Born On: October 27, 1920
Born In: Perumthanam, Travancore, Kerala
Died On: November 9, 2005
Career: Lecturer, Political Leader
K.R. Narayanan's biography is a story that effectively illustrates "hard work and talent brings success even in adversity". Despite been born in an extremely poor and Dalit family, Narayanan struggled and overcame several obstacles to receive education and gain a good job. It was his dedication and devotion for the social welfare of the nation that declared him as the tenth President of India. The only Dalit and only Malayali to have held the post of presidency, Narayanan described himself as a "citizen President" and a "working President". As such, he set a benchmark between an "executive President" who has been assigned with direct power and a "rubber-stamp President" who simply endorses government orders without questioning or deliberation. He was regarded as "the best diplomat of the country" by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1955.
Childhood & Early Life
K.R. Narayanan was born as Kocheril Raman Narayanan in a small thatched hut in the village of Uzhavoor in Perumthanam in Travancore in the present Kottayam district of Kerala state. He was born as the fourth of seven children to Kocheril Raman Vaidyar and Punnaththuraveettil Paappiyamma. His family was extremely poor and belonged to the Paravan caste, who were required to pluck coconuts according to the caste system. However, his father was highly respected since he was a learned physician of traditional Indian medical systems of Siddha and Ayurveda.
Narayanan attained his early formal education at Government Lower Primary School at Kurichithanam in 1927 and later went to Our Lady of Lourdes Upper Primary School at Uzhavoor from 1931-35. Due to his family's weak financial status, Narayanan walked 10-15 km daily to reach school through paddy fields. And often, he attended his lectures by standing outside the class due to his inability to pay the school fees on time. His brother, K.R. Neelakantan who was confined to home due to asthma helped Narayanan with his studies by borrowing books and copying down notes for him. Narayanan went to St. John's High School, Koothattukulam from 1935-36 and later matriculated from St. Mary's High School, Kuravilangad in 1937. He completed his intermediate studies from CMS College, Kottayam in 1940 through the support of a merit scholarship. In 1943, he attained his BA (Hons) and MA degrees in Literature from University of Travancore (now University of Kerala), with first position in the university. With this, be came the first Dalit to complete his degree with first class. However, he refused to accept the degree and job offered by the college since he belonged to a lower caste.
With a meritorious result in hand, Narayanan set out to Delhi to pursue a career but due to the poor conditions went back home. He worked as a journalist for The Hindu and The Times of India from 1944-45, but was keen on studying abroad. During this period, he even interviewed Mahatma Gandhi in Bombay on 10th April 1945. However, the fees demanded were extremely high, particularly for a guy like Narayanan, and there were no scopes for scholarships during those days. As such, he wrote a letter to JRD Tata requesting him to support with his financial needs. Tata came to his rescue and Narayanan traveled to London to study political science at the prestigious London School of Economics in 1945. He was honored to study under the guidance of renowned scholar Harold Laski. He took active participation in the India League under V.V. Krishna Menon. He served as the London correspondent of Social Welfare Weekly that was published by K.M. Munshi. He was fortunate to share his room with K.N. Raj and Veeraswamy Ringadoo (who became the first President of Mauritius). He even befriended Pierre Trudeau who later became the Prime Minister of Canada.
Diplomatic & Academician Career
On his attainment of B.Sc (Hons) in Economics with specialization in political science, Narayanan returned to India in 1948. His professor, Laski gave a letter of introduction addressed to Jawaharlal Nehru, following which Nehru interviewed Narayanan for full 20 minutes. He was offered a job in Indian Foreign Service (IFS) which he joined in 1949 and went to Burma. Here, he was allocated with some interesting assignments, serving as a diplomat in embassies of Rangoon, Tokyo, London, Canberra, and Hanoi. He even worked as the Indian ambassador to Thailand (1967-69), Turkey (1973-75), and People's Republic of China (1976-78). During his tenure in IFS, Narayanan taught at Delhi School of Economics in 1954, served as Jawaharlal Nehru fellow from 1970-72, and became as the secretary to the Minister of External Affairs in 1976. On his retirement from IFS in 1978, he became the Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1979 until 1980. However, he was offered by the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to serve as Indian ambassador to United States of America from 1980-84.
On request from Indira Gandhi, Narayanan joined politics in 1984 and served as a member of Lok Sabha from Ottapalam constituency in Kerala on three consecutive terms in 1984, 1989, and 1991. He fought elections from a Congress ticket. Later in 1985, he became the Minister of State in the Union Cabinet under Rajiv Gandhi and looked after Planning portfolio in 1985, External Affairs in 1985-86, and Science and Technology in 1986-89. He fought elections from the opposition party when Congress was overthrown during 1989-91 and was not included in the Congress cabinet when it came to power again in 1991 because he was regarded as a Communist fellow-traveler. However, on the proposal of the then leader of Janata Dal party V.P. Singh, Narayanan was elected as the ninth Vice President of India on August 21, 1992, under presidency of Shankar Dayal Sharma. He served his entire 5-year term from 1992 to 1997. He described the demolition of Babri Masjid in December 1992 as "the greatest tragedy India has faced since the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi".
