The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, April 9, 2000
Great Minds

Dr Rajendra Prasad
(December 3, 1884 — February 28, 1963)
Dr Raja Ramanna
(January 28, 1925)
Field Marshal S. H. F. J. Manekshaw
(April 3, 1914)

Dr Rajendra Prasad
(December 3, 1884 — February 28, 1963)

WHEN Dr Rajendra Prasad passed with a first class first in the entrance examination of the Calcutta University, the Hindustan Review said rather prophetically: "The young Rajendra is a brilliant student by all accounts. We wonder what the future has in store for him. We hope he will live to occupy a seat on the Bench of the High Court of his province, and receive the letter of appointment."

Dr Rajendra PrasadBut Rajendra Prasad went much farther; not only did he become the President of the Congress Party in 1932, but he also went on to become the first President of independent India in 1950.

Dr Rajendra Prasad was born in village Zeradei, Bihar, and was the youngest child in a family of three daughters and two sons. He studied at Presidency College, Calcutta, and passed the First Arts examination with top marks. He got an M. A. B. L and LL. M. and was all set for a brilliant academic career, but when he became a member of the Dawn Society, he came under the spell of nationalism. "Association with the Society stirred my thoughts. Examinations no longer held my attention, and my imagination was caught by public and social affairs."

Dr Prasad came in contact with Gandhi during the Champaran Satyagraha in 1917. Gandhi decided to enquire into the problems of indigo cultivators, but the district authorities and the members of the Planters Association tried to stop him. An externment order was passed by the District Magistrate which Gandhi disobeyed. Rajendra Prasad was greatly impressed by Gandhi's courage. At the time, Gandhi needed people with legal knowledge to record the statements of the indigo farmers, and he chose volunteers — the prominent among them being Gorakh Prasad, Brij Kishore Prasad, and of course, Rajendra Prasad.

Dr Prasad founded the English daily Searchlight in 1918, and the Hindi weekly Desh in 1920. He took active part in the Non-Cooperation Movement by starting along with Mazharul Haq, the Swaraj Sabha. When Gandhi called off the Civil Disobedience Movement, many of his staunch followers criticised him, but Rajendra Prasad was one of the few who stood by him. He was at the forefront of the Salt Satyagraha. In the beginning the authorities were hesitant to arrest Rajendra Prasad for fear of disturbances that might follow, but they finally arrested him and jailed him for six months.

When Subhas Chandra Bose resigned as President of the Congress Party in 1939, Rajendra Prasad was asked to fill the vacuum.

As World War II broke out, most of the members of the Working Committee were of the view that they should support the war if the British agreed to the demand for a National Government. But Gandhi differed with them, because supporting war would mean supporting violence. Rajendra Prasad supported Gandhi, and even went to the extent of resigning from the Working Committee, although he was later persuaded to withdraw his resignation.

The Quit India Movement got a very enthusiastic response from every region, especially from Bihar, but Rajendra Prasad was upset as there were reports of violence in Bihar.

Dr. Prasad was elected India's first President on 26 January 1950. He served as Interim President till 1952, when he was formally elected President after the first general elections. He occupied the chair until May 12, 1962. Many tried to persuade him to continue, but he firmly declined.

A great scholar that he was, he was awarded a doctorate by Patna University, an LL. D. by the Sagar University, Mysore University, and the Osmania University.

Dr Prasad had great expectations from the forthcoming generations: "It is the youth who would succeed to the heritage of history as also to the burdens and responsibilities of the future. The happiness and prosperity of our people would depend very largely on their idealism and enthusiasm, devotion and loyalty." Top


Dr Raja Ramanna
(January 28, 1925)

MAY 18, 1974:The countdown had begun to detonate the 'device'. Dr Raja Ramanna and his team of scientists waited with bated breath. 'A wireless relay of the counting was made audible to the photographers so that they could prepare themselves when the count reached five. For some reason the photographers cut off the counting relay at six and after that we heard nothing. We thought the worst had happened, and something had gone wrong, but about five seconds later, right in front of us, the whole earth rose up as though Lord Hanuman had lifted it.' And with that India made a giant leap into the nuclear age.

Dr Raja RamannaIndia's leading nuclear physicist, Prof Raja Ramanna was born into a distinguished family that had its connections with the Royal Court of the erstwhile Mysore State. B. Venkatachar, his grandfather's brother was a great Kannada novelist, who had also translated the novels of Bankim Chandra Chatterji into the Kannada. His father, B. Ramanna, was a judge in the Mysore state, and his mother Rukminiamma, was an exquisite lady, well versed in Indian classics as well as Shakespeare Dickens, and Walter Scott. When Dr Ramanna was born, they named him Bindignaville Krishnaraja Ramanna, but later they decided to shorten the tongue-twister to Raja Ramanna.

