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Narayanan, K. R.


NARAYANAN, K. R. (1921–), president of India (1997–2002) Kocheril Raman Narayanan became vice president of India in 1992, and in 1997 he was elected the nation's president. Narayanan was born on 4 February 1921 into a poor Dalit (formerly called "untouchables") Hindu family in what was then the Indian princely state of Travancore and Cochin (now Kerala). The elevation of a former "untouchable" to the highest office in India was an indication of his remarkable intellectual and professional qualities, and demonstrated as well that a person born to the lowest caste could reach the highest pinnacle in India. Although an excellent student, he had to be pulled out school once because of his impoverished family's inability to pay his tuition fees. But his determination and dedication saw him graduate from school and college.

He obtained a master's degree in English literature from the University of Travancore in 1943. Thereafter, he worked as a journalist for the Economic Weekly for Commerce in Delhi. The Indian industrialist J. R. D. Tata was favorably impressed with his credentials, and Narayanan received a scholarship from the Tata foundation to study in England. He subsequently studied under the renowned scholar Harold Laski at the London School of Economics, graduating with a first class degree in economics and political science in 1948. He taught at the Delhi School of Economics in 1954 and 1955. He served as vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, and as chancellor of Delhi University, Punjab University, Pondicherry University, Assam University, North Eastern Hill University, and Gandhigram Rural Institute.

Narayanan successfully passed the Indian Foreign Service examinations in 1949 and was posted as second secretary at the Indian Embassy in Rangoon, Burma. There he met his Burmese-born wife, Ma Tint Tint, who changed her name to Usha Narayanan after their marriage. Subsequently, he served as the Indian ambassador to Thailand (1967–1969), Turkey (1973–1975), China (1976–1980), and the United States (1984–1988). He was a member of the Indian delegation to the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. During his ambassadorial tenure at Beijing and in Washington, Narayanan undertook the difficult tasks of seeking rapprochement with China after fourteen years of hostile relations following the 1962 Sino-Indian war, and of explaining India's continued close ties with the Soviet Union following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and its continued military occupation there.

Thereafter, Narayanan left the Indian Foreign Service to enter Indian politics. He was elected to the Lok Sabha (the lower house of India's Parliament) from Kerala in 1984 on a Congress Party ticket, and was reelected in 1988. As Congress member of Parliament, he held the portfolios of minister of state for planning, minister of state for external Affairs, and finally, minister of state for science and technology.

Raju G. C. Thomas

See alsoPresidents of India


Sharma, Sita Ram. K. R. Narayana: Just the President of India. New Delhi: Sublime Publications, 1998.

Singh, Darshan. K. R. Narayanan: A Journey from Uzhavoor to Raisina Hills. New Delhi: United Children's Movement, 1999.

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