from the University of Berlin. Supervised by Werner Sombart, his thesis on the agrarian structure in British India was accepted summa cum laude in 1926.[21] He returned to India in 1926 and succeeded Abdul Majeed Khwaja as “Sheikh-ul-Jamia”. He was joined by Mohammad Mujeeb and Abid Husain – the latter becoming the university registrar. Husain travelled across India soliciting funds for the Jamia and got financial support from Mahatma Gandhi, the Bombay philanthropist Seth Jamal Mohammed, Khwaja Abdul Hamied the founder of the pharmaceutical firm Cipla and the Nizam of Hyderabad among others.[22]

In 1928, a National Education Society was established to manage the affairs of the Jamia. Zakir Husain became its secretary. To be a life member of the society, members pledged their services to it for 20 years with a salary that could not exceed Rs.150. Husain was one of the 11 initial members who took the pledge.[23] The society adopted a constitution for the university which stipulated that the Jamia would neither seek nor accept any help from the colonial administration, and that it would treat all religions impartially. Husain himself identified the aim of the Jamia as being to “keep alive Islamic culture and education and also help in the realization of the ideal of a common nationhood and the achievement of the freedom of the country […] [and that] the Jamia’s objectives are Islamic education, the love of independence and service to Urdu”.[24]

Husain remained the Jamia’s vice chancellor until 1948.[25] In the 1940s he built his home, the Zakir Manzil, on the Gulmohar Avenue in Jamia Nagar.[26] Husain was opposed to the policy of separate electorates for Muslims and was a political opponent of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League, who vetoed the Congress proposal to include Husain as a member of the Interim Government in 1946.[27][28] Husain however convinced Jinnah to attend the Jamia's silver jubilee celebration on 17 November, 1946. At a time of rising animosity between the Congress and the Muslim League and worsening inter-communal relations, the celebration was attended by Jinnah, his sister Fatima and Liaquat Ali Khan from the Muslim League and Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad and C. Rajagopalachari of the Congress.[29] In a plea to the assembled leaders, Husain said

“"You, gentlemen, are the stars of the political firmament. You have a secure place in the hearts of millions of people. Taking advantage of your presence here, I wish to submit in great sorrow a few words for your consideration on behalf of the educational workers. The fire of hatred is fast spreading which makes it seem mad to tend to the garden of education. This fire is burning in a noble and humane land. How will the flowers of nobility and sensibility grow in its midst? How will we be able to improve human standards which lie today at a level far lower than that of the beasts? How shall we produce new servants devoted to the cause of education? How can you protect humanity in a world of animals? ... . An Indian poet has remarked that every child who comes to this world brings along the message that God has not yet lost faith in man. But have our countrymen so completely lost faith in themselves that they wish to crush these innocent buds before they blossom? For God's sake sit together and extinguish this fire of hatred. This is not the time to ask who is responsible for it and what is its cause. The fire is raging. Please extinguish it. For God's sake do not allow the very foundations of civilised life in this country to be destroyed."[30][31][32]

Basic National Education Committee (1937)

In October 1937, an All-India National Education Conference was held at Wardha under Mahatma Gandhi which sought to establish a policy for basic education in India. The conference appointed a Basic National Education chaired by Husain (also known as the Zakir Husain committee) which was tasked with preparing the detailed scheme and syllabus for this policy.[33] The committee submitted its report in December 1937 and formulated the Wardha Scheme of Basic National Education or Nai Talim. The policy, inter alia, proposed teaching craft work in schools, instilling ideals of citizenship, and its establishment as a self-supporting scheme. It proposed seven years of free and compulsory basic education in the mother tongue, the teaching of crafts, music and drawing and learning the Hindustani language. It also proposed a comprehensive plan for the training of teachers and framed its curriculum.[34][35]

