“The preservation of freedom is not the task of soldiers alone. The whole nation has to be strong. We all have to work in our respective spheres with the same dedication, the same zeal, and the same determination which inspired and motivated the warrior on the battlefront. And this has to be shown not by mere words, but by actual deeds.”
A person who believed in not only just keeping high ideals but also giving due importance in implementing them in his actions, Lal Bahadur Shastri is truly the epitome of honesty and reputability. Known as “Quintessential Gandhi” and “Man of peace”, he always did justice to these names he earned during his lifetime through the optimistic approach he had towards life.
On his 56th death anniversary, I pay homage to this eminent ex-prime minister of our country by sharing a glimpse of his remarkable works and highlighting some of the values he taught on how to overcome barriers in life and rise victoriously.
Lal Bahadur Shastri’s ministerial colleague, T T Krishnamachari, remarked that Shastri could be a “parenthesis in history” as compared to other leaders like Nehru or Indira Gandhi as he hasn’t received the limelight he truly deserved.
Shastri, a non-controversial leader who hailed from Uttar Pradesh, served as minister in Nehru’s cabinet for many years. He was so simple and committed to his principles that he resigned from the position of Railway Minister accepting the responsibility for an unexpected railway accident that happened during his ministership.
After the unprecedented loss of Nehru in 1964, serious questions were raised, “After Nehru who?” and “After Nehru what?”. In no time, the Congress unanimously chose Shastri to be Nehru’s successor against Morarji Desai and Indira Gandhi.
In history, people often don’t remember the time period of service of a leader, rather the amount of work done and the impact the leader created during their tenure. Shastri served as India’s PM for just 19 months, but the challenges he had to deal with were enormous.
India was recovering from the repercussions of the 1962 Indo-China war, especially on the economic side. The military loss that India incurred took time to recuperate from.
Along with this, the first-order problem India suffered was acute food scarcity, the reduction in the production of wheat and rice, and the unattended inflation that created an “economic crisis” leading to an increase in the import of wheat and rice from countries such as the U.S., Cambodia, Thailand, etc.
In order to meet the increasing foreign exchange and food grains demand, Shastri came up with fruitful initiatives. He laid down the foundation of the “Green Revolution“, a Food Corporation bill that was legislated to provide incentives to farmers to produce more. On the moral side, Shastri not only requested people to fast at least once a week but himself skipped meals during the day to support the cause.
Known as the “Architect of India’s real surgical strike”, Shastri’s contribution to the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965 was sensational. He declared, “Since peace is violated by neighbouring countries on one or other pretext, we would shed our blood to maintain the integrity and sovereignty of a territory.”
He directed the Indian army, which Pakistan thought was disheartened after the Indo-China war. The victory came over with the withdrawal of Pakistani forces and the suggestion of a ceasefire by the UN. Shastri coalesced the enthusiasm for both the soldiers and the farmers alike with his slogan “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan”.
Shastri, at a very young age of 16, joined the Indian national movement and was a strong opponent of the caste system. During his political career, many pioneering initiatives were undertaken by him.
To mention a few include replacing lathi-charge with water jets to disperse crowds, the appointment of women as conductors in public transport facilities, the White Revolution, and the creation of the National Dairy Development Board, etc.
His greatest skill was conciliating divergent views and solutions to unite rather than divide people. Trust and transparency were the key highlights of his personality. He maintained unity and played the role of negotiator in every problem that arose within his tenure as PM, whether it was the language crisis in Assam or the anti-Hindi agitations or restoring harmony in India-Nepal relations.
In the book Lal Bahadur Shastri: Politics And Beyond, author Sandeep Shastri talks about how Shastri resisted corruption in all ways. He has contributed to the appointment of the Santhanam Committee to suggest ways of dealing with corruption. During Shastri’s prime ministership, he implemented the recommendations made by the Committee.
One of the most important qualities of a leader includes maintaining coordination, solidarity and deliberation. Even though there were factions in the Congress party, Shastri, during his prime ministership, made sure to hear all viewpoints and finally arrived at a sustainable solution.
This was also evident in how he dealt with the Indo-Pakistan war and the Sirima-Shastri Pact, the bilateral agreement signed between India and Sri Lanka on Indian workers’ citizenship.
PM Shastri and then President of Pakistan Ayub Khan entered an agreement in Tashkent to reinstate the conquered regions and return to the 1949 ceasefire line in Kashmir. The Tashkent Agreement not only brought peace and stability but ended with a tragedy. The unforeseen death of Shastri not only ended the short tenure of his prime ministership, rather the country lost a zealous leader.
The demise of Shastri led to many controversial stories. Reports and press confirmed it as cardiac arrest, while many still think it’s a suspicious mystery.
Today, Indians remember Shastri not only as a short-tenure PM of India but also as a short stature man with high ideals. The Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy Of Administration, the training institution, is named after him. Every future civil servant can look up to him as an example of how to serve the country in every possible way.
In this current scenario of a global health crisis, widening economic budget gap and rising inequalities, it is imperative to reflect upon the rich legacy left behind by a leader like Shastri and keep up with the ideals he taught us through his life.