(On former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death anniversary, we are reposting this article from The Quint’s, originally published on 11 January 2018.)
He was a short in height but had a towering personality. A man who continues to inspire the nation, half a century after his death. We are talking about none other than Lal Bahadur Shastri.
At a time when politicians travel in luxury cars, Lal Bahadur Shastri had to take bank loan to buy a car. If you want to understand him or gauge his role in India’s politics, you will have start from the year 1964.
In 1964 when Nehru passed away, the difficult question was this – who should be India’s next Prime Minister?
People felt that the Congress party would probably split trying to answer the big question if Congress president K Kamaraj didn’t intervene. The two deserving candidates were Morarji Desai and Lal Bahadur Shastri. Where Morarji was more experienced and less favoured due to his obstinacy, Lal Bahadur Shastri was honest and the more loved among the two. Kamaraj, along with other top leaders of the Congress, negotiated the matter and even convinced Morarji to accept. On 9 June 1964, Lal Bahadur Shastri was declared the second Prime Minister of India.
Big Challenges Before Shastri
Drought and Food Scarcity:
Shastri faced some of the greatest challenges as soon as he became the Prime Minister. One of these was food scarcity. When several states was grappling with drought, Shastri undertook steps that perhaps only he could have done. In an interview, his son Anil Shastri says:
Shastri ji one day asked my mother not to provide us any food, because he wanted to see if his children could stay hungry or not. I was merely 14-15 years old then, and had two younger brothers too. That day all three of us stayed hungry. When he was convinced that one can stay hungry for a day. He urged the countrymen to fast for one day every week.
The country took his suggestion seriously. He also wanted people to grow crops and vegetables on unused lands. Consequently, he could be seen ploughing the Pradhan Mantri Awas lawn.
Indo-Pakistan War of 1965:
Soon after Sino-Indian war in 1962, another war awaited Shastri’s strong leadership. Pakistan repeatedly opened fronts in the Rann of Kutch and Kashmir. At this time of political upheaval, Shastri took a decision that made history. He asked General AK Choudhary to open the Punjab front. This decision changed the game altogether and India was on the verge of annexing Lahore. At this point, Shastri’s famous slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ became the voice of the nation.
Shastri is known for his simplicity. Even after becoming Prime Minister, he didn’t have the money to buy a car for himself. He took a loan to buy a car. The country remembers this able leader on his 52nd death Anniversary.
(This article was originally published on Quint Hindi. Translated by Hera Khan.)