Dr Ramanna went to Bishop Cotton School in Bangalore, and later graduated from Madras Christian College. He got a doctorate from the London University in 1948. Back in India, he joined the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. The young scientist was transferred to the Atomic Energy Commission (later renamed - BARC - Bhabha Atomic Research Centre) in 1953 where he took charge of the Nuclear Physics Division. By 1972, he rose to the position of Director of the BARC, and the following year he was appointed part-time Chairman of Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL).

Dr Raja Ramanna is best known for the crucial role he played in designing India's first reactor, Apsara, and later the fast reactor, Purnima, and of course the successful nuclear test at Pokhran.

Author of several scientific papers and Years of Pilgrimage, an autobiography, Dr Ramanna is a Fellow of the Indian Academy. He was given the S S Bhatnagar Award for Physical Sciences in 1963, a Padma Shri in 1968, a Padma Bhushan in 1973, a Padma Vibhushan in 1975, the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Award (1983), Meghnad Saha Award (1985), and R. D. Birla Memorial Award in 1985-86. He was Minister of State for Defence from December 1989 to November 1990.

Dr Ramanna is a rare combination of science and art. He is an accomplished and acclaimed pianist. He took a diploma of licentiate of the Royal School of Music in 1940, and studied music at Trinity College, London.Top


Field Marshal S. H. F. J. Manekshaw
(April 3, 1914)

SOLDIERS are often honoured for their bravery, but it is usually at a formal function after a war, but Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw has the rare distinction of being honoured for his bravery on the battle front itself. During the World War II, he was leading a counter-offensive against the invading Japanese in Burma. As he charged forward with his men, a Japanese soldier suddenly emerged from the bushes and fired at him, wounding him seriously in the stomach. Fortunately, Major-General D. T. Cowan spotted Sam holding on to life. The General was aware of Sam's valour in face of stiff resistance from the Japanese. Fearing the worst, the Major-General quickly pinned his own Military Cross ribbon on to Sam saying: "A dead person cannot be awarded a Military Cross."

Field Marshal S. H. F. J. ManekshawAnd yet this great soldier and officer who would finally become a Field Marshal many decades later, actually wanted to be a gynaecologist! He was born in Amritsar on April 3, 1914, and was the fifth child in a family of four brothers and two sisters. Endowed with a good sense of humour, this thin and wiry lad kept the family in splits with his jokes and mimicry. His father, Dr H. F. Manekshaw was a doctor, and Sam also wanted to be a doctor. But while he was at Hindu College, Amritsar, he saw an advertisement calling young men to enter the newly established Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun. Sam gave it a shot, and he was selected.

Commissioned in 1934, the young officer held several regimental assignments. He was soon a Second Lieutenant, and was attached first to the Royal Scots, and then to the Frontier Force Regiment. The 5' 10" dashing young officer soon fell in love with a charming and talented girl, Siloo, and married her in 1939.

Having recovered from those near-fatal wounds in Burma, Manekshaw went for a course at the Staff College, Quetta, and later also served there as an instructor before being sent to join 12 Frontier Force Rifles in Burma. He was once again involved in a fierce battle with the Japanese, and was wounded for a second time.

Towards the close of World War II, Manekshaw was sent as Staff Officer to General Daisy in Indo-China where, after the Japanese surrender, he helped rehabilitate over 10,000 prisoners of war. He, then, went on a six-month lecture tour to Australia in 1946, and after his return served as First Grade Staff Officer in the Military Operations Directorate.

Manekshaw showed acumen for planning and administration while handling the issues related to Partition, and later put to use his battle skills during the operation in Jammu and Kashmir. By 1957, he was a Major-General. As GOC-in-C Eastern Command, he handled the tricky problem of insurgency in Nagaland. The grateful nation honoured him with a Padma Bhushan in 1968.

Manekshaw succeeded Gen. Kumaramangalam as Army Chief on June 8, 1969. In a couple of years thousands of refugees from the then East Pakistan started crossing over to India as a result of oppression unleashed by the West Pakistan Army. The volatile situation got worse, and soon erupted into a full-scale war in 1971. During the military campaign, Manekshaw showed uncommon ability to motivate the forces, coupling it with mature war strategy. The war ended with Pakistan's unconditional surrender, and the formation of Bangladesh.

Manekshaw was honoured with a Padma Vibhushan in 1972, and was made Field Marshal in 1973.

(To be concluded)
Text and illustrations by Kuldip Dhiman