Padmaja Naidu was an Indian politician and freedom fighter. She was the 5th governor of West Bengal. Her tenure in the position was from 3 November 1956 to 1 June 1967, where she served as the first female governor of West Bengal and later became the longest-serving female governor of West Bengal. She became the co-creator of the Indian National Congress in the native state of Hyderabad at the age of 21. She was famous for her extraordinary accomplishments at a young age.
Padmaja Naidu was born on Saturday, 17 November 19oo (age 74 years; as of 1975) in Hyderabad State, British India (now, Hyderabad, India). Her mother, Sarojini Naidu who was the first governor of the United Provinces had a major impact on her daily life. During the time when India was fighting for independence, she used to watch her mother, Sarojini Naidu and other freedom fighters prepare for the revolutionary war to release India from the rule of the East India Company. She was very influenced by her mother and decided to dedicate her efforts to the betterment of the country and became a revolutionary herself.
Padmaja Naidu belonged to a Tamil family from Hyderabad.
Parents & Siblings
Padmaja was born to Mutyala Govindrajulu Naidu and Sarojini Naidu. Her father was a Telugu physician and her mother was a famous Bengali poet, Indian political activist, and freedom fighter. She had four siblings, Jayasurya, Leelamani, Nilawar, and Randheer.
Padmaja and Jawahar Lal Nehru were in a close-knit relationship with each other. She had family terms with the Nehru family including Jawahar Lal Nehru’s sister, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit. Indira Gandhi’s friend, Pupul Jayakar who was an Indian cultural activist and writer, heard from Vijaya Lakshmi that her brother and Padmaja lived together for many years. Because Jawahar did not want to hurt his daughter Indira, he could not get married to Padmaja, but she never married anyone just in the hope that one day Jawahar would ask her to marry him but it did not happen.
In M.O. Mathai’s memoirs on Nehru, there is a chapter titled “Nehru and Women” in which Padmaja Naidu, the daughter of Sarojini Naidu, exclaims, “Nehru is not a one-woman man!”, which tells that Nehru had relationships with other women also. Even after retirement, she lived in a bungalow on the Teen Murti Bhavan estate, Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru’s governmental residence till she died. Later it was turned into a museum as a tribute to him.
Padmaja achieved so much at such a young age but her contribution still did not gain the much attention that she deserved. Her services as both a social server and a diplomat will always be reminisced by the people of India.
Freedom Fighter & Philanthropist
Padmaja became a part of the “Quit India” movement started by Mahatma Gandhi, and in 1942, she was sent to prison. She encouraged people to use Indian products, such as wearing Khadi clothes and boycott foreign goods. She was allied with the International Red Cross Movement and became the chairperson of the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) from 1971 to 1972, which is a voluntary humanitarian organization that protects human life and health. Also, she was linked with the Bharat Sevak Samaj, Nehru Memorial Fund, and the All India Handicrafts Board. To celebrate 15 August 1947 as our first independence day, she was chosen as one of the members of the National Flag Presentation Committee.
At a very young age, she co-founded the Indian National Congress party. One time, when the Quit India Movement was going in full force, Padmaja along with Harishchandra Heda, Gyankumari Heda, Vimalabai Melkote, G.S. Melkote and others were struggling in a fight against the Britishers. Padmaja daringly replaced the flag with the Congress flag on the residency building. For this action of hers, she was arrested and prisoned. In 1950, after independence, the Indian parliament elected her but because of her poor health condition, she resigned from her membership.
Awards & Honours
- In 1962, Padmaja Naidu was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan award for her works in the public affairs industry, Telangana.
- Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park also known as Darjeeling Zoo is dedicated to the memory of Padmaja Naidu. It is situated in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India and was opened on 14 August 1958. It is the largest high altitude zoo in India with an average elevation of 7000 feet and is visited by 300,000 people every year. Zoo has special breeding programs for the animals that are adapted to the alpine regions and have successful captive breeding programs for animals including snow leopards, red pandas, and Himalayan Wolf, which is highly endangered.
- In the 1970s, Padmaja entrusted her mother, Sarojini Naidu’s residence, The Golden Threshold to the University of Hyderabad. First, it was turned into a Social Sciences department then Sarojini Naidu School of Communication, and now the Centre for Distance and Virtual Education. Due to the lack of financial support, the value of the infrastructure of the building has been degrading over the years. Once the funding comes through for restoration, University has an idea to convert the place into a museum-cum-culture centre.
On 2 May 1975, at the age of 74, she died due to a cerebral haemorrhage in New Delhi, India.
- She was close friends with Ruttie petit, wife of the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
- Regardless of her image as the daughter of the renowned freedom fighter, Sarojini Naidu, Padmaja was very sophisticated about collecting letters and manuscripts. After her mother passed away, Padmaja gathered all her mother’s poems and released the collection in the form of a book named ‘The Feather of the Dawn’ in 1961.
Sheela Reddy, who is the wrote the book ‘Mr & Mrs Jinnah: The Marriage That Shook India’ mentioned the fact in an interview and said,
Ruttie(Jinnah’s wife) wrote letters to both Sarojini and Padmaja Naidu, but her letters to Sarojini are now lost because Sarojini, with her itinerant life, never bothered to keep the letters she received from her numerous friends and acquaintances and even her own children and husband. It was thanks to Padmaja Naidu, who kept every letter she received from both her mother and Ruttie, that I was able to piece the narrative of Jinnah’s marriage together.”
- Padmaja was involved in a tight relationship with the former Prime Minister of India, Jawahar Lal Nehru. Some sources say that they shared an intimate bond and lived close to each other.