Karpoori Thakur (1924-1988) was an Indian politician and freedom fighter. He served as Chief Minister of Bihar twice and as Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister of Bihar. He was popular for his socialist policies for the upliftment of poor people and justice for people belonging to the backward castes of Bihar. He was posthumously awarded Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, by the Government of India in 2024.
Karpoori Thakur (also spelt as Karpuri Thakur) was born on Thursday, 24 January 1924 (age 64 years; at the time of death) in Pitaunjhia village (now Karpoorigram), Samastipur, Bihar, India. His zodiac sign is Aquarius. In 1938, Acharya Narendra Dev visited Khudiram Bose’s village Waini to address a peasant rally that he attended after which he joined the Indian independence movement and was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and Satyanarayan Sinha. While studying in school, he established a library in his village. After passing the 10th division exam from a local school in 1940, he became a teacher at a local school.
From 1942 to 1945, he was jailed for his participation in the Indian independence movement for 26 months. He later dropped out of college while pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree (BA) at C.M. College, Darbhanga. He later entered politics after being influenced by Ram Manohar Lohia and became a full-time politician.
Height (approx.): 5′ 8″
Eye Colour: Black
Parents & Siblings
His father, Gokul Thakur, was a barber and farmer, and his mother, Ramdulari Devi, was a homemaker. He had 2 brothers inclduing a younger brother named Ramsugat Thakur and 6 sisters named Galho, Siya, Rajo, Sita, Parvati, and Shail.
Wife & Children
His wife, Phooleshwari Devi, was a homemaker.
His elder son, Ram Nath Thakur, is a politician and Rajya Sabha (upper house of the Indian parliament) MP from Janata Dal (United) (also known as JDU) and was married to Kumari Asha Rani before she died in 2020, and his younger son, Birendra (also spelt as Virendra) Kumar Thakur, is a doctor and is married to Kanaklata Thakur. He had a daughter as well.
His grandfather’s name was Pyare Thakur. He had a paternal nephew named Nityanand Thakur (Ramsugat’s son), a head clerk in Gokhul Karpoori Phuleshwari Degree College, Karpoorigram, Samastipur; he is married to Nisha Thakur, an Anganwadi worker.
He has three granddaughters from his elder son, Ram Nath Thakur named Namita, Sneha, and Amrita who works in the Bihar government. His great-grandson, Aditya Anmol (Namita’s son), lives in California and holds a master’s degree in public policy.
He has a granddaughter named Jagriti Thakur, a doctor, who is married to Mritunjay Madhav, a Divisional Forest Officer at Himachal Pradesh Forest Department, and a grandson named Abhinav Vikas Thakur, a cardiologist, from his younger son Birendra Thakur.
He followed Hinduism.
Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA)
In 1952, he became an MLA for the first time from the Tajpur constituency as a Socialist Party candidate. In the 1980 Bihar Legislative Assembly elections, he became MLA from Samastipur (Legislative Assembly constituency) as a Janata Party (Secular) candidate. He became MLA after winning the 1985 elections from the Sonbarsa constituency. He was associated with the Socialist Party, Bharatiya Kranti Dal, Janata Party, and Lok Dal during different times of his political career.
Member of Parliament (MP)
He became an MP for the first time after winning the 1977 General elections from Samastipur from which he resigned after becoming the Chief Minister of Bihar in 1977. He lost the general elections in 1984 due to the Congress wave after Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
Portfolios & Policies
From 5 March 1967 to 31 January 1968, he served as the Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister of Bihar and introduced several key changes to the Bihar education policy which included removing English as a compulsory subject from the curriculum as he was a supporter of Hindi being the major language, making education free till 8th standard, and making Urdu the second state language of Bihar. He became the Chief Minister of Bihar for the first time on 22 December 1970 and served till 2 June 1971. During his tenure, he prohibited alcohol sales and consumption in Bihar.
On 24 June 1977, he became the Chief Minister of Bihar for the second time and decided to implement the Mungeri Lal Commission report, which recommended the institution of reservations for Backward Castes in government jobs following which infighting began in his party, and he quit on 21 April 1979. His reservation policy later became famous as the Karpoori Formula.
He also gained attention for going to weddings which involved intercaste marriages.
Facing casteist humiliation
Karpoori Thakur once revealed an incident of casteist humiliation to Yashwant Sinha, an Indian administrator and politician, which he faced as a teenager. Thakur said that his father took him to a person of upper caste when he passed the 10th standard with first division. The person put his legs on the table and asked Thakur to massage his legs. Thakur said to Sinha that the notion that education and jobs can eliminate caste system drawbacks is false. When he later implemented reservation in government jobs for backward castes and OBCs after becoming the Chief Minister of Bihar, harsh casteist slurs were against him and his family after which he said that had he been born a Yadav, he would not have to endure such harsh treatment.
