Lal Bahadur Shastri

The Shastri in the name of India’s second Prime Minister is not his surname. It is a scholastic title he earned from Kashi Vidyapeeth during his graduate studies. He never used his real surname (Srivastava) because he was completely against the caste system, a major principle of the Gandhian movement.

Shastriji was an idealist. In a way it is not surprising, for he grew up in idealistic times. He had giants of spirit to inspire and influence him. The whole country was melting in a purifying cauldron in which all baser impulses were destroyed to leave just the pure gold of virtue desperately needed to rebuild a nation. Shastriji was a pure soul who was transparent and guileless. He stands apart from his contemporaries because the brilliant sheen of his integrity was never dulled by the rigors of even the highest public office.

Shastriji was a common man. He was very unpretentious and down-to-earth.  He was diminutive, soft-spoken and mild-mannered. What made him spectacular was his impeccable integrity.

When Shastriji was in jail during the independence struggle, he protested when his wife smuggled two mangoes to him in the Faizabad prison. He was angry because it was illegal for prisoners to have anything other than jail food.

In 1963, on the day when he was dropped from the cabinet, he was sitting in his home in the dark, without a light. When asked why, he said that since he was no longer a minister he would have to manage his expenses on his salary as a MP which was barely enough. As a minister he hadn’t earned enough to save for a rainy day.

After he became the Prime Minister, his son once took his official car for a joy ride. Shastriji made sure that he paid for the distance the car was run that day.

My father tells me of the time when he and Shastriji’s son were in Bhopal bidding for a supply order of the state electricity board. My father was sure Shastriji’s son would be given the order- and said so to Shastriji’s son. To my father’s surprise, Shastriji’s son shook his head and said that he was at par with all other bidders. His father Shastriji would never allow any favor to his son. Shastriji was the Prime Minister of India at that time!

In September 1956, he was serving as the Railway Minister. He offered his resignation after a railway accident at Mahbubnagar that led to 112 deaths. However, Nehru did not accept his resignation. Three months later, he resigned accepting moral and constitutional responsibility for a railway accident at Ariyalur in Tamil Nadu that resulted in 144 deaths. While speaking in Parliament on the incident, Nehru stated that he was accepting the resignation because it would set an example in constitutional propriety and not because Shastriji was in any way responsible for the accident.

After Nehru’s death in ‘64, Shastriji  became the second Prime Minister of India on 9th June 1964.

Shastriji’s premiership began at a time when India was not self- sufficient in food- grain production. In the midst of chronic food shortages, the country was compelled to go to war with Pakistan. This is when he coined the iconic battle cry- Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan reminding a struggling nation about its priorities.

For the outstanding slogan given by him during Indo-Pak war of 1965 Ministry of Information and Broadcasting commemorated Shastriji after forty-seven years of his death on his 48th martyr’s day by saying:

Former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was one of those great Indians who has left an indelible impression on our collective life. Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri’s contribution to our public life were unique in that they were made in the closest proximity to the life of the common man in India. Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri was looked upon by Indians as one of their own, one who shared their ideals, hopes and aspirations. His achievements were looked upon not as the isolated achievements of an individual but of our society collectively. Under his leadership India faced and repulsed the Pakistani invasion of 1965. It is not only a matter of pride for the Indian Army but also for every citizen of the country. Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri’s slogan Jai Jawan Jai Kisan reverberates even today through the length and breadth of the country. Underlying this is the inner-most sentiments ‘Jai Hindustan’. The war of 1965 was fought and won for our self-respect and our national prestige. For using our Defence Forces with such admirable skill, the nation remains beholden to Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri. He will be remembered for all times to come for his large-heartedness and public service.

Shastriji was quick and decisive in his actions. A man of staunch principles and a vision that was never clouded by an undue concern for personal popularity, he did not hesitate when tough decisions needed to be taken. With the true courage of a moral man, he neither falter nor backed down once a decision was taken. In this, he had nothing in common with Nehru whose dithering during the ‘62 war with China is well-known.

At the end of the conflict with Pakistan, Shastriji flamboyantly posed for a photograph on top of a captured Patton tank. The hard-working, conscientious, humble man did have a steak of passionate defiance!

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.

~Marcus Aurelius

Shastriji‘s died in January 1966 at Tashkent, Russia. His sudden death from cardiac arrest, when he had no history of any heart trouble before, immediately after signing the Tashkent Pact with Pakistan, is mysterious in the extreme. His wife, who accompanied him, was emphatic in her belief that he had been poisoned.

Although Shastriji had been a cabinet minister for many years in the 1950s, he was poor when he died. All he owned at the end was an old car, which he had bought in installments from the government and for which he still owed money. The Servants of India society asked all its members to shun accumulation of private property and remain in public life as servants of people. As a member, and later as President of this society, he faithfully lived the principles which he wore on his sleeve.

There are many who say that had he lived longer, India would have been different. Today, 2nd October, is his birthday- as it is of Mahatma Gandhi. There are enough people to remember Gandhiji; very few remember Shastriji. I remember him from the stories my mother told me of him. Her respect was not easily earned.

He will always be a hero in my eyes.

