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Tributes to Shastriji

Tributes to Shastriji

Author: N. Nagaraj Rao
Publication: Bharatiya Pragna
Date: October, 2004

Introduction: Jawaharlal Nehru died in office on May 27, 1964 and left something of a vacuum. The major figures of the Congress Party were unable to find enough support which allowed the lesser regarded Shastri to come through as the compromise candidate, becoming Prime Minister on June 9. The ruling Congress Party elected Lal Bahadur unanimously as its leader. He did not show any interest in the discussions before the election of the leader. Power and authority came in search of him. Fame set a crown on his head. The short man grew into a colossus. He showed by his work that, though he was tender like a flower, he could be hard as diamond, too. He filled the Four Corners of the world with the fame of India. He is, however, a largely forgotten figure, another victim of the engineering of India's social memory by Indira Gandhi and her clan.

Lal Bahadur Shastri (born 1904) succeeded Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister of India in 1964.

'A small body - but mighty glory'-so runs a kannada proverb. It applies to several great men. Shivaji was not tall. But like a magnet he attracted people, and organised and built a great empire. Napoleon was short. But he shook the whole world. Lal Bahadur Shastri was not taller than those two; but he was not second to them in greatness. Firmness, love of adventure, patience and skill in administration cannot be acquired in a day or a year. Only when we study his growth from childhood can we understand how he acquired all these qualities.

Courage and self-respect were two virtues, which took deep root in him from his childhood. While in Kashi, he went with his friends to see a fair on the other bank of the Ganga. On the way back he had no money for the boat fare. His self-respect did not allow him to ask his friends for money. He slipped from their company without their knowledge. His friends forgot him in their talk and boarded the boat. When the boat had moved away, Lal Bahadur jumped into the river; as his friends watched breathlessly he swam to the other bank safely.

Though Lal Bahadur was, a man of small build, he was unusually strong. His moral strength was even greater. As in water so in life he swam quite successfully.

In the first General Elections after India became a Republic, the Congress Party returned to power with a huge majority. Lal Bahadur Shastri worked hard for this success. He was the General Secretary of the Congress at the General Secretary of the Congress at the time. The selection of candidates and the direction of publicity and electioneering were under the direct guidance of Shastriji. But he did not contest the elections. However, Nehru did not wish to leave such an able and honest man outside the government. He persuaded him to seek election to the Rajya Sabha. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha. He was appointed as the Railways and Transport Minister in the Central Cabinet 1952)..

The railways are among the biggest Central Government undertakings, transport plays a vital role in the progress of any country. The railways in India had been badly disrupted after the division of the country. Lal Bahadur strove hard to set right and regulate the railways. It is not easy to organise movement of passengers and good from place to place without waste of time and without inconvenience. Lal Bahadur succeeded in this to a large extent. There were four classes- first, second, intermediate and third in the railways then. First class compartments offered extreme luxury and were almost heavenly. But the discomfort of passengers in the third class compartments was beyond description. They did not have even minimum comforts. Lal Bahadur's efforts to reduce the vast disparity between the first and the last classes cannot be forgotten. The first class that offered royal comfort was abolished. The old second came to be known as the first class and the intermediate class as the second class. His idea was to have only two classes of compartments in course of time - the first and the second. It was he who provided more facilities to travelers in third class compartments.

Lal Bahadur identified himself with the Railways so much that he felt he was responsible if anything went wrong in his department. When he was the Railway Minister in 1956, 144 passengers died in an accident that took place near Ariyalur in Tamil Nadu.. Just three months before this, an accident had occurred at Mehboob Nagar in Andhra Pradesh which 112 people died. Lal Bahadur was in no way responsible for these accidents. Yet he was very much pained. He felt he could not escape the moral responsibility for them. He had submitted his resignation letter to Pandit Nehru when the Mehboob Nagar accident took place. But Nehru had not accepted it. But when the Ariyalur accident took place Shastriji said, 'I must do penance for this. Let me go.' So strong was his sense of responsibility.

Lal Bahadur Shastri's exit from the Central Cabinet was a blessing for the ruling party. He worked for the party during the General Elections next year. Then he became the Minister for Transport and communications and later the Minister for Commerce and Industry. He became the Home Minister in 1961, after the death of Govind Vallabh Pant.

The Homeless Home Minister
People used to call him the homeless Home Minister because he did not have a house of his own. He had rented a small house in Allahabad. Even when he was a minister, he used to stay in that house when he went to Allahabad. After a few days the owner of the house let it out to another family. When Shastriji resigned as minister he vacated the government quarters and he did not have a place to live in it.

Nehru died suddenly on May 27, 1964. and search for an able successor was on.

Though eclipsed by such stalwarts of the Congress party as Kamaraj (the Kingmaker) and Morarji Desai, Finance Minister in Nehru's government, Shastri emerged as the consensus candidate in the midst of party warfare. Finally all the leaders came to the decision that Lal Bahadur Shastri was the only person to pilot the nation at such critical times.

He had not been in power long before he had to attend to the difficult matter of Pakistani aggression, as represented by India, along the Rann of Kutch; and though a cease-fire under the auspices of the United Nations put a temporary halt to the fighting, the scene of conflict soon shifted to the more troubled spot of Kashmir. While Pakistan claimed that a spontaneous uprising against the Indian occupation of Kashmir had taken place, India charged Pakistan with fomenting sedition inside its territory and sending armed raiders into Jammu and Kashmir from Azad Kashmir. Shastri promised to meet force with force, and by early September the second Indo-Pakistan war had commenced.