Wore a torn coat on a foreign trip
After becoming the first time MLA in 1952, he was chosen as a member of the delegation to visit Yugoslavia. He borrowed a torn coat from his friend as he did not have any coat. Another source claimed that he did not have any coat and wore only his kurta and dhoti. The then-President of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, saw his torn coat and gifted a new coat to him as he was impressed with his honesty. When he came back to Patna, he gifted the new coat to one of his friends.
Job recommendation for brother-in-law
Once his brother-in-law (sister’s husband) approached him for a job recommendation in any state government job when Thakur was serving as the Chief Minister of Bihar; however, Thakur gave him Rs 50 and told him to start their traditional barbershop.
Fast unto death
In 1960, he headed the protest of P & T employees against the Indian government for their rights. In 1970, he started a fast unto death for the rights of workers in the Tata factory in Jamshedpur and fasted for 28 days before Tata management accepted their demands.
Removing bed from CM House
After becoming the Chief Minister (CM) of Bihar for the first time in 1970, Karpoori Thakur started living with his family members in the CM House in Patna. Once, his school teacher visited him at CM House and stayed for the night. Thakur asked one of his relatives to vacate a bed which angered the relative; however, he vacated the bed for the teacher. The next day, Thakur came to know about this after which he ordered the government officials to shift the bed from his house to other government residences. He used to sleep on the floor after this incident. Hindustan
Denying medical help for his son
In 1974, his younger son, Birendra K Thakur, was selected to study in a medical college; however, he fell sick after which he was admitted to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Delhi. It was later revealed that Birendra needed heart surgery to save his life. When Indira Gandhi came to know about it, she got Birendra transferred from Lohia Hospital to AIIMS (All India Institute Of Medical Science), Delhi. Gandhi later requested Karpoori Thakur to allow her to send Birendra to the USA at government expense which he denied. Later, Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) arranged funds and sent Birendra to New Zealand for treatment.
Buying 400 guns for Dalits
After becoming the Chief Minister of Bihar in 1977, Karpoori Thakur decided to enable the Dalits and other backward castes (OBCs) to self-protection, particularly those living in regions that had high caste-related crime records. He believed that such crimes were happening as police were unable to stop crime efficiently. He bought 400 double-barrel (donali) guns and decided to hand them to the Dalit people which he had to reverse as other members of his party threatened him of resigning and taking back their support. Navbharat Times
Karpoori Thakur Kurta Fund
In 1977, a program was organised at the Charkha Samiti Bhavan in Kadamkuan, Patna to celebrate the birthday of Jaiprakash Narayan (also known as JP) where several other popular leaders including Chandra Shekhar, the 8th Prime Minister of India, and Nanaji Deshmukh were also present. One of the people present in the program commented on Karpoori Thakur’s torn clothes and broken slippers that how much salary should be paid to a Chief Minister for decent living after which Chandra Shekhar spread his kurta and started collecting money for clothes of Karpoori Thakur. He later gave money to Thakur and asked him to buy a kurta to which Thakur replied that he would submit the money to the Chief Minister Relief Fund.
Going to the reporter’s hotel for an interview
Nihora Prasad Yadav, a politician associated with JDU, once requested to meet Karpoori Thakur who told him to come in the morning, around 6 am. When Yadav reached Thakur’s residence, Thakur told him to give him a lift to the Presidency Hotel where a few reporters of international newspapers were waiting to conduct his interview. Reportedly, Thakur was wearing a dhoti-kurta and chappal at that time, and when reporters saw him for the first time, they were shocked and said that Thakur was a real leader of poor people and no other leader in the world was like him. Navbharat Times
Renting a rickshaw for sick wife
Once his wife fell sick while living in Patna after which people requested Karpoori Thakur to take her to a doctor in the official car (Ambassador car) of the Bihar Chief Minister which he rejected and rented a rickshaw for her to be taken to a nearby hospital. Deccan Herald
Karpoori Thakur was an anti-dynast politician who never allowed his son to enter politics till the time he was alive. He was once asked by an MLA to allow his son to contest elections to which Thakur replied that either he would contest elections or his son would after which the MLA backed out.
In 1970, he had to go to Ranchi from Patna to meet with a boy for his daughter’s marriage; however, instead of going with any government vehicle, he rented a taxi to go to Ranchi. During his daughter’s marriage, he did not invite any popular leader and even stopped any flight from landing in Darbhanga and Saharsa airports to prevent any politician from participating in his daughter’s marriage.