Picture Credit: Google Images
Picture Credit: Google Images

31 thoughts on “Lal Bahadur Shastri”

  1. If we end up making one person like him the leader of this nation for the next 10 years without political hurdles, we can survive the next 1000 with the corrupt ones.

    1. In ten years we will have weeded out all the seeds of corruption. Hopefully, we’ll never have to deal with any ‘corrupt ones’ after that.

  2. i couldnt have found this much short and crisp article on his life..
    one doesnt become “LAL BAHADUR SHASTRI” like that..

    he had worked hard for everything ..
    he crossed a river to go to school..
    article gave me goosebumps..

    happy birthday shastriji you are immensely missed..
    while whole nation fled towards raj ghat..i would love to go to vijay ghat and lay flowers there..:’)

    1. I have no grouse with Gandhiji. He had his points. BUT.

      As you said, Vijay Ghat for me instead of Raj ghat. How beautifully you’ve put it… without using unpleasant words. 😀

      Welcome to my space. 😀

  3. Clearly a moral and upright man whose need India feels today more than ever. Such a pity that such people are hardly seen in today’s society let alone in politics!
    Thanks for sharing such interesting tidbits about a man who is sadly slowly fading from our not so glorious modern history.

    1. As long as he doesn’t fade from our memory Rickie… a man of his stature can never fade. As for history, it is always a pack of the most convenient lies for whoever holds sway at that point in time. I care two hoots about history. I have my own version of history… for myself and for people like me.

    1. Diwakar: We do have many like him. But they are beaten into silence… or their voices drowned by the baying of asses.

  4. Ah! Dagny! Thanks for reminding. It is difficult to consider that the same soil that produced a paragon of public probity like Lal Bahadur Shastri also gives birth the the current crop of politicos.

    1. The thing is not surprising at all when one looks at the events… and the time lag. We had to come to this. Evil has to play itself out before there can be room again for sanity.

  5. As Suresh says, thanks for reminding. I was particularly peeved by the absence of tributes and pics in the newspapers. If only they can think beyond one family…..

    1. I was very peeved too. So I decided to put my peeve to work. 😀 Just because one section makes a lot of noise, I am not going to sit silent and let them have the field on a platter. I’ll make my own noise… and surely some will join me. As you did. 😀

  6. Why did people like Amitabh and Shastriji not use their real surname? I could have flaunted my maiden surname a bit more. That was said in jest. I agree that one of the ways of doing away with caste system is reshuffling surnames. I think I understood a bit about him when I read “India After Gandhi.” It is sad that those who do their job quietly with less flamboyance often get overshadowed by other larger than life personalities. Thanks for sharing about him, Dagny!

    1. People like Shastriji get overshadowed because people like us dont make a noise like the other side makes in promoting their people. Our fault too, isn’t it? 😀

  7. Out of all the three best prime Ministers we had till date, he ranks first: other being Atal Jee and Mrs Gandhi. But this man had balls of steel and he was the one who walked on path of truth, not to mention he has to deal with all the mess Nehru created. Nehru’s follower were still not letting him rule properly(yes, nepotism and favouritism is as old as the congress itself). And he was a healthy man who died with cardiac arrest, please!!! Give me a break, how foolish does Government think people are?
    Anyway, Salute to one of the true sons of the Land.

    1. Its such a quaint- and often used- term ‘true son of the land’. I dont know why it has affected me very differently today. It just sank in and connected a whole plethora of dots within me.

      Weird! Did you do it on purpose?

  8. We need more people of the likes of Shastri-ji to make the world a better place. Thanks for the history and I am proud to be Indian while reading the story of one of India’s PM. Let’s say no corruption, caste and be humble. There can’t be greater joy in life than be a common man:)

    1. Yet not many of us ever aspire to be a humble, common man. I am yet to hear a youngster declare that he/ she wants to be a humble common citizen of his/ her country. Unglamorous? 😀

  9. That’s an excellent tribute! Thanks for writing this, Dagny. I remember as a child I used to feel so inspired reading about the simplicity and idealism of this great son of Mother India. I like the personal story you share here about your father’s meeting with Shastriji’s son. Makes the deeper point of your write-up much more strongly.

    1. Thank you Beloo. I remember my parents were very shocked when they heard that Shastriji was no more. Like many others, they too were convinced that there was foul play involved. Their rage about this never subsided. They truly admired Shastriji. My post is as much as tribute to my parent’s values as it is to the greatness of this gentle, humble man. Thank you for your visit. Your words make me feel very happy. 🙂

  10. Thanks for the lovely essay. It gave me a lot of information that I didn’t know before!
    The episode between your father and Shastriji’s son, especially, was so revealing of the man’s character.

    1. You know, I kept thinking that I had read something similar as the episode between your father and the PM’s son before. Like a sense of deja vu. And then I realized I had read it before, here, in this post a year ago! 😛

  11. It seems I am visiting an old post of yours. But the words caught my attention. Such a marvelous human who teaches us about the value of life even today. A man born before his time. Thanks Dagny for reminding me of this great soul 🙂

    1. This is indeed an old post Rubina. Just thought I’ll share it again today. Happy you came to read- and be refreshed. 🙂

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