K. R. Narayanan

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Kocheril Raman Narayanan (October 27, 1920November 9, 2005) was the tenth President of India.


Parliament House - When I finished with LSE, Laski, of his own, gave me a letter of introduction for Panditji. On reaching Delhi I sought an appointment with the PM. I suppose, because I was an Indian student returning home from London, I was given a time-slot. It was here in Parliament House that he met me...
  • When I finished with LSE, Laski, of his own, gave me a letter of introduction for Panditji. On reaching Delhi I sought an appointment with the PM. I suppose, because I was an Indian student returning home from London, I was given a time-slot. It was here in Parliament House that he met me. We talked for a few minutes about London and things like that and I could soon see that it was time for me to leave. So I said goodbye and as I left the room I handed over the letter from Laski, and stepped out into the great circular corridor outside. When I was half way round, I heard the sound of someone clapping from the direction I had just come. I turned to see Panditji (Nehru) beckoning me to come back. He had opened the letter as I left his room and read it. [Nehru asked:] "Why didn't you give this to me earlier?" [and I replied:] "Well, sir, I am sorry. I thought it would be enough if I just handed it over while leaving." After a few more questions, he asked me to see him again and very soon I found myself entering the Indian Foreign Service.
  • As the President of India, I had lots of experiences that were full of pain and helplessness. There were occasions when I could do nothing for people and for the nation. These experiences have pained me a lot. They have depressed me a lot. I have agonised because of the limitations of power. Power and the helplessness surrounding it are a peculiar tragedy, in fact.
  • I see and understand both the symbolic as well as the substantive elements of my life. Sometimes I visualise it as a journey of an individual from a remote village on the sidelines of society to the hub of social standing. But at the same time I also realise that my life encapsulates the ability of the democratic system to accommodate and empower marginalised sections of society.
President's House.
  • India had entertained throughout its history a world vision. Our sages and seers had thought in terms of the happiness of the whole of humanity. And Jawaharlal Nehru had designed a foreign policy for India with a world outlook. We have a role to play in the world and a message to give to the world. We can do that effectively only if we are united and strong and in peace and friendship with our neighbours.
    • In: "Speech By Shri Kocheril Raman Narayanan On His Assumption Of Office As President Of India"
  • [I was] not an executive President but a working President and working within the four corners of the Constitution.
  • The applications of science are inevitable and unquotable for all countries and people today. But something more than its application is necessary. It is the scientific approach, the adventurous, and critical temper of science, the search for truth and new knowledge, the refusal to accept anything without testing and trial, the capacity to change previous conclusions in the face of new evidence, the reliance on observed fact and not on pre-conceived theory, the hard discipline of the mind – all this is necessary, not merely for the too many scientists today, who swear by science, forget all about it outside their particular sphere. The scientific approach and temper or should be a way of life, a process of thinking, a method of acting, associating, with our fellow men. That is a large order and undoubtedly very few if any at all can function in this way with even partial success. But his [Nehru] criticism applies in equal or even greater measure to all the injunctions which philosophy and religion have laid upon us. The scientific temper points out the way along which man should travel. It is the temper of a free man. We live in a scientific age, so we are told but there is little evidence of this temper in the people anywhere or even in their leaders.
  • The courts are no longer cathedrals. They are...casinos where the throw of the dice matters.
    • Lina Gonsalves in: Women and Human Rights, APH Publishing, 2001
    • At the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of the Supreme Court on the aspect of money and power getting precedence over justice.
  • My having been in the LSE made me suspect in the eyes of the Right but funnily enough it did not help me with the Left either. After getting a seat, and a pretty unsafe one at that, my campaign started, my opposite number from the Left said in his speeches that I was an Anglicised sahib who knew nothing of Kerala, did not eat Malayali food and did not even know how to wear a mundu [[[w:dhoti|dhoti]]]! So there were problems for me on both sides.
  • If someone insults me, I only feel an infinite pity for him.
    • In: Gopalkrishna Gandhi "A remarkable life-story"

Shri K. R. Narayanan President of India in Conversation with N. Ram on Doordarshan and All India Radio


