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Tribute to Dr. K.R. Narayanan

Dr. K R Narayanan
October 27, 1920 - November 9, 2005

President Dr. Kocheril Raman Narayanan was born in a Dalit family, on the 27th of October 1920, in Perumthanum, Uzhavoor in the Kottayam district of Kerala.

President Narayanan’s early education was completed at the Government Lower Primary School, Kurichithanam (1927), Our Lady of the Lorde’s Upper Primary School, Uzhavoor (1931-35), St. John’s High School, Koothattukulam (1935-36) and St. Mary’s High School, Kuravilangad (1936-37) from where he matriculated.

A brilliant scholar, President Narayanan was awarded the Travancore State Scholarship to complete his intermediate from C.M.S. College, Kottayam (1938-40). He then went on to complete his B.A. (Hons.) and M.A. in English Literature from the University of Travancore (1940-43), standing first in the University. From 1944-45, he started working as a journalist associated with The Hindu and The Times of India.

In 1944, President Narayanan was awarded the prestigious Tata Scholarship to study at the London School of Economics, where he was awarded Bachelor of Science (Hons.) in Economics with specialization in Political Science. At the London School of Economics, he was taught by renowned scholars like Harold Laski and Karl Popper. While studying in London, President Narayanan was involved with the Indian League and was also the London correspondent for the Social Welfare Weekly published by K. M. Munshi.

President Narayanan returned to India in 1948 and upon the insistence of Harold Laski met Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who requested to him to join the Indian Foreign Service. From 1949 onwards, President Narayanan served in various diplomatic positions culminating in his superannuation, in 1978, as the Indian Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. Simultaneous to his diplomatic career, President Narayanan also taught for a year, in 1954, at the Delhi School of Economics and was also the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellow from 1970-72. From 1979-80, President Narayanan served as the Vice-Chancellor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, an experience he later described as laying the foundation of his public life. In 1984, President Narayanan was recalled from retirement and appointed as the Indian Ambassador to the United States of America.

In 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi inducted President Narayanan into active politics. He was a member of Parliament from the Ottapalam constituency for three successive tenures (1984, 1989 and 1991). In 1985, President Narayanan was appointed as the Minister for State (Planning, External Affairs and Science and Technology) in the Rajiv Gandhi government. In 1992, President Narayanan was elected as the Vice-President of India and subsequently in 1997, he was elected to the highest office of the President of India.

President Narayanan was the first Dalit to hold the high office of the President of India.  

Upon his demise on the 9th November 2005, to honor his lifelong work on social justice and egalitarianism, the Centre for Dalit and Minority Studies was rechristened as Dr. K. R. Narayanan Centre for Dalit and Minority Studies. The Centre seeks its inspiration and direction from the following lines of a speech delivered by the late President on 25 January 2000, on the eve of the Republic Day: `Fifty years into our life in the Republic we find that justice – social, economic and political – remains an unrealized dream for millions of our fellow citizens… the growth in our economy has not been uniform. It has been accompanied by great regional and social inequalities. Many a social upheaval can be traced to the neglect of the lowest tier of society… Dalits and tribals are the worst affected by all this.’
The Centre has constituted the Dr. K. R. Narayanan Memorial Lecture to commemorate the late President. Over the years, many eminent persons have delivered the memorial lecture.