The Congress party in its Haripura session of 1938 accepted the scheme and sought to implement it nationwide.[36] An All-India Education Board (the Hindustani Talimi Sangh) was established to implement the scheme under Hussain and E.W. Aryanayakam with Gandhi as its overall supervisor. Husain remained the President of the Hindustani Talimi Sangh from 1938 to 1950 when he was succeeded by Kaka Kalelkar.[37][38][39][40] The scheme was wholly opposed by the Muslim League which saw the scheme as an attempt to gradually destroy Muslim culture in India and the focus on Hindustani language as a ploy to replace Urdu with Sanskritized Hindi. The Congress party’s argument that the scheme had been formulated by Husain was rejected by the Muslim League in its Patna session of 1939 where it declared that “the mere fact that the Principal of Jamia Millia at Delhi has taken a prominent part in the preparation of the scheme does not prove that it is not unsuited to the Muslims”.[41]

The resolution on India’s National Policy on Education in 1968 and the National Policy on Education, 1988 all draw on the ideas contained in the Wardha Scheme of Basic National Education.[42]

Vice-Chancellor, Aligarh Muslim University (1948-1956)

Husain was appointed Vice Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University in 1948, succeeding Nawab Ismail Khan.[43] The university had been closely associated with the Pakistan Movement and had been a stronghold of the Muslin League. It was therefore perceived as a center of pro-Pakistan feeling and a threat to secular India. Maulana Azad, the Union Minister of Education, tasked Husain with leading the university so that it could be retained as a national institution of higher education.[44] Husain, who had served as a member of the Universities Commission between December 1948 and August 1949 however took regular charge only in early 1950 as he was incapacitated following a heart attack in October 1949. He set to work, attempting to dissociate the university from its past association with the Muslim League and restoring school discipline. Students released from prison for involvement in Communist activism were readmitted and socialists and communists from across North India took up the vacancies created by the departure of Muslim nationalists for Pakistan. Husain also filled up vacant faculty positions with eminent academicians.[45][46] In 1951, Parliament enacted the Aligarh Muslim University (Amendment) Act which converted the university from a private, aided university to an autonomous institution of the Government of India, fully maintained by it. This ensured stability in the university’s finances while also allowing it autonomy in governance.[47] By the end of his tenure, Husain had turned around the fortunes of the University, helping it overcome the uncertainty it faced in independent India and become a national institution under the patronage of the Government of India.[48]

Husain served as a nominated Member of the Rajya Sabha from 03 April 1952 to 02 April 1956 and was renominated again in 1956, serving till his resignation on 06 July 1957 following his appointment as the Governor of Bihar.[a][50][51] For his services in the areas of culture and education Husain was conferred the Padma Vibhushan in 1954.[52] Throughout the 1950s he was associated with various organizations working in the field of education. He was Chairman, India Committee, International Students Service (1955), the World University Service, Geneva during 1955-57 and was a member of the Central Board of Secondary Education (1957). He served on the Executive Board of the UNESCO during 1957-58.[53][54]

Governor of Bihar (1957-1962)

Husain was the Governor of Bihar from 06 July 1957 to 11 May 1962.[55] Contrary to the advice of the then Chief Minister of Bihar, Shri Krishna Sinha, Governor Husain, who was also Chancellor of Patna University reappointed for a second term its serving Vice-Chancellor. In response, the state government considered amending the law to require the governor to appoint a vice-chancellor as advised by the chief minister. Husain however threatened to resign rather than assent to such an amendment forcing the government to drop its plans.[56][57] In later appointments made as Vice-Chancellors of other state universities in Bihar, Husain accepted the advice of the Chief Minister in the exercise of his powers as Chancellor and acted accordingly although he was opposed to the appointment of non-academicians as vice chancellors to universities.[58]

Vice President of India (1962-1967)

On 14 April 1962, the Congress party chose Husain to be its candidate for the upcoming election to the office of the Vice President of India.[59][60] The election was held on 07 May 1962, and votes counted the same day. Husain won 568 of 596 votes cast while his only rival NC Samantsinhar won 14 votes.[b][62] He was sworn in as Vice President on 13 May 1962.[63]