K. R. Narayanan, N.Ram Shri K. R. Narayanan President of India in Conversation with N. Ram on Doordarshan and All India Radio, 14 August 1998

  • India has been a cauldron of dreams, ideas and aspirations of the humankind and this is a distinctive character of India, and India in that sense represents the world in miniature. If a system can succeed in India, it will indicate the possibility of such success in the world as a whole.
  • There is an over-informing force which ultimately brings all the ideas together, and does not allow one idea alone to run away with India. And, that has been demonstrated again and again in terms of conflicting ideologies, conflicting social systems, political systems, all these somehow have been contained in an overall framework.
  • Democracy, I think, has established itself firmly [In India] and, there is no doubt that, it is one of the irremovable things which we have achieved. But it is facing problems at every stage. I don't think that we can rest on our oars in the maintenance of democracy. Critical times are facing us. There are, there will be, crises, that we will have to face. So constant adjustments of even democracy to changing times, is necessary. But one thing is clear. The idea of democracy and institutions of democracy that we have built up, have survived the test of critical situations.
  • We started with pure parliamentary democracy at the Centre and in the States. Now this has been extended to the grassroots, though not in the Gandhian way, but according to the dream of Gandhiji, along that line. We have extended democracy to the grassroots, in the panchayati raj experiment and I think that has given solid support to our parliamentary system. Our parliamentary system could not have survived, without this basic grassroot support. But all these can function only in an atmosphere of social and economic progress and greater equality.
  • Nehru's great passion was to change our society — the congealed society which we inherited from our own past, and from the static past of the British period. And, social change he connected with economic change. We could not change our society without changing our economic system and economic relations in society. His whole dream was that, his whole effort was in that direction. But the march of society, of social change has not been fast enough, nor fundamental enough so far. And, our inherited caste system remains with us, but it has been very badly battered. And, the conceptions behind the caste system have also been very badly damaged by policies, by the march of technology and economics, all these things. To some extent while this progressive movement was taking place, there was also, concurrently, some sort of counter-revolution, resisting it. But the overwhelming force of the progressive movement has been winning by and large. But now we have to specifically deal with many of the social ills and backwardness.
  • We have to give a sense of economic liberation to the masses and for that, I think the basic thing we have done or we attempted to do, in the beginning, and we have not yet completed that process, is that of land reforms. I think some of the Indian states have been successful in bringing about land reforms but to get a sensation of economic empowerment in society, even a bit of land of their own, is necessary for the common people and it has been shown by Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, which have achieved remarkable economic successes, that land reform was one basic prior thing they did.
  • When we started in 1947, I think 18% or something was the literacy rate in India. Now it is 52%. It is not a disastrous performance but it is not sufficient, certainly. But some parts of India have done better, my own State of Kerala has done remarkably well. Tamil Nadu is achieving greater success in literacy, so is Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The State of Himachal, is more or less reaching 100% literacy. Some of the states of the North-East have full literacy today. So, the movement of literacy has been uneven, but progressive.
  • Strength of our culture to some extent has compensated the lack of formal education. That is how people could vote wisely in these massive elections. After all, it was the ordinary, illiterate people who exercised the votes in the general elections we have had. And they seem to have voted with sufficient knowledge of affairs, of their interests, and this is remarkable indeed. But that is no substitute for education, and we have to have a full formal education for all our people and what I find sad is that it is an eminently practicable thing to do; in a matter of 5 years, India could be made literate.
  • ...education is the key to health and to social progress. The fact is that the average expectation of life of an Indian has doubled since Independence. In fact, it is 61 years now as against 28 or 30 years at the time of Independence.
  • ...now, the new class of landlords — they may not be landlords but practically they are — and therefore a new class of people have come up, powerful politically and socially, and it has become very difficult to implement any land reforms today, because of that.
  • It is the slow, but steady movement of the lower classes along the scale of the class system. But it has been very very slow. It took 2000 years. But it is something which is going on, and something which is almost spectacular in certain sectors today -assertion of the backward classes, of scheduled castes, of women.
  • By some mysterious reason, there is no difficulty for a man in illtreating a woman, and this is something amazing. Everybody loves his mother, sisters and relatives etc, but still, with all this there is this callous attitude and ill-treatment of women. So women's movements are necessary. One thing which is forgotten in India is the transformation of the attitude of men. It is in this field that active work has to be done. We all preach to women that they should assert themselves. But on the other hand we don't tell sufficient early, strongly, to the male that they should behave well, their attitude should change. I have no doubt that even the women's reservation [bill] will be finally adopted.