Not a Slave to Position

The greatest danger that India had to face at the time was China's aggression (1962). The Chinese army crossed the Himalayan border and moved forward in wave after wave and occupied Indian territory in the north. But India stood up like one man against China. The Chinese moved back. But they did not return the areas they had occupied. China stabbed India in the back and lost the friendship of India.

This was the time when China in the north and Pakistan both in the east and the west started giving trouble to India. It was absolutely necessary that the people of India should forget internal quarrels and that they should unite like brothers and sisters. Lal Bahadur Shastri strove hard to make the people feel that they were all one.

Shield for India's Honor

Lal Bahadur Shastri was the Prime Minister of India at a crucial time in India's history. The first problem that he had to face after he became the Prime Minister was one caused by Pakistan. Pakistan took shape by eroding India's land, and was instigating Indian Muslims. After the Chinese aggression, when India's confidence in her strength had been shaken, Pakistan was creating trouble along the borders.

But Shastriji would not yield to the wickedness of Pakistan. He first tried to earn the goodwill and support of other nations for India. He visited Russia, Egypt, Canada and Britain and explained to the leaders of those nations India's stand. He attended a meeting of the non-aligned nations (nations which were neutral) and explained India's position. He even tried to reason with President Ayub Khan of Pakistan. The wicked do not like advice. They can understand only one language, the language of war.

The Rann of Kutch

It had become Pakistan's habit to provoke India somehow and jump to arms.

Pakistan had been waiting to swallow Kashmir somehow. She pushed her forces across the eastern border into the Rann of kuch in Gujarat State in April-May of 1965. Lal Bahadur was not unnerved by this unexpected attack. He faced the problem with great tact at that critical moment. The Indian Army forced the attackers to retreat. Then both countries agreed to stop fighting

'Force will be met with force'

But friendly words cannot tame a serpent. There is but one way to do it - to remove the serpent IS fangs.

Even before the ink with which they had signed the Kutch agreement dried up, Pakistan raised its hood to strike again. Pakistani soldiers entered Kashmir in disguise. In September 1965 there was a large-scale invasion of the territory by Pakistani soldiers in the Chhamb area. War broke out all along the Cease-fire Line on the Kashmir border.

The enemies who had managed to enter Kashmir were cunning and mischievous. Pakistan also tried to incite Indian Muslims. The Pakistan army was engaged in forcibly occupying areas, which belonged to India. There was the danger of the fighting spreading to the eastern border also. In addition to this, there was the threat posed by the Chinese on the northern borders of India. Lal Bahadur Shastri faced all these problems with a will of iron. It was at this time that the country understood the greatness of Lal Bahadur Shastri. He decided that was the time to teach Pakistan a lesson. He gave full freedom to the Commander of the Army. 'Go forward and strike' was Shastriji's command to the generals.

Addressing the nation on 13th August 1965 Shastriji referred to Pakistan's threats and said, "Force will be met with force." Two days later, during the celebration of Independence day, he declared from the ramparts of the Red Fort: "It does not matter if we are destroyed. We will fight to the last to maintain the high honor of the Indian nation and its flag.

But Shastriji would not yield to the wickedness of Pakistan. He first tried to earn the goodwill and support of other nations for India. He visited Russia, Egypt, Canada and Britain and explained to the leaders of those nations India's stand. He attended a meeting of the non-aligned nations (nations which were neutral) and explained India's position. He even tried to reason with President Ayub Khan of Pakistan. The wicked do not like advice. They can understand only one language, the language of war..

Lal Bahadur appealed to the people of the nation to fight the enemy despite difference and gave the immortal slogan Jai jawan and Jai kisan - (Hail the Soldier and Hail the Farmer) which galvanized the nation into a patriotic fervor unprecedented Shastriji is Immortal

Though the Indian army reached the outskirts of Lahore, Shastri agreed to withdraw Indian forces.

But his triumph was short-lived: invited in January 1966 by the Russian Premier, Aleksei Kosygin, to Tashkent for a summit with General Muhammad Ayub Khan, President of Pakistan and commander of the nation's armed forces shastriji had suffered heart attacks twice before. And during the period of the Pakistan war and the following days, his body, already battered, had to bear a very heavy strain. He signed the joint Declaration on 10th January 1966. and he died the next day, Shastri's body was brought back to India, and a memorial, not far from the national memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, was built to honor him. It says, in fitting testimony to Shastri, "Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan" ("Honor the Soldier, Honor the Farmer

The news of Lal Bahadur Shastri's death struck India like a bolt from the blue. The entire nation was plunged in grief. Some people suspected foulplay also. Gone was the war hero and the messenger of peace, gone was the great statesman who restored to India her honor and self- respect in the assembly of nations. A tiny, tidy figure. A soul that had lived in perfect purity of thought, word and deed. The very embodiment of selflessness, detachment and simplicity. Such was this man who had lived in our midst. He belongs to the race of the heroes of India. Lal Bahadur was a star of great brightness in the history of India, After his death the President of India conferred on him, on behalf of the nation, the award of 'Bharat Ratna'; it was a most Fitting.

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