In 1962, Husain was nominated the Vice President of the Sahitya Akademi – a post held by his predecessor S. Radhakrishnan before his election as President of India.[64] The following year, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna.[65][66] In 1965 he served briefly as the acting President when President Radhakrishnan left for the United Kingdom to undergo treatment for cataract.[67][68] It was during his acting presidency that President’s rule was reimposed in Kerala after elections held there the previous month failed to give any party a majority and efforts by the Governor to facilitate the formation of a government collapsed.[69][70]

In 1966 Hussain, as ex-officio Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, gave a ruling that the parliamentary immunity from arrest would be limited to only civil cases and would not apply to criminal proceedings initiated against members.[71]

President of India (1967 - 1969)

Election as President

Husain was chosen as the Congress party’s candidate to succeed Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan as the President of India in the presidential election of 1967. There was a lack of enthusiasm for the candidature of Husain within the party, but Prime Minister Indira Gandhi chose to nominate him as the party candidate over objections raised by K. Kamaraj, the party president, and other senior members of her cabinet.[72][73] A coalition of seven opposition parties got the sitting Chief Justice of India, Koka Subbarao to resign his post and contest the election as their joint candidate.[74][75] Unlike the three previous presidential elections, the election of 1967 proved to be a real contest between the various candidates.[76][77] The campaign was marred by communal rhetoric and accusations of sectarianism being made against Husain by the Jana Sangh party.[78][79] There was also speculation that Husain would lose on account of cross voting against him by Congress legislators, an outcome which would have forced the Prime Minister to resign.[80][81]

There were 17 candidates in the fray for the election held on 06 May 1967. Of these, nine failed to win any vote.[82] Husain won 4,71,244 votes against the 3,63,971 received by Subbarao. The margin of 1,07,273 votes was much larger than what was expected by the Congress party with Husain winning the most votes in Parliament and in twelve state legislatures including three where the Congress Party sat in the opposition.[83] The results of the presidential election, coming after the general elections of 1967 where the Congress party had suffered severe setbacks, were seen as strengthening Prime Minister Gandhi.[84][85] Husain was declared elected on 09 May 1967.[86] His election as President was seen domestically as the Congress Party’s attempt to reach out to the Muslims of India who had voted against it in the general elections and globally as burnishing India’s claim of being a secular nation.[87][88]

Husain was sworn in on 13 May 1967.[89] In a memorable inaugural address, while dedicating himself to the service of the Indian nation and its civilization, Husain said[90][91]

The whole of Bharat is my home and its people are my family. The people have chosen to make me the head of this family for a certain time. It shall be my earnest endeavour to seek to make this home strong and beautiful, a worthy home for a great people engaged in the fascinating task of building up a just and prosperous and graceful life.[92]

During his last days, the issue of nationalization of banks was being hotly debated. The bill, in the end, received presidential consent from Mohammad Hidayatullah, (acting president) on 9 August 1969.[93]

During his presidential tenure, Husain led four state visits to Hungary, Yugoslavia, USSR and Nepal.[94]

Death and funeral

Husain's mausoleum in Jamia Millia Islamia
Husain's mausoleum in Jamia Millia Islamia

Hussain, who had suffered a mild heart attack earlier in the year, was unwell after returning to Delhi from a tour of Assam on 26 April 1962. He died in the Rashtrapati Bhavan on 3 May 1962 of a heart attack. Vice President V. V. Giri was sworn in as acting President the same day.[95][96][97] The Government of India declared thirteen days of national mourning.[98][99] His body lay in state in the Durbar Hall of the Rashtrapati Bhavan where an estimated 200,000 people paid their tributes. The funeral was held on 05 May 1969. He is buried in the university campus of the Jamia Milia Islamia where his body was taken in a gun carriage in a ceremonial funeral procession after the janaza prayers and the national salute being offered in the Rashtrapati Bhavan.[100] Hussain’s death was mourned in Pakistan as well where flags flew at half mast on the day of his funeral.[101][102][103] Pakistan's President Yahya Khan sent the Chief of Air Staff of Pakistan Air Force and Deputy Chief Martial Law Administrator Air Marshal Malik Nur Khan as his personal representative to the funeral. George Romney, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, represented President Nixon and the United States whereas the Soviet Union was represented by its Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin. The Prime Ministers of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Nepal too attended the funeral. Up to a million people are thought to have lined the streets as the funeral cortege made its way to the burial ground.[104][105][106]

