Born in Haryana. Received his education at Agra, Allahabad and Cambridge Universities, Lincoln's Inn and Harvard Law School. Excelled in athletics, rowing and swimming.
Taught Law at Lucknow and at Cambridge Universitities. Started his legal practice in 1940 in Lucknow.
Participated in the Quit India Movement and underwent imprisonments.
Became Chief Minister of the erstwhile Bhopal State (1952-1956), Cabinet Minister, Government of Madhya Pradesh, holding the portfolios of Education, Law, Public Works, Industry and Commerce, National Resources and Separate Revenue (1956-1967) and was thereafter Union Minister for Communications (1974-1977).
Was President of the Bhopal Congress Committee (1950-52) , Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee (1967-68), General Secretary, Indian National Congress (1968-72) and Congress President (1972-1974).
Was elected Vice-President of India in 1987 and President of India in 1982. Earlier, had been the Governor of Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra.