Today is the birthday of the man who changed the face of India socially, i.e. Lawmaker and social reformer Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, but the clout surrounding him makes us forget the legacy that Lal Bahadur Shastri has left behind.
He may have been small in height, but his decisions made him a giant in the political spectrum of India. It is to this man we owe the inception of taking hard hitting decisions, made in the subsequent decades to come by the future leaders of India.
For beginners, Lal Bahadur Shastri was not the silver spooned, stinking rich politician we associate today’s political spectrum with.
Born on Sunday, 2nd October 1904, in Mughalsarai, to lower middle class parents Shri Sharda Prasad Srivastava and Ramdulari Devi. He didn’t have a bright start either. Barely one and a half year old, Lal Bahadur faced the loss of his father.
His mother had no actual source of income at that time, and she went back to her father, Munshi Hazari Lal, who was a headmaster of the railway school in Mughalsarai, for good. That was where Lal Bahadur, or ‘Nanhe’ as he was affectionately called, grew up, both in age and in personality.
Although his family had no previous links with the Indian Independence movement, the ideology that Lal Bahadur sported was inherited from his days as a student at the Harish Chandra High School. Teachers like Nishkameshwar Mishra imbibed in him the cultural values of respect for the elders, innate patriotism and above all the ideal of ‘Simple Living, High Thinking.’
Lal Bahadur, despite his poor background, was a meritorious student, and completed his education with top honors in almost every subject. He had imbibed this quote by Guru Nanak deep into his heart, making him the Prime Minister we all revere today –
‘नानक नन्हें ह्वै रहो, जैसे नन्ही दूब,
और रुख जल जाएगी, दूब खूब की खूब’
(Nanak says, Live like the short ‘Doob’ Grass, because when the heat of the summer dries up huge trees, it is doob that stays lush and green)
During the Non Cooperation Movement, Lal Bahadur displayed signs of bravery, actively participating in the Non Cooperation Movement while giving up on his studies.
During this time, he met an influential political figure, Acharya Jivatram Bhagwan Das Kripalani, who inspired him to continue his studies even after the Movement was unceremoniously suspended, along with litterateur and independence activist Dr. Bhagwan Das. Subsequently, Lal Bahadur joined Kashi Vidyapeeth, where he graduated in 1925 with first class honors in Sanskrit.
It was from here, that the title of ‘Shastri’ (an equivalent of Bachelor’s Title in education) that stuck to his name. Just like his life, his marriage in 1928 to Lalita Devi was simple and revolutionary; Lal Bahadur only asked for a ‘charkha’ and some yarn in the dowry.
Lal Bahadur was inspired by many a personalities, including Swami Vivekananda, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Annie Besant, Mohandas Gandhi among others. He also respected, if not openly supported, leaders like Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose to name a few.
By the time INDIA received her independence, Lal Bahadur, who was now slowly, but steadily rising to the echelons of the Indian politics.
By 1950s, Lal Bahadur Shastri was the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh, and it was Shastri ji who introduced the concept of water jets to disperse the protesters.
Subsequently, in 1952, owing to his relentless service, he was rewarded with the post of Minister of Railways. In 1956, when successive rail mishaps occurred in Mahbubnagar and Ariyalur, which resulted in a total of more than 256 deaths, Shastri ji, holding himself responsible for the same, resigned from the post. Later on, he assumed the post
However, the Lal Bahadur Shastri as we know today, was formed in 1964, once the first Prime Minister of INDIA, Jawahar Lal Nehru died, leaving the Indian political spectrum in a haze.
As eminent journalist Kuldip Nayar later revealed, there was a silent but deep tussle for the post of the Prime Minister. While many Congress leaders vouched for Morarji Desai, who was then a bumbling conservative, not very reliable and impatient figure, others, including the majority, rooted for Lal Bahadur.
However, not many were in support of the same, including the Nehru Gandhi scion, primarily Jawaharlal’s sister, and eminent dignitary, Vijayalakshmi Pandit in particular, who if not openly, then secretly doubted if Shastri ji would be able to administer the 50 crore INDIANS by himself.
However, if someone was possible for being the reason behind Lal Bahadur Shastri’s ascent to the post of the Prime Minister, it was revolutionary politician and influential Tamil leader, also the Chairman of the then Congress Working Committee, Kumaraswami Kamaraj, who preferred the stable and reliable Lal Bahadur Shastri over a not so great then and unpredictable Morarji Desai.
