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He previously served as Governor of Bihar from 1957 to 1962 and as Vice President of India from 1962 to 1967. He was also the co-founder of Jamia Milia Islamia, serving as its Vice-chancellor from 1928. Under Husain, Jamia became closely associated with the Indian freedom movement. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour, in 1963.
Family and early life
Husain was born in Hyderabad State in Central India. He was a Pashtun Muslim from Punjab. They had first settled at Malihabad in the United Provinces before moving to the Deccan in the 19th century. When Husain's was a young boy, his family emigrated from Hyderabad to Qaimganj. This is where he grew up, and this is how he came to be more closely associated with Qaimganj in Farrukhabad district.
Zakir Hussain was the second of seven sons. Many, indeed most, of his family members chose to embrace Pakistan at the partition of India. His brother Mahmud Husain joined the Pakistan Movement many years before partition and was a leading light of Jinnah's Muslim League to the extent that he was made a member of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. Beginning 1951, he served as Pakistan's Education Minister and Minister of Kashmir Affairs at a crucial time. Hussain's nephew, Anwar Husain, served as director of Pakistan Television Corporation. A cousin, Rahimuddin Khan, served as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee of the Pakistan Army and as Governor of Balochistan and Sindh.
Those of Hussain's kin who chose to remain in India did equally well for themselves under the patronage of the Congress party, both before and after Hussain himself rose to hold the top-most office of the land. His younger brother, Yousuf Husain, became pro-vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University while his nephew, Masud Husain, was vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia. Hussain's own son-in-law, Khurshid Alam Khan, served as Governor of Karnataka for many years, and his grandson, Salman Khurshid, a Congress party politician, was Foreign Minister of India under Manmohan Singh.
Husain's father, Fida Husain Khan, died when he was ten years old; his mother died in 1911 when he was fourteen. Husain's early primary education was completed in Hyderabad, He completed High school from Islamia High School, Etawah, and was then educated at the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, then affiliated with the University of Allahabad, where he was a prominent student leader. He received his doctorate in economics from the University of Berlin in 1926. In 1915, at the age of 18, he married Shah Jahan Begum and had two daughters, Saeeda Khan and Safia Rehman.
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When Hussain was 23 years old, with a group of students and teachers he founded the National Muslim University, first founded in Aligarh on Friday 29 October 1920 then shifted to Qarol Bagh, New Delhi in 1925, then later shifted again on 1 March 1935 to 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 Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College (now the Aligarh Muslim University). During this period Hussain emerged as one of the most prominent educational thinkers and practitioners of modern India. His personal sacrifice and untiring efforts to keep the Jamia afloat in very adverse circumstances won him appreciation of even his arch political rivals like Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
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. 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.
Husain died on 3 May 1969, the first Indian President to die in office. He is buried along with his wife (who died some years later) on the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi.
With the main objective of providing facility for higher education in Ilayangudi, a college was started in his honour in 1970.
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