Denied a jeep by Lalu Prasad Yadav
Popular Indian politician, Lalu Prasad Yadav, who served as Chief Minister of Bihar for several terms, has often called Karpoori Thakur his political and ideological mentor (guru) in his speeches; however, he once denied a ride in his jeep to Thakur when he was the Leader of Opposition in Bihar Legislative Assembly in the 1980s. Reportedly, Thakur was feeling hungry during a session and requested Yadav to give his jeep to him so that he could go out and eat which Yadav denied and said that Thakur should buy a jeep as he has been two time Chief Minister of Bihar. He also gave a name to Thakur which was Kapati Thakur. Hindustan
House visit by Chaudhary Charan Singh
Once his house was visited by the 5th Prime Minister of India, Chaudhary Charan Singh, whose head hit the top of the door frame due to its low height. When Singh asked Thakur to elevate the height of his doors, Thakur replied that there would be no benefit to that until the house of every poor person in Bihar was well-made.
Tears in Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna’s Eyes
After Karpoori Thakur died in 1988, the 8th Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, who also served as the Finance Minister in the Indian government, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, visited Thakur’s ancestral home and started crying upon seeing the bad condition of the house as he was shocked that Thakur did not even build his house despite being the Chief Minister of Bihar twice.
Making a school with donated bricks
Harivansh, who has served as Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, praised Karpoori Thakur’s dedication towards the betterment of society in an interview and said that Thakur was once sent 50 thousand bricks to make his home; however, he did not make his house and made a school instead with those bricks.
Impressing Devi Lal with his simplicity
Once, Devi Lal, popular Haryana leader and 6th Deputy Prime Minister of India, visited Patna where he told one of his friends to give Rs 5-10 thousand to Karpoori Thakur if he ever demanded and told his friend that the money would be loaned to him. Whenever Devi Lal asked his friend if Thakur asked for any money, his friend said that Thakur never demanded any money. Prabhat Khabar
Performing the last rites of a sweeper
When Karpoori Thakur was serving as the Chief Minister of Bihar, a sweeper named Thakaita died of police brutality after which Thakur himself performed the last rites of the sweeper as a son and also took legal action against the police officials. Prabhat Khabar
In January 1978, Karpoori Thakur was contesting the Bihar Legislative Assembly byelection from Phulparas constituency when a 35-year-old teacher from Kathmandu named Premlata Rai alleged that Thakur raped her while living in Nepal during the emergency in 1975. She alleged that she returned drunk from a wedding on the night of 20 July 1975 and slept at the house of Professor S.N. Verma in Kathmandu where Thakur raped her while she was sleeping.
When she woke up and confronted Thakur, he apologised to her and said that he could not control his urges. She also said that she later mortgaged her house for Rs 16,000 and also sold her ornaments to help Thakur. She alleged that when Thakur became the Chief Minister of Bihar, he refused to meet her when she expressed her wish to meet him.
She later came to Patna where she met Thakur on 19 October 1978 after which she returned to Nepal. Later, a case was filed against Thakur which was rejected, and Thakur was absolved of any rape charges. Thakur maintained his innocence during the trials and said that he was being framed by his political rivals who wanted to tarnish his image. India Today India Today
- Karpoori Thakur’s birthplace, Pitaunjhia, was renamed Karpuri Gram after he died in 1988
- The Department of Posts released a commemorative stamp in his memory in 1991 and 2024
- Bharat Ratna by the Government of India in 2024
- Commemorative coin of denomination Rupees 100 launched in 2024
- Several colleges, schools, and stadiums are named after him in Bihar
- Jan Nayak Express Train running between Darbhanga and Amritsar
Karpoori Thakur died on 17 February 1988 in Patna due to a cardiac arrest. There have been controversies surrounding his death as a few people have claimed that some of his close associates were not happy with Thakur due to his preference of a woman leader for party work. Some people have claimed that he was doing yoga under the supervision of a yoga teacher who absconded the night Thakur died, and foam was coming out of Thakur’s mouth when he died.
- Despite being very popular in Bihar, Karpoori Thakur did not want anyone from his family to join politics. His elder son, Ram Nath Thakur, said in an interview that when he passed matriculation (10th) in 1966, Karpoori advised him to study hard, become a government officer, and take care of his mother and grandparents. The Times of India
- He had a public image of being very honest and not being involved in any corruption. When asked by a reporter why he did not earn or save money for himself and his family, he replied that he was not a worldly-wise person.
- He was popularly called Jan Nayak by the public. On the occasion of his 100th birth anniversary, Narendra Modi praised Thakur for being a leader associated with the masses who knew the problems of the public and society.
- Despite being elected an MLA and MP for many terms and serving as Chief Minister of Bihar twice, he never bought a car and never purchased a house for his family.
- He is popularly recognised as the ideological mentor of several Bihar politicians such as Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, and Ram Vilas Paswan.