Indira Gandhi then was not even in the picture. Many say that Kamaraj elected Shastri because he was a Nehruvian socialist, which is absolutely wrong and a baseless assumption to begin with.
What Lal Bahadur Shastri did as the Prime Minister proved his mettle to that of a true center right political figure, who addressed the problems first rather than cribbing on them.
The moment Lal Bahadur Shastri stepped up as PM on 25th June 1964, he came to know that being a PM of India is not the easiest job. Barely three months into his ascent, a no confidence motion was passed against him, owing to the crippling situation of the Indian economy, including the foodgrain crisis.
Even though he survived the move, Lal Bahadur made sure that the problems were addressed to. He appealed to the population to give up the evening meals for a day in a week, so that the saved food could be distributed to the needy, until the crisis is solved.
It was he, who paved the road for the ‘Green Revolution’ and the ‘White Revolution’ in India, even though Indira Gandhi is unjustly credited for it.
However, the real test that made Lal Bahadur Shastri the ultimate winner came in the form of the 1965 Indo Pak War.
This was the event which turned from Lal Bahadur Shastri, the taciturn and apparently indecisive PM, to Lal Bahadur Shastri, the game changer of Indian politics.
Incensed by the provocations of military chief Yahya Khan and External Affairs Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s president (ex. Field Marshal) Ayub Khan gave a go ahead for the offensive plan to invade India and capture Kashmir
Given that India was nursing her wounds from the 1962 Indo China War, and was under an apparently indecisive leadership, Pakistan thought this is nothing less than a golden opportunity to become the bigger player in South Asian politics. Well, time would tell what their GREAT INDIAN PLAN actually turned to.
The moment Pakistan invaded India through Rann of Kutch and Chammb area in Jammu and Kashmir, Lal Bahadur Shastri knew that the war was on. Everyone expected him to talk on the same lines like Nehru did.
In fact, Ayub Khan was so confident of Pakistan’s win, that he mocked Shastri ji’s warning, saying ‘Ye chhota sa aadmi hamara kya nuksaan karega?’ (What will this small man can possibly do to us?)Probably, even Ayub didn’t realize that he was messing with the wrong person.
The armed forces faced almost the same dilemma, as today, on the issue of employing a counter offensive strategy.
At this juncture, it was Lal Bahadur Shastri who gave the green signal for crossing the borders to meet the Pakistani attack to the then army chief, General Joyanto Nath Chaudhuri, and the then air force chief, Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh to attack the Pakistani forces in the Punjab sector, with a focus to win the cities of Lahore and Sialkot.
Although shocked by his move, the armed forces knew what Shastri ji’s intent actually was, and went ahead with the plan. Had it not been for Shastri ji, INDIA would have to face severe losses in the war of 1965. His one stroke made him the darling of the masses and a hero for the defence sector. There is an anecdote that only proves his greatness on this matter:-
“Once, PM Shastri attended the camp where Indian army stationed. He was meeting the injured soldiers, when he saw a critically injured soldier with tears in his eyes.
He asked with a smile, ‘How do I see tears in a lion’s eyes?’, to which the soldier replied. ‘I’m sad not because of my wounds, because I’m unable to salute the commander of our forces, that is, YOU!’
That, in a few words, speaks the confidence that Lal Bahadur Shastri instilled in the soldiers of the country. This was a first in 1965 for INDIA.
It was this very confidence that propelled soldiers like Company Quartermaster Havildar Abdul Hamid and Lt. Col. Ardeshir Burzorji Tarapore to rise above their statures and turn the tide in the favor of India.
Had it not been for the ceasefire, we had defeated Pakistan hands down, and were just a step from once again making the cities of LAHORE and SIALKOT as ours, and some doubted whether the hero behind this would ever lead the Indian peninsula!
Today, as we bow in reverence to the trendsetter PM in terms of offensive strategy, we are pained to see some pseudo liberals and intellectual terrorists vouching for personalities from the same Pakistan, who has never respected our ideas of friendly relations and smooth diplomacy. By mouthing ‘Keep art separate from politics’, we are just insulting the legacy of the Prime Minister, who made sure that the interfering neighbors are taught a good lesson, because nothing can be above the interest of the people of the nation, EVER!
Let’s not tarnish the legacy that Lal Bahadur Shastri left behind, 50 years after his untimely death by vouching for those, who indirectly contribute to funding the same menace that is trying to destroy the whole world, including INDIA. Lal Bahadur Shastri, we truly miss you!
ABP News’ series, ‘Pradhanmantri’, Episode 7 on Lal Bahadur Shastri