  • Economic liberalisation is a world phenomenon. Socialist countries, capitalist countries, all of them, have to take to liberalisation. The liberalisation took place first in Britain, then in the United States under President Reagan, these were not liberalising from a socialist system. I think it is because of the stage of economy which the world has reached at present and the stage of technology. At every historical and technological and economic age there are policies which would be suitable for that period and countries. We have to adopt policies, dictated by the circumstances and the necessities of the time.
With Vladimir Putin.
  • We in India, as a result of our planned economic development, not central planning, but mixed planning, mixed economy, we have experimented with, we have moved to a stage of partial maturity of the economy, when we needed new forms of management, new forms of, expression of the spirit of enterprise, so that the economy can move forward. The compulsion to liberalisation and globalisation arose from this. This is why we say that India's liberalisation is an irreversible process....and, in a vast country, with millions of people and poverty, rampant, we cannot liberalise recklessly, in such a way that the balance of the society is upset and while some sections would flourish, make profits, the rest of the people would be left without employment and be helpless. Therefore, we have to have a balanced approach to liberalisation and also to globalisation.
  • There are many serious political scientists who have argued that the age of sovereignty is over. They want a frontier less, borderless world, and that is a very dangerous philosophy which may suit the most developed and powerful countries of the world, and not those who are small and developing. That is why we are rather cautious in our liberalisation policy. We went ahead in certain sectors. We went rather slowly in other sectors. And, this has helped us.
  • Many in India fought against some of the ideas of changing our patent system. And we have signed the World Trade Organisation Treaty but still we have to safeguard ourselves because, many of the developed countries are, though they have signed the same WTO, but they are not practising it; anti-dumping measures they are adopting very liberally, as also tariff, non-tariff barriers. So we have to carefully argue within the WTO system our case.
  • Communal mobilisation in the long run will not succeed in India because Indian society cannot be mobilized communally. Even the last elections have shown that communities, religious communities, castes did not vote solidly for one party.
  • ...when we became independent and Nehru spelt out his vision, we appeared to be the leader, we are the only country which articulated the aspirations of Asia as a whole for the first time. Then other countries, small countries, big countries have come up asserting themselves, and, but still we are, because of our economic development, everybody knows that India is geographically a big central chunk of Asia and that it is an expanding economy. It is a technologically progressing society and in every field it is making a mark. And everybody recognises this role of India, but I think we have to articulate our position in Asia, in a new way, in a new set of circumstances that would appeal to everybody.
  • ...the Indian public are weighed down by their problems, and becoming rather insular in their outlook because of their preoccupation with their own problems. We have to rouse them and make them conscious that we can progress only as a part of the world and as a part of Asia.
  • My image of a President before I came here, and before I had any hope of coming here, was that of a rubber-stamp President, to be frank. This is the image I got. But having come here, I find that the image is not quite correct. I thought, I will have lot of time, leisure for reading, writing, waking etc. But somehow I find I can't get it now. So, my image of a President is of a working President, not an executive President, but a working President, and working within the four corners of the Constitution. It gives very little direct power or influence to him to interfere in matters or affect the course of events, but there is a subtle influence of the office of the President on the executive and the arms of the government and on the public as a whole. It is a position which has to be used with the, what I should say, with a philosophy of indirect approach.
  • There are one or two things, which you can directly do in very critical times. But otherwise, this indirect influence that you can exercise on the affairs of the State is the most important role he can play. And, he can play it successfully only if he is, his ideas and his nature of functioning are seen by the public in tune with their standards. The President has to be a citizen and there must be some equation between the people and the President, and if some advice or something is to be given to the executive, it would be received with grace, it would be sometimes accepted, if it is known that the public opinion is on the side of the kind of advice the President is giving. Otherwise, he cannot exercise much influence.
  • The Nehruvian dream [the ending of poverty and ignorance and inequality of opportunity.] today has become a pungent necessity, inescapable necessity. In 1947, one could say that it was a dream, it was Gandhi's dream also. But now it has become an inescapable necessity for us to translate that dream into practice. And I think that dream cannot be abandoned. We have to pursue it and pursue it in realistic terms. I see that India can do it. And India must do it.

