Tribute to President K R Narayanan
A tribute to the former President of India, K. R. Narayanan, on the occasion of his 14 th death anniversary by Satya Narayana Sahu, who had served as his Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary. It is a telling coincidence that today is also Ayodhya judgement day.
Today is the 14th Death Anniversary of Shri K.R.Narayanan who was VC of JNU and rose to become the President of India and served the nation in that capacity during 1997-2002. Coincidentally today the Supreme Court was delivering the judgment on the title suit concerning Babri Masjid issue. It was Mr Narayanan as Vice President of India and Chairman of Rajya Sabha and while presiding over Rajya Sabha had described the demolition of Babri Masjid as the worst tragedy India faced with the demolition of Babri Masjid.
Rising from a humble background he was well known for his high academic credentials, scholarly outlook, liberal worldview and commitment to republican and constitutional values. He occupied numerous high offices on the strength of his merit and left behind a rich legacy of service and exemplary leadership qualities. When JNU is being vilified by the present regime it is worthwhile to recall the words of Shri Narayanan who served as its Vice-Chancellor. After the completion of his tenure as President of India he had famously stated in an interview to a Malayalam daily that he learnt the art of leadership in JNU campus during his tenure as its VC.
A student of the London School of Economics he was taught by Karl Popper and Professor Harold Laski. In fact, professor Laski in a letter to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described Mr Narayanan as a man with wide social sympathy. It was remarkable that Shri Narayanan was the President of India when our country celebrated the golden jubilee of our independence, the constitution and Republic.
The President takes the oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. In fact, the way he defended our Constitution and Secularism remains an unparalleled example for others to follow. Incidentally when NDA Government led by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee contemplated reviewing the Constitution, Mr Narayanan while delivering his speech on the occasion of the golden jubilee of our Republic very searchingly asked, "Let us examine if the Constitution has failed us or we have failed the Constitution". It was because of that sharp interrogation by the head of the Republic that the Vajpayee Government instead of reviewing the Constitution reviewed the Working of the Constitution. When some of the victims of Gujarat riots that took place in 2002 visited Delhi none from the NDA Government including Prime Minister Vajpayee met them. Shri Narayanan was the only State functionary who met them and described the riots as the "crisis of our State and Society". When he met professor Stephen Hawking and media asked him about his experiences in meeting that great scientist he with characteristic brilliance said: "Professor Hawking represented the triumph of the human spirit over matter". Mr Narayanan's life and work represented that triumph of the human spirit over matter. As President of India, he had repeatedly cautioned that the ever-rising counter-culture of communalism was exerting enormous pressure on our constitution, secularism and civilizational values of tolerance and acceptance. When he was a young reporter of Times of India in 1945 he interviewed Mahatma Gandhi in Mumbai and asked some very pertinent questions which are now being raised for addressing the deprivation caused by hierarchical structures of violence manifested in the form of caste and other primordial categories.
When he proposed to Vajpayee to confer the Bharat Ratna on Bismillah Khan the latter readily agreed and recommended to the President to consider the name of Savarkar for posthumously conferring the Bharat Ratna. Mr Narayanan sat over the proposal and Vajpayee later withdrew Savarkar's name for the highest civilian honour. When attempts are being made by the BJP through its election manifesto in the recently conducted elections in Maharashtra that it would confer Bharatratna on Savrakar it should be mindful of the fact that earlier President of India had rejected the proposal and Prime Minister Vajpayee had accepted that rejection.
The polarising atmosphere created and deepened in a calculated manner based on Hindutva at the centre of which remains the construction of the temple in place of the demolished Babri mosque remind us the dangerous theory of clash of civilisations advocated by professor Samuel Huntington who flagged perpetual conflicts based on fault lines of religions and civilizations. The Hindutva forces want India to be a theatre of clash of civilizations in contrast to its enduring living reality anchored on the coexistence of civilisations.
President Narayanan representing a refreshing voice of sanity refuted the clash of civilisations and affirmed in his Maulana Azad memorial lecture the confluence of civilisations. He said that civilisations never clash, it is the barbarians who clash and civilisations come together to form confluences of ideas, values and commonalities of creeds. In the present trying times marked by the upsurge of, in the words of Narayanan, a counter revolution, a confluential approach is a categorical imperative. As stated earlier he had described the demolition of Babri Masjid as the worst tragedy India faced after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and attempts being made to deepen the division and clashes would pose a grave danger to the unity of India.
The new year's greeting card he issued on 1st January 2000 was designed on his instructions and in its inner cover page there was a picture of Albert Einstein with Jawaharlal Nehru and below it had a quotation of Nehru that in future there would be the alliance of science and humanism out of which would emerge scientific humanism. India needs that approach anchored on scientific humanism to shape her destiny and defeat reactionary forces represented by Hindutva.
I had the good fortune of serving President Narayanan and learning the lessons for cultivating the mind and remaining sensitive to ideas. On this solemn occasion, I pay my homage to him and pray that his enduring legacy for defending Constitution and Secularism will inspire people to uphold and defend these twin pillars of our Republic when there is an upsurge of communal forces all around posing danger to the Idea of India.