President: 1918 - 1999 (Calcutta, 1972)
Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, like many Madhya Pradesh politicians, moved to the former princely state of Bhopal from Uttar Pradesh during the state people's movement against feudal tyranny.
He combined his love for study with sports and politics from his student days in Allahabad. A good athlete, a cross-country runner and a champion swimmer, he flirted with journalism in his student days and jumped into politics during the tumultuous days of the Quit India movement.
He combined teaching with politics. For nine years he taught law at Lucknow University before he became Chief Minister of Bhopal. He was affable, amiable and a good conversationalist. Dr Sharma joined hands with Indira Gandhi during the critical days of the split.
As Chief Minister of Bhopal his first measure was to abolish all Jagirdaris. As Education Minister he made education free for Harijans, Adivasis and other backward classes as well as for girls. The teacher in him always remained dominant.
He was the leader of the Indian delegation to the UNESCO Conference on Primary and Secondary Education held at Karachi, in 1959. For thirteen years, he was a member of the Central Advisory Board for Education. As the person in charge of the parliamentary wing of the AICC, Dr Sharma had to execute some very delicate assignments involving changes in State Governments in some delicate Congress States.
In 1972, he was re-elected Congress President unopposed, for a full two-year term. His presidency of the Congress witnessed the emergence of a revitalised party and the office of the Congress Presidency regained some of its lost prestige. He also served as Chairman of the All India Advisory Board of the Congress Seva Dal. He served the Union Cabinet in 1975 as Communication Minister.
He was defeated in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections; but came back to Parliament in 1980 and held many important non-official positions, both in the Congress party and outside.
He was appointed the Governor of Andhra Pradesh in 1984. After elections in Punjab, in the wake of the Longowal-Rajiv Accord between the Prime Minister and the Akali Dal President, Dr Sharma was made the Governor of Punjab in 1985. He was the Vice-President of India from 3 September, 1987, till he assumed the office of the President in 1992. He would serve in this vaunted position till 1997.
Dr Sharma passed away on 26 December, 1999.
“We must not forget that the Garibi Hatao movement on which the nation is launched today under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Smt Indira Gandhi is not merely an Indian phenomenon. India has really given a concrete shape and form to the deep urges which have been moving the newly free, developing countries. A large number of these countries have drawn their lesson from India's method of planned development to build a new society based on equity and justice which necessarily means avoiding a path in which production by the entire society is appropriated by a few and the economy operates to the detriment of the many and for the benefit of a handful.
The Congress is following this path in no spirit of rancour or hostility to any group or class but, with the sole purpose of uplifting our vast, long suffering masses from the depths of poverty and starvation.”
From the Presidential Address - Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma I.N.C. Session, 1972, Calcutta.