Childhood & Early Life
Shankar Dayal Sharma was born to on August 19, 1918, to Khushilal Sharma and Vaidya Shastri in Bhopal, Bhopal State, British India,. Bhopal is now the capital city of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
He attended ‘Government Hamidiya Boys School,’ Bhopal, and later graduated from ‘Agra University’ and the ‘Univerisity of Lucknow.’
He was an excellent athlete during his youth. He was a swimming champion at the ‘University of Lucknow’ for three consecutive years. He also served as the university’s captain and president of the rowing and swimming team.
Thereafter he secured his Ph.D. in law from the ‘University of Cambridge.’ He then went to ‘Lincoln’s Inn’ and was called to the bar and later attended ‘Harvard University.’
He started practicing as a lawyer in Lucknow in 1940 and also joined the national movement for independence..
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After India gained freedom from the British in 1947, Sharma became active in the politics of independent India.
Post-independence, the Nawab of Bhopal was against the idea of acceding the princely state of Bhopal to the Indian union. Sharma took the lead in opposing the Nawab and led public rallies in December 1948. He was arrested and sentenced to serve eight months in prison on January 23, 1949, but due to immense pressure from the people, the Nawab had to release him before the end of his prison term. Sharma’s efforts paid off as the Nawab signed the document of accession on April 30, 1949, leading to the creation of the state of Bhopal.
He was the president of the Bhopal Congress Committee from 1950-1952.
Between 1952 and 1956, Sharma served as the chief minister of Bhopal. He became the youngest serving chief minister then. As the Chief Minister, he worked towards abolishing the feudal system.His term as Chief Minister ended when Bhopal became part of the newly formed state Madhya Pradesh, created by the merger of similar smaller states, a consequence of the States Reorganisation Act of 1956.
Shankar Dayal Sharma became a Member of the Legislative Assembly in the newly formed state Madhya Pradesh in 1956. He held this position until 1971. During this period as a minister, he held several portfolios, including education, law, public works, and industry & commerce. He ushered reforms in education by making it free for backward classes, historically oppressed communities and also girls.
In 1959, he represented India at the UNESCO Conference on Primary and Secondary Education held at Karachi. He served as a member of the ‘Central Advisory Board of Education’ for more than a decade.
As a member of the ‘Indian National Congress’ for over three decades, he served the party in various capacities at all levels, including state and national. From 1967 to 1968, he was the president of the ‘Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee.’ For four years between 1968 and 1972, he was the general secretary of the ‘Indian National Congress.’ He was appointed the president of the party for a single two-year term between 1972 and 1974. The ‘All India Congress Committee’ session in Calcutta (Kolkata) was helmed by him.
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As a loyalist of the ‘Indian National Congress,’ he supported Indira Gandhi during the power struggle for the top position of the party during the 1960s.
He took a plunge into national politics in 1971 andthe same year, he became a member of the parliament (Lok Sabha or the House of People) from Bhopal. He was elected from the same seat in 1980 and held the seat until 1984. Between 1974 and 1977, he also served as the Union Minister for Communications.
He was in charge of the parliamentary delegation that participated in the 1980 ‘Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference’ at Oslo, the capital of Norway.
From 1984 to 1987, he served as the governor of three states – Andhra Pradesh (between August 29, 1984 to November 26, 1985), Punjab & administrator of Chandigarh (between November 26, 1985 to April 2, 1986), and Maharashtra (between April 3, 1986 to September 2, 1987).
He led the special delegation of veteran freedom fighters on two occasions - the first one in 1987 to commemorate the 40th year of India’s independence (as part of the Festival of India in Moscow, USSR) and the in 1988 to pay homage to Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan at Jalalabad in Afghanistan.
He was elected as the eighth Vice President of India and held the office from September 3, 1987, to July 25, 1992. As Vice President of the country, he was ex-officio chairman of the ‘Rajya Sabha or the Council of States’ (upper house of the Indian parliament).He was known for his strict ways when it came to implement parliamentary norms.
In 1992, he was elected as the ninth President of India. He served as the President of India from July 25, 1992, to July 25, 1997. He attained a two-third majority in the presidential election against his opponent, George Gilbert Swell.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Sharma was married to Vimala Sharma and the couple had three children - Satish Dayal Sharma, Ashutosh Dayal Sharma, and Gitanjali Maken.
In the last few years of his life, Sharma was plagued by severe health issues. He succumbed to a massive heart attack on December 26, 1999.
He was also an author of repute. Some of his works are ‘Congress Approach to International Affairs,’ ‘Studies in Indo-Soviet Co-operation,’ ‘Rule of Law and Role of Police,’ ‘Readings in Indo-Soviet Friendship and Co-operation,’ ‘Jawaharlal Nehru: The Maker of Modern Commonwealth,’ ‘Jawaharlal Nehru Selected Speeches,’ and ‘Eminent Indians.’ He was also a poet, and one of his poems on Quran is very popular.