Tomb

Husain on the 1969 stamp of India
Husain on the 1969 stamp of India

Hussain’s tomb was built in 1971 and was designed by Habib Rahman.[107] Its architecture reflects the influence of Bauhaus aesthetics on traditional Indian styles as seen in its eight curved, reinforced concrete walls topped by rough cut marble which have been inspired by Tughluq tombs.[108] These tapering walls stand along a square plan to form an open structure topped by a shallow dome. The tomb has no ornamentation but features jalis and arches. The graves of Hussain and his wife lie under the dome of the tomb.[109][110]

Author

Husain wrote extensively in Urdu and also translated several books into that language. His translations include Friedrich List’s National System of Economics, Edwin Cannan’s Elements of Economics and Plato’s Republic.[111] He also wrote extensively on education in books such as Aala Taleem, Hindustan me Taleem ki az Sar-E-Nau Tanzeem, Qaumi Taleem and Taleemi Khutbat and on Urdu poets Altaf Hussain Hali in Hali: Muhibb-e-Watan and Mirza Ghalib in Intikhab-e-Ghalib.[112][113][114] Husain wrote several stories for children which he published under a nom de plume.[115] These include Uqab aur Doosri Kahaniyan and stories translated into English and published under The Magic Key series by Zubaan Books.[116][117][118] As President of India, Husain headed a committee to celebrate the Ghalib Centenary in 1969 which recommended the establishment of the Ghalib Institute as a memorial to Ghalib whereas the Ghalib Academy in Delhi was inaugurated by Husain in 1969.[119][120]

Commemoration

Husain on a 1998 stamp of India
Husain on a 1998 stamp of India

Commemorative postage stamps on Hussain were issued by India Post in 1969 and 1998.[121][122] "A Rose Called Zakir Hussain – A Life of Dedication" is a 1969 documentary film on the life of Husain produced by the Films Division of India.[123] In 1975 the Delhi College, a constituent college of the Delhi University, was renamed the Zakir Hussain College.[124][125] The Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Dr. Zakir Husain Central Library of the Jamia Milia Islamia are also named after him.[126][127] Delhi's Wellesley Road was renamed the Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg.[128][129] The Zakir Hussain Rose Garden in Chandigarh, which is Asia's largest rose garden, is also named after Hussain.[130][131] Dr. Zakir Hussain - Teacher who became President, a book on Hussain by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, was released in 2000.[132]

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ Article 80 of the Indian Constitution allows the President of India to nominate twelve members to the Parliament's Council of States or Rajya Sabha. The nominees are to be persons having special knowledge or practical experience in the fields of literature, science, art and social service. Nominated members enjoy the same powers and privileges as other members of the house, except that they cannot vote in a presidential election. Husain was one of the first group of twelve nominated members of the Rajya Sabha - a group that also included historians, jurists, Gandhians and social workers, the poet Maithilisharan Gupt, the classical dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale, scientist Satyendra Nath Bose and the actor Prithviraj Kapoor.[49]
  2. ^ This was the first election election for the vice presidency that was contested. In the elections of 1952 and 1957 Dr. S. Radhakrishnan was elected unopposed.[61]

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Academic offices Preceded byZahid Husain Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University 1948–1956 Succeeded byBashir Hussain Zaidi Political offices Preceded byR. R. Diwakar Governor of Bihar 1957–1962 Succeeded byM. A. Ayyangar Preceded bySarvepalli Radhakrishnan Vice President of India 1962–1967 Succeeded byVarahagiri Venkata Giri President of India 1967–1969