Lal Bahadur Shastri: India’s second Prime Minister after Jawaharlal Nehru, assumed office in the aftermath of Nehru’s passing. Despite his relatively brief tenure, Shastri demonstrated exceptional leadership, particularly during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965. His iconic slogan, ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’ (Hail the Soldier, Hail the Farmer), emphasized the pivotal roles of self-sufficiency and self-reliance in the nation’s development. Shastri’s unassuming stature and soft-spoken demeanor belied his unwavering determination, exemplifying the adage “dynamite comes in small packages.” He prioritized leaving a lasting legacy through tangible actions rather than relying on grandiloquent speeches filled with empty promises. Lal Bahadur Shastri’s tenure as Prime Minister epitomized resilience, determination, and an unwavering dedication to India’s progress and well-being.
Former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri
Lal Bahadur Shastri, India’s second Prime Minister, was a symbol of simplicity and integrity. Born in 1904, he emerged from humble beginnings to become a prominent leader in the Indian freedom movement. Shastri’s tenure as Prime Minister from 1964 to 1966 was marked by his promotion of the Green Revolution in agriculture and his famous slogan “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan,” emphasizing the importance of both soldiers and farmers.
His sudden demise in Tashkent in 1966, shortly after signing the Tashkent Agreement to end the Indo-Pakistani war, remains shrouded in mystery. Nevertheless, his legacy as a leader dedicated to the welfare of the nation and his contributions to India’s growth continues to inspire generations.
Biography of Lal Bahadur Shastri
Lal Bahadur Shastri, born on October 2, 1904, in Mughalsarai, India, was a stalwart of Indian politics and a champion of simplicity and integrity. Emerging from humble beginnings, Shastri’s journey in the political arena was marked by his unwavering commitment to the nation. He actively participated in the Indian independence movement, drawing inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of non-violence and civil disobedience.
His tenure as India’s Prime Minister from 1964 to 1966 was characterized by notable accomplishments, including his promotion of the Green Revolution to enhance agricultural productivity. Shastri’s famous slogan “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” emphasized the significance of both the armed forces and the farming community in the nation’s growth.
Tragically, his life was cut short when he passed away under mysterious circumstances in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on January 11, 1966, shortly after signing the Tashkent Agreement to end the Indo-Pakistani war. Despite his untimely demise, Lal Bahadur Shastri’s legacy endures as a symbol of selfless service and dedication to India’s welfare, continuing to inspire generations.
Early life and Education
- Lal Bahadur Shastri was born on October 2, 1904, in Mughalsarai, Uttar Pradesh.
- He shared his birthday with Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation.
- He dropped his surname to oppose the caste system prevalent at the time.
- The title “Shastri” was bestowed upon him after completing his graduation at Kashi Vidyapeeth in Varanasi in 1925.
- His father passed away when he was only two years old, and he was raised by his mother and maternal grandfather.
- Lal Bahadur Shastri imbibed virtues such as boldness, love of adventure, patience, self-control, courtesy, and selflessness during his childhood.
- He pursued his education in Varanasi under the care of his maternal uncle.
- In 1928, Lal Bahadur Shastri married Lalita Devi, the youngest daughter of Ganesh Prasad.
- He opposed the dowry system and accepted only five yards of khadi cloth as dowry, following his father-in-law’s insistence.
- Lal Bahadur Shastri and Lalita Devi had six children.
Lal Bahadur Shastri’s Independence Activism
- Lal Bahadur Shastri’s interest in the freedom movement sparked after being inspired by his teacher, Nishkameshwar Prasad Mishra, at Harish Chandra High School.
- He extensively studied the history of the freedom movement and the works of notable figures like Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, and Annie Besant.
- In January 1921, while in the tenth grade, Shastri attended a public meeting in Banaras organized by Gandhi and Madan Mohan Malaviya. He withdrew from school the next day, responding to Gandhi’s call for students to join the non-cooperation movement.
- Shastri joined the local branch of the Congress Party as a volunteer and actively participated in picketing and anti-government demonstrations.
- He was arrested but later released due to being a minor. J.B. Kripalani, a prominent figure in the independence movement and a close follower of Gandhi, became Shastri’s supervisor.
- In February 1921, Kripalani and V.N. Sharma established the Kashi Vidyapith, an informal school aimed at providing nationalist education to young activists. Gandhi inaugurated the Vidyapith.
- Shastri was one of the first students to graduate from the Vidyapith, earning a first-class degree in philosophy and ethics in 1925. He received the title “Shastri” (Scholar) and it became part of his identity.
- Shastri joined Lala Lajpat Rai’s Servants of the People Society (Lok Sevak Mandal) and worked for the betterment of the Harijans (untouchables) in Muzaffarpur under Gandhi’s leadership. He eventually became the President of the Society.
- In 1928, at Gandhi’s request, Shastri became an active and mature member of the Indian National Congress. He spent two and a half years in jail and later served as the Organizing Secretary of the U.P. Parliamentary Board in 1937.
- Shastri was imprisoned for a year in 1940 for supporting individual Satyagraha as part of the independence movement.
- After being released from prison in 1942, Shastri attended Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India address in Bombay’s Gowalia Tank and then traveled to Allahabad.
- He was elected to the United Provinces legislature in 1937 and 1946, showcasing his growing political influence.
