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From HT Archives: The death of first President plunges nation into grief

By, Patna
Mar 02, 2024 05:42 AM IST

“There should be at least one man,” Gandhiji once said, “who does not hesitate to take the cup of poison when I hand it to him

“There should be at least one man,” Gandhiji once said, “who does not hesitate to take the cup of poison when I hand it to him. He is Dr Rajendra Prasad.”

For 12 years, formative and crucial to modern India’s development, Dr Rajendra Prasad served the nation with distinction. (HT Archive)
For 12 years, formative and crucial to modern India’s development, Dr Rajendra Prasad served the nation with distinction. (HT Archive)

It was in the fitness of things that the man that Gandhiji himself chose as nearest to him should have been offered the highest office in India.

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For 12 years, formative and crucial to modern India’s development, Dr Rajendra Prasad served the nation with distinction. Bidding him farewell at Ramlila Grounds, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described him as the true symbol of the India of today.

Prasad died at his Sadaquat Ashram residence in Patna on February 28, 1963. He was 78.

The government announced state mourning for one week, as flags on all government buildings flew at half-mast.

Prasad’s funeral was attended by about 200,000 people as his eldest son, Mritunjay Prasad, cremated the former President on the banks of the Ganga at Bans Ghat in West Patna. Those present at the state funeral included President S Radhakrishnan, home minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, communications minister Jagjiwan Ram, health minister Sushila Nayyar, Jayaprakash Narayan, and Bihar chief minister Binodanand Jha.

At the ghat, wreaths were placed on the bier on behalf of the Government of India and PM Nehru by Union cabinet secretary SS Khera, along with wreaths from the three wings of the armed services, and Congress president Damodaram Sanjivayya.

The body of the departed leader was kept on a raised platform in the mango grove under a Tricoloured canopy to enable the people to pay homage. It was under this mango grove that the ashram residents assembled to bid him farewell on his election as president 13 years ago, and it was under his grove that they welcomed him back home after he relinquished his office in May last year.

The funeral procession started from the Ashram at 10am. It was headed by Congress Seva Dal volunteers, followed by 30 officers and men of the Bihar Regiment moving ahead of the cortege.

Thousands of mourners joined the procession. Those aboard the truck carrying the bier included Shastri, Jagjivan Ram, Narayan and his wife Prabhawati Devi, Mritunjay Prasad and Anand Mohan Sahay of the Azad Hind Fouj.

Over 1,000 officers and men of the Bihar Regiment and the Bihar Police wearing black bands flanked the cortege with reversed arms.

Large crowds jammed the Dinapur-Patna road along which the procession moved from the Ashram forcing it to proceed at a snail’s pace. The roofs and balconies of all the buildings flanking the road were crowded with men, women and children, who bowed in reverence and showered flowers.

A blazing sun beat mercilessly on the mourners while the flower-bedecked cortege, emitting light clouds of smoke from burning joss-sticks and incense, turned along Boring Road and moved towards the Martyrs’ Memorial in front of the Secretariat.

Thousands of people who thronged the route, and crammed housetops and balconies cried “Rajendra Babu Amar Ho”, “Rajendra Babu Zindabad”, and showered flowers on the cortege.

From the Gandhi Maidan, the procession turned back to Dinapur-Patna Road and proceeded towards Bans Ghat, where a crowd of about 50,000, comprising many who had come from the neighbouring districts by train and boat, was already waiting to have a last “darshan” of the departed leader.

The bier was carried on the shoulders of army men to the pyre made of sandalwood and “kush” (sacred grass) sprinkled with ghee. Platoons of the Bihar Regiment reversed and rested on arms and observed two minutes’ silence as buglers sounded the last post. Three volleys were fired by sections of the Bihar Regiment as Mritunjay Prasad lit the funeral pyre.

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