On October 2rd, we get celebrate the birth of our “national father“, forgetting the birth of the man who is to be truly appreciated. Unlike the one who was busy trying to get their picture on the Indian Currency, Lal Bahadur Shastri worked hard, despite criticism from the unrequired.
Lal Bahadur Shastri is the name of that little man who, while suffering the rigors of poverty rose to political eminence on the foundation of moral principles. When I think about ‘truth and honesty” (Yes, the two sound like handing Kim Jong a nuclear weapon) in politics, his name is the first that pops up in my mind.
In 1964 Shastri was unanimously chosen as the successor of Jawahar Lal Nehru despite Morarji Desai being in contention as well. (The decision over the next heir was a long process. K Kamraj, the president of the Party and a popular figure had to do a lot to prevent any split within the party or a voice to have a consensus to select between Lal Bahadur Shastri and Morarji Desai. Any such voting would have maligned the party’s name.)
Shastriji was a poor man from Uttar Pradesh (with a clear headed touch with reality) who was known for his commitment to principles and he went on to prove that later.
During his days in the office, Teen Murti Bhawan was the residence of our first PM, Jawahar Lal Nehru and was in every way suitable as an ear-marked residence of a Prime Minister.
Rudely worded letters from Indira Gandhi and Krishna Huthee Singh (Sister of Nehru) asking to make it a memorial instead because he (Shastri) didn’t require such a large house unlike Nehru who had many visiting and was a much more popular figure than him, shattered him and he gave up on it. He is criticised, till date for having given up on Teen Murti Bhawan but I see it as a decision of a strong man with principles.
When Shashtri was considering names for his cabinet, he was eager to bring Morarji Desai in the cabinet so that, there would be no hard feelings after latter had lost out in the ‘Consensus’ for PM’s chair. He was a nice person.
During the 1965 India-Pakistan War, his greatest moment came when he led India in the Indo-Pak war. Major incursions of Pakistani began in the Jammu region. The war came at a time when the economic conditions in the country had worsened, and prices kept soaring.
Shastri was being criticised for not having Nehru’s outlook in a lot of matters. Ran of Kutch agreement ( but if only they knew the iron beneath the velvet!
Shastri ordered the Army to press from the Gujarat-Rajasthan area and head toward Lahore. Pakistan was taken aback at this bold move from a person they considered weak. Although Pakistani gained in the northern regions, Indian Army brought Lahore under the artillery and mortar fire. Indian force were to take Lahore, it being just 12 miles away at one point of time. Till date, Pakistan is thankful to the United-Nations mandated ceasefire.
He gave the famous ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’(Hail the Soldier, Hail the Farmer) slogan. He considered food self-sufficiency as important as a strong defence system. According to him, the Kisan (Farmer) was as much a soldier as the Jawan(Soldier). He promoted the white revolution (and also, the green revolution) that revolutionized the dairy industry. While speaking on the acute food shortages across the country, Shastri urged people to voluntarily give up one meal so that the food saved could be distributed to the affected. He first implemented the system in his own family before appealing to the country (as revealed by his son, Anil Shastri in an interview). Talk about morals!
He was known for his honesty and humility. He was the first person to be posthumously awarded the highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna for his contribution. Unfortunately, the little man couldn’t even have a post-mortem after he was suspected of being poisoned following his signature on the Tashkent Agreement () in Uzbekistan (then, a part of Soviet Union).
His death is still a mystery and sadly, he has long been forgotten. There is so much to learn from his life. For us, For our politicians. I wish India had politicians like the ‘Iron beneath the velvet’ whom Pakistan misunderstood in 1965.