A Guide to Indian Presidents

By Madhavi Pothukuchi

July 21, 2022

As you may know, the Indian presidential elections have just concluded, and Draupadi Murmu has been elected the 15th President of India. Every five years, we elect a new president through elected members from the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and state legislative assemblies. Let’s take a look at India's illustrious presidents throughout history. 

Image source: Rashtrapati Bhavan

Dr Rajendra Prasad

Rajendra Prasad was a lawyer, freedom fighter and journalist before he was elected the first president of Independent India in 1950. He was also a Gandhian and took part in the Salt March and Quit India Movement, for which the British detained him. Prasad was the only president to serve two full terms and stayed in office for 12 long years.

Image source: Rashtrapati Bhavan

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan is one of India’s greatest philosophers and politicians and was the first Vice President and second President. He received many honours in his lifetime and after his demise, including a knighthood and a Bharat Ratna. Radhakrishnan’s teachings were so revered that his birthday is celebrated as Teacher’s Day on 5th September.

Image source: Rashtrapati Bhavan

Zakir Hussain

The third president of India was an educator sterling. Zakir Hussain co-founded the Jamia Millia Islamia University in Aligarh at the young age of 23. He was the first president to die in office due to heart failure and was honoured with a burial at the university campus. 

Image source: Rashtrapati Bhavan

VV Giri

Varahagiri Venkata Giri was the fourth president of India. He was the only president elected as an independent candidate. Giri was a brilliant lawyer who was involved in politics since his student days in Ireland. A supporter of Mahatma Gandhi, he even helped with the war efforts during World War I. 

Image source: Rashtrapati Bhavan

Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed

Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed served as president between 1974 and 1977. He was a freedom fighter and statesman, being a part of the government for years before becoming president. Ahmed is also known as the president who signed the declaration of emergency in 1975, as suggested by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Image source: Rashtrapati Bhavan

Neelam Sanjiva Reddy

Neelam Sanjiva Reddy was the sixth and youngest president of India, elected at the age of 65. He previously served as the first Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. A Speaker of the Lok Sabha twice, his tenure also included the first-ever prison sentence handed to an MP for contempt of house. 

Image source: Rashtrapati Bhavan

Zail Singh

Giani Zail Singh was the only Sikh to hold the president’s office to date. His term as the seventh president was controversial as it saw ‘Operation Blue Star’, which was followed by the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the anti-Sikh riots in 1984. Singh passed away in a car accident in 1994.

Image source: Rashtrapati Bhavan

Ramaswamy Venkatraman

The eighth president of India, Ramaswamy Venkataraman, was a lawyer and an activist before he joined politics. He played an active role in the Independence Movement and was jailed by the British. Venkataraman helped draft the Constitution of India which was officially adopted in 1950.

Image source: Rashtrapati Bhavan

Shankar Dayal Sharma

Shankar Dayal Sharma was the eighth vice president and ninth president of India. He was a renowned lawyer who earned his doctorate in law at the University of Cambridge and Harvard University. He received many awards and honours for his contribution to the legal profession. In the 1940s, he was actively involved in the Indian Freedom Struggle.

Image source: Rashtrapati Bhavan

KR Narayanan

Kocheril Raman Narayanan was the tenth president of India whose term saw many firsts – he was the first journalist to be elected president and the first president to vote in the 1998 general election, an act which presidents refrain from as it can be seen as biased. 

Image source: Rashtrapati Bhavan

APJ Abdul Kalam

Known as ‘The People’s President’, APJ Abdul Kalam is perhaps the most beloved president in India’s history. Kalam was an aerospace engineer and scientist who was deeply involved in India’s military missile development programme and the country’s first nuclear testing, which earned him the nickname – ‘The Missile Man of India’. 

Image source: Rashtrapati Bhavan

Pratibha Patil

Pratibha Devisingh Patil was India’s first and only female president. A politician from Maharashtra, Patil held many cabinet positions during her term in the state’s legislative assembly. She set a record for being the ‘most merciful president’ by granting clemency to 35 death-row inmates. 

Image source: Rashtrapati Bhavan

Pranab Mukherjee

Elected as the 13th president of India, Pranab Mukherjee was a veteran politician who played an active role in Indian politics during the 70s and 80s. Before entering politics, Mukherjee was a professor of political sciences and a journalist. He started his own political party, the Rashtriya Samajwadi Party, in 1986. 

Image source: Rashtrapati Bhavan

Ramnath Kovind

Ramnath Kovind is a veteran politician and lawyer who was the 14th person to hold the presidential office. He practised law in the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court for decades. He served as the Governor of Bihar prior to his presidency as well.

Image source: Rashtrapati Bhavan

Draupadi Murmu

Today, India elected its 15th and second female president. Draupadi Murmu boasts of a long political career advocating for minority rights. She belongs to the Santhal tribe of Odisha, making her the first tribal person to become the president of India. At 64, she is the youngest Indian president and the first one to be born after independence 

Image source: Wiki Commons

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