The third president of India, Dr. Zakir Hussain was one of the most distinguished sons of modern India. A winner of Bharat Ratna, the nation’s highest civilian honor, he was a great educationist, and an admirer and follower of Gandhiji and an organizer of his vocational educational system. He was teaching at the Aligarh University when Gandhiji’s call for boycotting the classes set fire to the atmosphere in the centers of education and the student and teacher that he was at the university, Zakir Hussain went out of the campus leaving his teaching and learning for the sake of the fight for the freedom of his motherland. And he reminisced later on that this first decision of his was the basic building block for all his future life which culminated in his becoming the first citizen of his country – the President of India.
His Early Life
Zakir was born in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, in a Pathan family in 1897. His father was Fida Hussain Khan who migrated to Uttar Pradesh from the north western frontier of India. This family shifted to Hyderabad later where Khan made a living first by selling kitchen utensils, and then attending a legal school and finally becoming a pleader and he made enough money to lead a decent life in the capital city of the Nizams. 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 his 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 in a pen-name. He joined an M.A course and also did a course in law. But he fell before Gandhiji’s call for his non-cooperation movement (1920). When he was just 23, he played a leading role in founding National Muslim University in Aligarh and renamed it Jamia Millia Islamia (which was shifted to New Delhi later). Zakir was on its teaching faculty in charge of economics. Later he went to Germany to obtain a Ph.D in economics from the University of Berlin. While in Germany, he helped in bringing out an anthology of the great Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib.
He returned to India to create a history by taking over the leadership of Jamia Millia Islamia in 1927 and continued in that chair for a wonderful twenty-one years. This was not just the leadership of an educational institution, but he showed to the world how a center of education could be a symbol of the nation’s longing and determination for winning its freedom from foreign yokes.
Dr. Zakir Hussain was one of the chief participants at the educational conference Gandhiji called in Wardha in 1937. He supported strongly Gandhiji’s idea of vocational education and was entrusted with the task of drafting a syllabus for the new educational movement. He was later called upon to serve the University Education Commission, University Grants Commission, World University Service, the UNESCO and several other top educational establishments. His status among the intellectuals of the country became undisputed.
In 1948, the rulers of free India made him the vice-chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University and continued there for 8 years, years of great achievements. He was nominated repeatedly as to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India’s Parliament. In 1957 he was appointed governor of the state of Bihar. After five years he was chosen as the Vice-President of India. And in 1967 he became the President of India. He died as President of India in 1969.