Today on October 2nd, India was glorified with the birth of two of the most famous Indian leaders, who left an indelible mark on the history of the country – Father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi and late Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.
Much is talked about the leadership persona of Gandhiji, but the resilience and decisive character of Shastriji was no less. Let’s go back in time and remember his exemplary contributions and charismatic personality, that made him class apart from his counterparts.
Born on 2nd October 1904, in Mughalsarai district, Uttar Pradesh, Shastriji belonged to a family of the Kayastha caste. At an early age, to protest against the prevailing caste system in the country, he decided to drop his surname ‘Srivastava’. After the completion of graduation from Kashi Vidyapeeth, Varanasi in 1925, he was adorned with the title of ‘Shastri’, which refers to a scholar or a person proficient in Holy scriptures.
Shastriji was heavily influenced by the philosophies of Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, and Annie Besant. He led many defiant campaigns during the freedom struggle movement and was also jailed on several occasions.
After India’s independence in 1947, Shastriji held many important portfolios in the Government and took some notable decisions. He was the first to set up a committee to tackle corruption, during his tenure as the Home Minister.
As a Minister of Police and Transport Control in Uttarpradesh, he was the first to use jets of water instead of lathi charges, to disperse the large crowds. He appointed women as conductors in Indian railways and also resigned from his position as Railway Minister in 1956 after a major railway accident. He never shied away from taking responsibility for his actions.
A great visionary, he brought various revolutions to India and transformed the lives of its people. He integrated the idea of the White revolution, to increase the production and supply of milk by supporting the Amul milk cooperative of Anand, Gujarat. He is also credited with establishing the National Dairy Development Board in 1965.
He also saved India from the problem of food shortage by initiating the Green Revolution in India. He was the first person to sanction the import of Borlaug’s seeds into the country. This significant move changed the lives of the farming community in India.
He took part in various Indian independence movements and soon after in 1964 served as the 2nd Prime Minister of India. He smoothly led India through the turbulent period of the 1960s, when India was attacked by its neighboring countries.
It was during his tenure, that India won a victory over Pakistan in the 1965 war. In words of National security advisor, JN Dixit, “Shastri unexpectedly authorized the Indian armed forces to expand the scope of the war beyond Jammu and Kashmir across the international border with Pakistan and the army was ready to aim at Lahore and Sialkot. This surprised Pakistan and forced them to withdraw their forces from the Chhamb-Akhnoor sector and rather defend Lahore and Sialkot.”
It was after the war of 1965, when India was under severe drought that Shastriji requested the countrymen to fast for a day and gave the famous slogan of ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’
An epitome of simplicity that he was, irrespective of being an Indian PM and holding important government portfolios, he never encouraged his children to take special privileges and instead use public means to travel to school and also take promotions based on their own capability.
Also much talked about is an incident where during his ministerial tenure, Shastriji had to take a loan of Rs. 5000 from Punjab National Bank for purchasing a car, which was later repaid after his death by his wife Lalita Shastri.
The first posthumous awardee of Bharat Ratna, Lal Bahadur Shastri died in mysterious circumstances on 11th January 1966, during his visit to Tashkent, Uzbekistan.