Zakir Husain (8 February 1897 – 3 May 1969) was the 3rd President of India, from 13 May 1967 until his death on 3 May 1969. An educator and intellectual, Husain was the country’s first Muslim president, and also the first to die in office. He was also the shortest serving President of India. He previously served as Governor of Bihar from 1957 to 1962 and as Vice President of India from 1962 to 1967.
Husain, then only 23, was among the small group of students and teachers who founded a National Muslim University, first founded in Aligarh on Friday 29 October 1920 then shifted to Karol Bagh, New Delhi in 1925, then after shifted again on 1 March 1935 in Jamia Nagar, New Delhi and named it Jamia Millia Islamia (a central university). He subsequently went to Germany to obtain a PhD from the Frederick William University of Berlin in Economics. While in Germany, Husain was instrumental in bringing out the anthology of arguably the greatest Urdu poet Mirza Assadullah Khan “Ghalib” (1797–1868).
He returned to India to head the Jamia Millia Islamia which was facing closure in 1927. He continued in that position for the next twenty-one years providing academic and managerial leadership to an institution that was intimately involved with India’s struggle for freedom from the British Rule and experimented with value-based education on the lines advocated by Mahatma Gandhi and Hakim Ajmal Khan. During this period he continued to engage himself with movements for educational reforms in India and was particularly active in the affairs of his old alma mater the MAO College, now the Aligarh Muslim University.
Soon after India attained independence, Husain agreed to be the Vice chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University which was facing trying times in post partition India because of active involvement of a section of its teachers and students in the movement for creation of Pakistan. Dr. Husain, again, provided leadership during a critical phase of the history of the University at Aligarh from 1948–1956. Soon after completing his term as Vice Chancellor he was nominated as a member of the Upper House of Indian Parliament in 1956, a position he vacated in 1957 to become Governor of the State of Bihar.
After serving as the Governor of Bihar from 1957 to 1962, and as the second Vice President of India from 1962 to 1967, Husain was elected President of India on 13 May 1967. In his inaugural speech, he said that the whole of India was his home and all its people were his family. During his last days, the issue of nationalization of banks was being hotly debated. The bill, in the end, received presidential consent from Mohammad Hidayatullah, (acting president) on 9 August 1969.
During his presidential tenure, Zakir Husain led four state visits to Hungary, Yugoslavia, USSR and Nepal.
He was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, in 1963