Presidential elections and T.N. links 

Of the 14 Presidents elected so far, six had links with the State in one way or the other 

Updated - July 01, 2022 10:33 am IST

Published - June 30, 2022 10:11 pm IST

R. Venkataraman had much closer links
with the State than his predecessors. 

R. Venkataraman had much closer links with the State than his predecessors.  | Photo Credit: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

A galaxy of personalities who had entered the Rashtrapati Bhavan have had a Tamil Nadu connection.

Of 14 Presidents the country has seen in over seven decades, six had links with Tamil Nadu in one way or the other. Also, two unsuccessful contestants — T.N. Seshan and Lakshmi Sahgal — were the well known products of institutions of the State.

The country’s second President, S. Radhakrishnan, who was born in the pilgrim town of Tiruttani, in September 1888, spent most of his formative years in the State, initially as a student and later as a teacher. Apart from having his secondary education in Tiruttani for some years, he did his higher studies at Voorhees College, Vellore, Madras Christian College and the Teachers’ College, Saidapet, Chennai. In 1909, he joined the Presidency College, Chennai, as a teacher. He later entered the Madras Provincial Education Service as a lecturer. By the time he was 23, he was Assistant Professor of Philosophy. Five years later, he was a professor. As they say, there was no turning back. He came back to Chennai after spending 15 years in New Delhi as Vice-President and President (1952 to 1967). In April 1975, he died at a nursing home in the State capital.

The next President with close Tamil Nadu links was V.V. Giri, who was elected to the erstwhile Madras Legislative Assembly in 1937 and 1946, when the present Andhra Pradesh was broadly covered by the Assembly. Giri served as Labour Minister in the Cabinets of C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) and T. Prakasam. After laying down the office of President in 1974, he returned to Chennai where he died in June 1980.

Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, who served as the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister in two stints between 1956 and 1964, was also elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly in 1946. He served as Minister for Prohibition, Housing and Forests for two years from 1949, when P.S. Kumaraswamy Raja was the Chief Minister. More importantly, he had his schooling at the Theosophical High School, Adyar. His grandson and former IAS officer D.V. Prasad recalls that Reddy was fluent in Tamil, too. He adds the former President was close to stalwarts of Tamil Nadu such as Rajaji, K. Kamaraj and M. Karunanidhi.

The eighth President, R. Venkataraman, also known as RV, being the “son of the soil,” had much more close links with the State than many of his predecessors. The substantial part of his legal and political innings was in the State. In Parliament, he represented Thanjavur initially and South Chennai subsequently. His stint as the Industries Minister during 1957-67 is still remembered for the way he pushed industrialisation of the State. After serving as Union Finance and Defence Minister in the Indira Gandhi Cabinet during 1980-84, RV became Vice-President and later, President. The second half of his presidential years was turbulent as he had sworn in three Prime Ministers in less than two years. RV died in New Delhi in January 2009.

His successor K.R. Narayanan, who hailed from Kerala, had worked as a journalist for The Hindu briefly in Chennai in the mid-1940s.

Like RV, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who hailed from Rameswaram, had his education in the State, including undergraduate degree in physics at St. Joseph’s College, Tiruchi, and a degree in aerospace engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology. Hailed as a visionary and a dreamer, Kalam, after serving as the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Union government in the rank of Cabinet Minister from November 1999 to November 2001, took up academic pursuit as (honorary) professor, technology & societal transformation at Anna University, Chennai, for about eight months till he became the 11th President in July 2002. His end came at the Indian Institute of Management, Shillong, in July 2015 while addressing students.

Kalam’s opponent in the Presidential election in 2002 was Lakshmi Sahgal who was born in Chennai in October 1914. After schooling in the city, she studied at Madras Medical College where she took her MBBS in 1938. Five years later, she joined the Indian National Army led by Subhas Chandra Bose. In the early 1970s, she became a member of the CPI(M). She was one of the founding members of the AIDWA. She died in July 2012.

Seshan, who took on Narayanan during the 1997 presidential election, was also an IAS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre. An alumnus of Madras Christian College, Seshan held various positions in the State, including the Collector of the undivided Madurai district during 1965-67 when he dealt sternly with participants of the anti-Hindi agitation. He went on to become the Chief Election Commissioner and started reforms to the country’s electoral system. He died in Chennai in December 2019.

Former Governor of West Bengal Gopalkrishna Gandhi would have joined this list, had he opted to be the candidate of the Opposition. Mr. Gandhi, who belonged to the 1968 batch of the Tamil Nadu cadre of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), served the State in different positions, including Secretary to Governor S.L. Khurana during 1983-85.

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