About K. R. Narayanan

President Clinton and President Narayanan.
  • In place of the mechanical approach adopted by his predecessors, he established principles [as President of the Republic] and procedures that were transparent and based on sound constitutional reasoning.
  • The greater achievement of this brilliant man was to retain unto the last a progressive social vision and empathy with millions of India's poor and deprived citizens. He did not flinch from doing what he considered right — whether it was joining a queue of citizens to cast his vote (before him, heads of state did not vote) or creatively interpreting and exercising presidential discretion or speaking his mind on issues that mattered.
    • The Hindu Editor in: "A salute to Citizen Narayanan"
  • When he stood in queues to vote in general elections, a few people criticised this practice, saying that a head of state should not be seen taking sides in an election. But the overwhelming response was that the President had done a service to democracy.
  • His penchant for anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist and anti-militarist causes did not diminish during his presidency. Talking at a reception during United States President Bill Clinton's visit to India, he said that the governance of the global village could not be left to a "village headman". He added that "globalisation does not mean the end of history and geography and of the lively and exciting diversities of the world". He went on to suggest that the global village in "this age of democracy" would be headed not by a "village headman" but by the "global panchayat", loosely symbolised by the United Nations.
    • Venkitesh Ramakrishnan in: "Citizen President K.R. Narayanan, 1920-2005"

A remarkable life-story


Gopalkrishna Gandhi in: A remarkable life-story, The Hindu

  • MY husband and I were on a train journey and at a wayside station I asked him to get me a cup of tea. When he returned, just as the train was steaming out, I saw him standing at the door of the compartment, teacup in one hand, trying busily to get rid of his [[w:Flip-flops}chappal]]. `What are you doing?' I asked. "Oh, nothing. I accidentally dropped one of the pair at the platform... I can't get it back... What is the use of my keeping one when the man who finds the first will need both?
    • His wife Usha Narayanan
  • Logic - was a tool in his intellectual armoury but it was not a cold, calculating logic. There was space in it for something beyond the algebraic piling of reason upon reason.
  • His term at the London School of Economics (LSE) is deservedly celebrated for the equation he enjoyed with the cerebral but morally intense Harold Laski. Less known is the fact that his studentship at LSE included attending lectures by Karl Popper, Professor of Logic and Scientific Method. He related to me this classroom story: Popper was once discussing the value in an `open' society of checks and balances and (as Popper put it) of one `sphere' arriving at an equilibrium with another `sphere' without direct state intervention. And to give his argument a visual correlative, Popper pointed to an empty chair and said, "If you let that chair be, you will be able to sit in it at some point." He, who was 26 or 27 then, broke in and said to Popper, "Letting the chair be is all right, but if you or someone were to pick up the chair and hit it on my head, I think I would be entitled to catch it and throw it out of the window." He [KRN] said that to his embarrassment this intervention was greeted with a small applause from others in the class.
  • Both his teachers at LSE, from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, exercised a lasting if unflaunted influence on their precocious student. In matters pertaining to national politics they doubtless had something to do with his oft-repeated caution against forms of political `stability' which, in his words, "could slip into authoritarian exercise of power".
  • He was wise when others would have been smart, frank when others would have been cautious. He was available to the people of India, as a "working President" (the description he gave to himself in an interview) but he was essentially his own friend, counsellor and confidant - with, of course, Usha Narayanan by his side. His inner resources were phenomenal - for reading, contemplating and, in his own special manner, brooding. But when seized of a problem - large or small, in the public domain or very personal - He would go into a shell of thought where no one may enter. He was never secretive, but always in need of a space of his own. No one could think for him, much less find the words he needed. He did not seek publicity for his views though he was (to use his own word) amazed how the Indian media seemed to fix its priorities. He was as conservative in his working style as he was radical in his thinking, pen to paper being his writing practice rather than computer keyboarding.
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