President: 1882-1961 (Nasik, 1950)
Purushottam Das Tandon was born at Allahabad on 1 August, 1882, in a middle-class Khattri family. He received his early education at home, and graduated from the Muir Central College, Allahabad in 1904, qualifying for a degree in Law and a Master's degree in History.
He joined the Indian National Congress in 1899 as a student. In 1906, he represented Allahabad at the All - India Congress Committee. Tandon entered the legal profession in 1906. He was associated with the Congress Committee, which enquired into the Jallianwala Bagh 'massacre' (1919). He was imprisoned in 1921 for active participation in the non - cooperation movement.
He was elected President of the Gorakhpur District Congress Committee in 1923 and the same year presided over the Provincial Congress Committee session. Arrested again during the Civil Disobedience Movement, Tandon became a member of the Congress Working Committee at the 1931 Karachi session. From 1932 onwards, he was arrested several times for organising peasant movements through Kisan Sabhas.
In 1937-38, and again till 1948 in the reconstituted Assembly, he held the Speakership of the United Provinces Legislative Assembly with great distinction. His refusal to follow the established convention of resigning from his Party on election as Speaker led to a controversy which he set at rest by undertaking to resign if any charges of partisanship were brought against him. There were none. In fact, members were all praise for his tenure.
He was imprisoned for the seventh time during the 1942 movement, and upon his unconditional release on health grounds devoted himself to reorganising the Congress organisation.
He was elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1946, to the Lok Sabha in 1952 and to the Rajya Sabha in 1956, but after 1956 his indifferent health forced him to retire from active public work. In 1950 he was elected President of the AICC but resigned on the eve of the 1952 General Elections on account of differences with Nehru over the constitution of the Working Committee and the relationship between the Organisational and Governmental wings of the Party.
Tandon was intimately associated with the Servants of the People Society, the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan and the Rashtrabhasha Prachar Samiti, besides editing for a long period the influential Hindi paper, the Abhyudaya. From 1910 onwards, when he became the Chief Secretary of the Sammelan (he was unanimously elected its President in the Kanpur session of 1923), he strove zealously for the propagation of Hindi.
Besides being an accomplished scholar of Hindi he was well-versed in Urdu and Persian. On 3 October 1960 in a public ceremony at Allahabad, the Rajarshi, as he was fondly called by Mahatma Gandhi, was presented the 'Tandon Abhinandan Granth' by Dr Rajendra prasad, the President of India. Further recognition of his valuable services to the nation came in 1961, when the 'Bharat Ratna' was conferred. He died on 1 July 1961.
Tandon was deeply religious but, undoubtedly because of the influence of his Radha Soami faith, was free from any narrow and sectarian prejudices. He emphasised "the essential oneness of Hindu - Muslim culture, in spite of palpable differences."
He attributed the Hindu-Muslim problem to the 'divide et impera' policy of the British Government. The scheme of partitioning India was unacceptable to him, and when it fructified he expressed his disenchantment and disappointment by refraining from attending the celebrations marking India's truncated independence.
Throughout his career in the national movement, Tandon espoused the cause of the depressed classes. In a resolution moved by him at the 49th Congress Session at Lucknow in 1936, he stressed the need of making the Congress a broad-based organisation, by embracing within its fold all forces opposing British imperialism and by developing closer co-operation with the masses.
Tandon occupies a significant place in the national history of India, and can be regarded as the lineal successor of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Lala Lajpat Rai, without their social conservatism, which perhaps was a product of their times. In his political philosophy, Tandon represented the section of the Congress which looked up to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
His advocacy of ancient Indian cultural heritage has been responsible for the general misunderstanding of his principles and beliefs that prevails. His unflinching enthusiasm for Hindi made him the target for unfair and all too familiar charges of linguistic chauvinism.
But his speeches and writings and his genuine concern for a just place for regional languages, vindicate his position as a person with a cosmopolitan outlook and a true breadth of vision.
“Under our constitution the government of our country is secular. This statement of our position became necessary in view of the fact that Pakistan which was carved out of our old body - politic after partition is avowedly communal and has based its government on the religion of Islam.
The constitution of our government does not follow any particular religion. It is not dependent on any religious book. All citizens have been given equal rights irrespective of religion or caste. I consider this a proof of the wisdom and farsightedness of our country.”
From the Presidential Address - Purushottam Das Tandon I.N.C. Session, 1950, Nasik.