Political Career of Lal Bahadur Shastri’s
- After India’s independence, Lal Bahadur Shastri became the Parliamentary Secretary in Uttar Pradesh.
- He was appointed as the Minister of Police and Transport in Uttar Pradesh under Chief Minister Govind Ballabh Pant on 15 August 1947.
- Shastri introduced female conductors in public transport as the transport minister.
- During his tenure as the police minister, he implemented the use of water jets instead of lathis (batons) to disperse unruly crowds and played a crucial role in quelling communal riots and managing mass migration and refugee resettlement in 1947.
- In 1951, Shastri was appointed as the General Secretary of the All-India Congress Committee, where he was responsible for candidate selection, advertising, and electioneering efforts.
- He played a significant role in the Congress Party’s victories in the Indian general elections of 1952, 1957, and 1962.
- Shastri won the Soraon North cum Phulpur West seat in the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha elections of 1952, securing over 69% of the votes.
- On 13 May 1952, he became the Minister of Railways and Transport in the First Cabinet of the Republic of India.
- In subsequent years, Shastri held positions such as Minister of Commerce and Industry in 1959 and Minister of Home Affairs in 1961.
- As a minister without a portfolio, he laid the foundation for the Mangalore Port in 1964.
- Following the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, Shastri was elected as the second Prime Minister of India on 9 June 1964.
- During his tenure, he faced the Madras anti-Hindi agitation in 1965 and assured the non-Hindi-speaking states that English would remain the official language as long as they desired, which helped calm the situation.
- Shastri continued Nehru’s socialist economic policies and promoted initiatives like the Amul milk cooperative and the White Revolution to increase milk production and supply.
- He maintained Nehru’s non-alignment policy while strengthening relations with the Soviet Union and increasing the defense budget after the Sino-Indian War of 1962.
- Shastri signed the Sirima-Shastri Pact (Bandaranaike-Shastri Pact) with the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka in 1964 to address the status of Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon).
- His most significant achievement was leading India during the Indo-Pak War in 1965, where he coined the slogan “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan” to rally soldiers and farmers.
- The war ended with a ceasefire ordered by the United Nations on 23 September 1965.
- Shastri and Pakistani President Mohammed Ayub Khan met in Tashkent, arranged by Alexei Kosygin, where they signed the Tashkent Declaration on 10 January 1966, marking the end of the conflict.
- Shastri traveled to several countries during his tenure, including the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, England, Canada, Nepal, Egypt, and Burma.
Lal Bahadur Shastri Achievements
- Lal Bahadur Shastri laid the foundation stone for Bal Vidya Mandir, a prestigious school in Lucknow, in 1964.
- He inaugurated the Central Institute of Technology Campus in Tharamani, Chennai in November 1964.
- Shastri opened the Plutonium Reprocessing Plant in Trombay in 1965, approving the development of nuclear explosives as suggested by Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha.
- He inaugurated the Jawahar Dock of Chennai Port Trust and initiated the construction of the Tuticorin Port.
- Shastri opened the Sainik School Balachadi in Gujarat.
- He laid the foundation stone for the Almatti Dam.
- Lal Bahadur Shastri was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, and a memorial named “Vijay Ghat” was established in Delhi in his honor.
- The Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, is named after him and is a renowned institution for training civil servants.
- The Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of Management, a prestigious business school, was established in Delhi in 1995 by the Lal Bahadur Shastri Educational Trust.
- The Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, promoting scholarly activity between India and Canada, is named after Lal Bahadur Shastri.
- The Lal Bahadur Shastri National Memorial, managed by the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Memorial Trust, is located next to 10 Janpath in Delhi, where he resided as Prime Minister.
- Lal Bahadur Shastri Hall of Residence is one of the residential halls at IIT Kharagpur named in his honor.
Lal Bahadur Shastri Death
The sudden and untimely death of Lal Bahadur Shastri immediately after signing the Tashkent Pact with Pakistan in 1966 gave rise to various conspiracy theories and suspicions. Shastri’s wife, Lalita Devi, alleged that her husband was poisoned, and the Russian butler serving the Prime Minister was initially arrested in connection with his death. However, the butler was later released as the doctors officially certified that Shastri died of cardiac arrest.
Despite the medical explanation, the media at that time circulated a possible conspiracy theory suggesting the involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Shastri’s death. The theory speculated that the CIA may have had a motive to eliminate Shastri due to his non-aligned stance and growing relations with the Soviet Union.
In recent years, there have been attempts to uncover the truth behind Shastri’s death. Author Anuj Dhar filed a Right to Information (RTI) query seeking information from the Prime Minister’s Office, but the request was declined. The reason cited for the denial was the possibility of souring diplomatic relations with the United States, hinting at the sensitivity of the issue.
The mystery surrounding Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death continues to fuel speculation and intrigue. Despite the lack of concrete evidence supporting any foul play, the lingering doubts and unanswered questions contribute to the enduring fascination with this unresolved chapter in Indian history.
Lal Bahadur Shastri was a remarkable individual who exemplified simplicity, integrity, and dedication to serving the nation. His life and principles serve as an inspiration to us all. Despite holding important positions in the government, he remained a humble man, as reflected by his ownership of a modest car and his affiliation with the Servants of India Society. Lal Bahadur Shastri serves as a valuable lesson in moral values, honesty, and the importance of serving the public. His contributions to Indian history and politics continue to resonate, reminding us of the significance of integrity and selfless service in leadership.
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