The Times of
Initial days of poverty and hardships posed many hurdles on his way. But he was undeterred and walked the 15 kilometres every day to school. KR was made of a strong resolve and had a lion's heart. Right from the first day, he stood by his principles and never bowed before anything other than reason.
In 1943 the Dewan of Travancore, Ramaswamy Iyer refused to offer a permanent lecturer's position in his own alma mater even when KR held a distinction because he was a Dalit. Even an audience with the then Maharaja of Travancore was denied. As a mark of protest, KR boycotted the convocation and never formally accepted his degree. But his learning kept him in good stead. Fifty years later, he accepted it on the University's request.
Even in the era of globalization, it was considered next to impossible to become the President of India if you were a Dalit. But KR fought against all odds with his first-rate academic credentials and his distinguished career record as a diplomat to rise to the office of the President. He was in office from 1997 to 2002 during the PV Narashima Rao's tenure as the Prime Minister.
He was so versatile that he wore all his hats with grace and poise. Most importantly, he was the only Dalit to rise to the office of the President and he made the Dalit community and all the country's citizens proud.
Born on October 27, 1920 in Uzhavoor
in Kottayam district in Kerala,
KR Narayanan had to walk long distances to go to school. His family did not
have money to buy books. He borrowed them. He later went to St. Mary's School
and then to
Before traveling to
KR went to
Upon his return from London School of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru personally recommended his name to the Indian Civil Service in 1948 and later joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1949.
He had an impressive career record spanning almost thirty years during his Foreign Service stint. KR served as a diplomat in
He even taught at the Delhi School of Economics and years
later became the Secretary to the External Affairs Ministry in 1976 and retired
two years later. It was during his
KR retired from the IFS and then joined politics on the request of Indira Gandhi. Even his political career proved a huge success. He won three successive Lok Sabha elections in the years 1984, 1989 and I991from Ottapalam constituency in Palakkad. It must have been such a sweet success for this Dalit after having won from what was believed to be an Iyers' stronghold. But Narayanan rose well above the trivialities of caste and anything parochial.
KR was unanimously elected to the office of the Vice President in 1992 and when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992 he called it as the greatest tragedy after the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi, a remark that his predecessors thought was not within the scheme of the President's prerogative. KR Narayanan time and again proved that the President's office had a mind of its own and was not just a puppet in the hands of the ruling dispensation. In fact he brought dignity and respect to the Office. He was sworn in as the President of India with an overwhelming majority of votes in the electoral college. During his tenure as the President, KR worked tirelessly in favour of social action, progress and for tolerance between all religions. He stayed out of even the mildest of controversies yet he spoke what he thought. It is a matter of pride that he was the only President who did not visit any place of religious worship unlike his predecessor R Venkatraman who was believed to be a staunch Tamil Brahmin who wore his religious affiliations on his sleeve. KR must have wanted to prove that the Office of the President is above caste, creed and religion in perfect harmony with the Indian Constitution.
It is also important to recollect that KR Narayanan had then suggested the Prime Minister Vajpayee to send the army to Gujarat to quell the riots that happened in
KR wrote with unflagging energy during and after his service. He wrote on Nehru, Indo-US relationships and non-alignment.
Encounter/T P Sreenivasan
Narayanan's journey was no less spectacular than
November 10, 2005
K R Narayanan was already a legend when I joined the
I had a clearer sense of
his accomplishments, once I myself joined the Foreign Service and served in
some of the places of his postings like Yangon,
achievements as a diplomat receded into the background when he entered politics
and rose to the highest office of the land. But it should be remembered that he
was chosen for two key assignments at the end of his diplomatic career, first
Having been chosen as
ambassador to the
He was naturally outraged
Narayanan's sense of humour was earthy, but subtle. I recall his conversation with a senior colleague, who wondered whether graying or balding was preferable as one grew old. "One consolation is that one can't do both at the same time," the graying Narayanan told his balding friend.
Once at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, the mike failed when he rose to speak. He turned to me
and said that if this had happened in Uzhavoor (his
My mother visited Rashtrapati Bhavan to witness an Arjuna award ceremony as my daughter-in-law Roopa Unnikrishnan was among the recipients. My brother T P Seetharam was the President's press secretary. In a short chat, Narayanan asked my mother where she lived. When she replied that she stayed with her doctor son in Pune, Narayanan said she was wise to live with her doctor son rather than with her two diplomat sons.
The Appeal of Conscience Foundation chose to recognise Narayanan as the World Statesman of 1998. Dr Henry Kissinger persuaded Narayanan to accept the award. When we discovered that the Foundation was using the dinner in his honour to raise funds, we decided to alert the President. I asked my brother to gently broach the subject and seek his reaction. "Well, we have to accept American ways. It was a hundred dollars per plate when Panditji went there. It must be a thousand dollars now," he said, much to our relief.
Narayanan was a nationalist and an internationalist, but that did not erase his Kerala identity. His homecomings to Kerala were memorable for him and for Keralites. His sister and brother kept away from Rashtrapati Bhavan, but the Rashtrapati came to see them often. On one occasion, he broke down when he recalled how his sister had to give up schooling to save resources for his education. She would have accomplished much, if she did not have to make that sacrifice, he said in a broken voice.
Narayanan was a catalyst
for the creation of the Federation of Kerala
Associations of North America (FOKANA) to bring the Malayalees
American community pays tributes to Narayanan
December 05, 2005 14:28 IST
Rich tributes were paid
to former President K R Narayanan at a meeting organised
by leaders of the Indian American Community and diplomats in
community leaders characterised Narayanan as a person
who not only posssessed a wealth of knowledge but was
always one who was down to earth and in touch with the masses. "Looking
back at the late President Narayanan, I was struck by his multi-faceted
During the course of the lengthy meeting which was compered by Dr Sambhu Banik and John (Sunny) Wycliffe, a message by President George W Bush to the President of India A P J Abdul Kalam was also read out, "President Narayanan's journey from humble beginnings to become India's first Dalit President was an inspiration to people around the world," Bush said in the letter.