October 06, 2013



Courtesy: LBSIM

A courageous freedom fighter, a honest statesman and more importantly an upright human being, Lal Bahadur Shastri - our second Prime Minister is one of few great leaders in the post independent period who (sadly) have never got the recognition that they truly deserve. The probable reason may be the fact that he did not have that famous last name in Indian politics which guarantees a shot at the top job while you are alive and immortality in form of hundreds of government schemes named after you, once you leave for your 'heavenly abode'. Nonetheless, a peep into the life of this unsung hero reveals some excellent qualities that he possessed, somethings that is lacking in netas across the political spectrum in modern times. After serving as a minister holding different portfolios throughout the 50s and the early 60s, he was chosen for the top job following the death of his predecessor, due to his distinguished career in public service, a perfect understanding of governance and more importantly, his strong inclination towards Nehruvian socialism. On the eve of Shastri's 110th birth anniversary on October 2nd, here are some of the virtues of this great man which I have admired for long.

Inspirational Leadership: In the first year of his tenure, the country was going through a crisis. Three years ago, in 1962, Communist China betrayed India's trust as the Red Army crossed over the border, capturing large parts of our territories while catching the Nehru regime completely unawares. Two years later, Nehru died, never recovering from the shock of the Sino-Indian war. On the other hand, with agricultural produce in the decline, the nation was reeling under the threat of scarcity of grains. Trying to leverage the situation to their advantage, about 30,000 Pakistanis troops dressed as locals crossed the LoC into Kashmir with the aim of occupying it. As they say, 'Cometh the hour, cometh the man'. It was under Shastri's leadership that Indian troops beat back the intruders and marched all the way up to the gates of Lahore. Though the threat of China opening another front int he East was looming large, India won a spectacular victory over the arch rivals - the highest point of his career. His famous slogan - 'Jai Jawan, Jai Kissan' which hails the two pillars of our society namely the soldier who protects us and the farmer who feeds us, galvanized the entire nation as it came out of the tough situation, stronger than ever before. Even today, it still continues to evoke the same passions as it did way back in 1965.

Uncanny Ability to take tough decisions: Unlike Nehru who took a more cautious approach in dealing with complex situations, Shastri was fast in implementing suggestions given to him by his advisers even if it meant going against the conventional way. While speaking in the Parliament on the eve of the 1965 war, the PM reiterated India's stand to defend her borders and protect our hard won freedom. In his landmark speech he said 'We would prefer to live in poverty for as long as necessary but we shall not allow our freedom to be subverted'. During his tenure the funds allocated to defence was increased significantly. Reacting to Chinese accusation of India strengthening its position along the Line of Actual Control in the middle of hostilities with Pakistan, he refused to bow under pressure from Beijing, a move that won him adulation from all sections. He granted permission to the army to cross into Pakistani territory and by the end of the war, our soldiers had captured areas up to the city of Lahore. Also, the Indian air force was allowed to carry out strikes in eastern Punjab. This major victory helped us salvage the pride that we had lost in the Chinese war and made us a force to reckon with in Asian politics. He signed an accord with his Lankan counterpart regarding the Tamils in the island nation. Also under him, the ties with the Soviet Union were improved, a shift from the Non-Alignment policy of Nehru.

Accountability: In 1952, Shastri who was serving as the Home Minister in Uttar Pradesh was called to join Nehru's cabinet in New Delhi. He was sworn in as the Railway Minister in May 1952. Heading such an important ministry, he put into place several measures to improve the administration. It was in his tenure that several facilities were introduced in the lower compartments. In September 1956, when 112 people lost their lives in a train tragedy in Mahbubnagar, he took moral responsibility and offered his resignation. Nehru who had always appreciated Shastri for his honesty though was quick to reject it. Unfortunately, three months later in December, another rail accident took place in Ariyalur in Tamil Nadu claiming over 140 lives. Though he was no way responsible for the two incidents, Shastri had made up his mind to quit. The PM and several of his colleagues tried to convince him to reconsider his decision. Finally as it became clear that he would not budge, Nehru accepted the resignation, hoping that the move would set an example in 'constitutional propriety'. It is hard to believe that our democracy which is full of corrupt and immoral souls today, did in fact, also produce stalwarts like Lal Bahadur in the past. It would be great if our politicians could take a cue from this exemplary precedent set by our second Prime Minister nearly five decades ago and work for the people whom they represent.

Champion of Freedom: Few of us know that before he entered the political main stream in the post independence period, Shastri was a prominent face in the independence movement. He was deeply impressed by the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1920 as a teenage, he took part in the Non Co-operation movement in the early 1920s. In the following decade, he took part in the Salt Satyagraha and was jailed for over two years. In 1937, he was arrested, yet again for offering individual satyagraha in support of the freedom struggle. In 1942, Gandhi along with the top brass of the Indian National Congress gave a clarion call for the British to leave India. As the top leadership of the Congress was put behind bars, Shastri traveled to Allahabad, coordinating the movement from Nehru's residence of Anand Bhavan. He was arrested a few days later and was jailed for four years. In all, he spent over nine years in jail.

A Man of Character: A true Gandhian, Shastri led a low profile personal life in complete contrast to his predecessor. He dropped off his last name - Srivastava to advocate against the caste system. He was a member of the Servants of the People Society where he worked for the betterment of the lives of the Dalits. He would later become the President of this organization. In one of his speeches as the PM, he stated that the country would hang its shame until even a single Indian was considered as an untouchable. A secular to the core, he took offence to a BBC report which claimed that as a Hindu, it was his duty to fight Pakistan - a state created in the name of Islam. Being a member of the People for India Society, he never accumulated any personal wealth in his life. In fact, he lost his daughter because he could not buy the expensive medicines that the doctors had prescribed. According to Kuldeep Nayar, after being dropped from the cabinet in 1963, he used to sit in his room without lights so that he could save money in times of need. In spite of being one of the most well known Congressmen in two decades post 1947, he died poor. At the time of his tragic death at Tashkent in 1966, just two years into his tenure as the PM, he owned a car which had been brought from the government in installments. A moderate and soft spoken leader, he continues to be the ultimate personification of honesty.


(1) Wikipedia: Lal Bahadur Shastri (Link)


(1) Courtesy: LBSIM
Original: Lal Bahadur Shastri (Link)