Tenure as President
On his successful completion of the post of Vice President, Narayanan graduated towards becoming the President of India on July 25, 1997, with 95% votes in his favor. With this, Narayanan became the first Dalit and first Malayali to be sworn as President of India. It was during his tenure that India completed 50 years of independence and celebrated the Golden Jubilee. With the onset of general elections in 1998, Narayanan became the first sitting President to cast his vote from a polling booth in the Rashtrapati Bhavan by standing in a queue just like any other ordinary citizen. By doing so, he set another new precedent that no Indian president had ever done.
Social and Economic Crisis
During his presidency, Narayanan emphasized on improving the conditions of Dalits and Adivasis, minorities, and poor and downtrodden through his endless speeches. He focused on the upliftment of social ills and evils, such as atrocities against women and children, caste discrimination, abuse of 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. With several experiences and examples from his home state Kerala, he encouraged increase in education for the betterment of human and economic development.
Life Post Retirement
After Narayanan's retirement from presidency, he and his wife spent the rest of their lives in a Delhi bungalow on Prithviraj Road. He lent his entire support towards the alternative globalization movement through the World Social Forum (WSF), held in Mumbai on January 21, 2004. He dedicated his ancestral home in Uzhavoor to Santhigiri Ashram in Pothencode for establishing Navajyothisree Karunakara Guru Research Centre for Siddha and Ayurveda. As such, this proved to be Narayanan's last visit to his hometown.
K.R. Narayanan Foundation
The K.R. Narayanan Foundation (KRNF) was established in December 2005 in the loving memory of Narayanan. The foundation was set up with the mission of improving the conditions of most suppressed sections of Kerala, including women, children, disable persons, aged, and other disadvantaged groups. The organization works on providing these groups with educational training, protecting their health and environment, improving their living conditions, and strengthening their family and community. The foundation has been working on a documentary on the life of Narayanan titled "The Footprints of Survival", in his honor. Directed by senior journalist Sunny Joseph, the script of the documentary is based on the biography penned by Eby J. Jose, the General Secretary of KRNF. The documentary shall be published in both English and Malayalam.
During his job in Rangoon, Burma, Narayanan met Ma Tint Tint, an activist in YWCA. Since Ma Tint Tint was a foreigner and Narayanan an IFS, he required a special dispensation from Nehru as per the Indian law to marry a foreigner. The two got married on June 8, 1951 in Delhi. Ma Tint Tint adopted the name Usha and became an Indian citizen. Along with Narayanan, Usha worked on several social welfare programs for women and children. She is the only woman of foreign origin to become the First Lady in India. The couple had two daughters, Chitra and Amrita.
Narayanan fell ill with pneumonia and consequent renal failure during his older days. He breathed his last on November 9, 2005 at Army Research and Referral Hospital, New Delhi. He was 85 years old then. He was bid adieu with full honor and respect and was cremated at Ekta Sthal on the banks of River Yamuna, next to the memorial of his mentor Jawaharlal Nehru, Shanti Van. His last rites were carried out by his nephew Dr. P.V. Ramachandran. He was paid a silent salute by the villagers of Uzhavoor who marched to his ancestral home as part of reverent homage.
1920: Was born in Uzhavoor village, Perumthanam, Travancore
1937: Completed matriculation from St. Mary's High School, Kuravilangad
1940: Finished schooling from CMS College, Kottayam
1943: Obtained BA (Hons) and MA degrees in Literature from University of Travancore
1944-45: Worked as journalist for The Hindu and the Times of India
1945: Went to London School of Economics, London with support from JRD Tata
1948: Received B.Sc (Hons) in Economics and returned to India
1949: Joined Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and went to Burma
1951: Married Ma Tint Tint on June 8
1954: Taught at Delhi School of Economics
1967-69: Served as Indian ambassador to Thailand
1973-75: Served as Indian ambassador to Turkey
1976: Became secretary to the Minister of External Affairs
1976-78: Served as Indian ambassador to China
1978: Retired from IFS
1979-80: Served as Vice Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University
1980-84: Became Indian ambassador to United States of America
1984: Elected as Lok Sabha member from Ottapalam constituency on Congress ticket
1989: Elected to Lok Sabha for the second time
1991: Elected to Lok Sabha for the third time
1992: Became ninth Vice President of India on August 21
1997: Successfully completed his tenure as Vice President and became tenth President of India
2002: Completed his presidency tenure
2005: Died on November 9 in Delhi, aged 85; K.R. Narayanan Foundation was established in December