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  • Malkiat Singh Duhra

Dr. Zakir Husain Khan, President of India

Dr. Zakir Husain Khan ( February 8, 1897-May 3, 1969 ) was an Indian economist and politician who served as the third President of India from May 13, 1967 until his death on May 3, 1969. He previously served as the Governor of Bihar from 1957-1962 and as the second Vice President of India from 1962-1967. He was also the co-founder of the Jamia Millia Islamia, serving as Vice Chancellor from 1928. Under Zakir Husain, Jamia become closely associated with the Indian freedom movement. The nation honoured him with the Padma Vibhushan in 1954 and Bharat Ratna in 1963. He was the first Muslim President of India and the first 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.

Zakir was born in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, in a Pathan family in 1897. His father was Fida Husain Khan who migrated to Uttar Pradesh from the North Western Frontier of India. This family shifted to Hyderabad where Khan made a living first by selling kitchen utensils, and then attending a legal school and finally becoming a pledger, and he made enough money to lead a decent life in the capital city. Zakir lost both his father and mother early in his life. But somehow he managed to study and proved that he was a brilliant student. After matriculation, he joined the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College which became the Aligarh Muslim University later. While in College, Zakir translated Plato’s ‘ Republic’ and began writing articles. He joined an M.A. course and also did a course in law. But he fell before Gandhi’s call for his non-cooperation movement in 1920. When he was just 23 years, he played a leading role in founding National Muslim University in Aligarh on October 29, 1920 which then shifted to Karol Bagh New Delhi in 1925, and then shifted again on March 1, 1935 in Jamia Nagar New Delhi and renamed it Jamia Millia Islamia. Zakir was part of its teaching faculty as in-charge of economics. Later he went to Germany to obtain a P.hD. in Economics from the University of Berlin. While in Germany, he helped in bringing out an anthology of the great Urdu poet Mirza Galib.

Dr. Zakir Husain returned to India to create a history by taking over the leadership of Jamia Millia Islamia1927 and continued in that Chair for 21 years. This was not just the leadership of an educated Institution, but he showed to the world how a centre of education could be a symbol of the nation’s longing determination for winning its freedom from foreign yokes. He was one of the chief participants at the educational conference Gandhi called in Wardha in 1937. He supported strongly Gandhi’s idea of vocational education and was entrusted with the task of drafting syllabus for the new educational movement. He was later called upon to serve the University Education Commission, University Grant Commission, World University Service, the UNESCO and served other top educational establishments. His status among the intellectuals of the country became undisputed.

In 1948, the Indian Government made him Vice Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University and continued there for 8 years. He was nominated repeatedly to the Rajya Sabha. In 1957 he was appointed Governor of the state of Bihar. After 5 years he was chosen as the Vice President of India and in 1967 he became the President of India. Dr. Zakir Husain died of a heart attack on May 3, 1969. He was buried on the campus of the Jamia Millia Islamia Central University in New Delhi.

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