Children, there are few people who practice what they say. Lal Bahadur Shastri was one such person. He was one of India’s beloved Prime Ministers who stood for austerity and ethics in public life. His slogan of Jai jawan jai kisan echoes in our hearts even today.
Born on October 2, 1904, to Ramdulari Devi and Sharada Prasad Shrivastava, in Moghalsarai, United Province (Uttar Pradesh). His mother lost him when he was just three months old. She went to bathe in the Ganga with him and in the crowed she lost her child as he slipped away from her arms into the cowherd’s basket. A police complaint was made and the child was traced.
His father, a school teacher by profession, passed away when Lal Bahadur was barely two years old. His mother took him and his two sisters to their maternal grandfather Hazari Lal’s house. Lal Bahadur acquired virtues like boldness, love of adventure, patience, self-control, courtesy, and selflessness in his childhood.
Once when he was six years old; he went to an orchard with his friends. He was standing below while his friends were climbing the trees. Lal Bahadur plucked a flower from a bush in the garden.The gardener came in the meantime and saw Lal Bahadur with the flower. The boys on the trees climbed down and quickly ran away. But Lal Bahadur was stunned and stood still. The gardener caught Lal Bahadur and beat him severely. Lal Bahadur wept and said, “Please do not beat me. I have lost my father.” The gardener said, “In that case, you must be more responsible and learn better behaviour, my boy.” The words of the gardener had a great effect on him. He swore to himself, “I shall behave better in future.”
Despite the fact that he was very poor his self-respect did not allow him to ask his friend for money. Once while in Kashi, he went with his friends to see a fair on the banks of the River 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. His friends boarded the boat. When the boat had moved away, Lal Bahadur jumped into river and swam to the other side of the river.
Even as a little boy, he loved to read books. He was fond of Guru Nanak’s verses and used to repeat the following lines: “0 Nanak! Be tiny like grass; for other plants will wither away, but grass will remain ever green.”
After completing his primary education at Mirzapur, Lal Bahadur was sent to Varanasi for further studies. Since he was against the prevailing caste system he decided to drop his surname. The title ‘Shastri’ was given after the completion of his graduation at Kashi Vidyapeeth, Varanasi in 1925.
Inspired by his political guru, Bapu Purushottamdas Tandon, and the stories and speeches of national leaders, he developed a desire to participate in the Indian nationalist movement. He actively participated in the ‘Salt Satyagraha’ movement. He called on people not to pay land revenue and taxes to the government. On this account he was sent to prison for two and a half years. Lal Bahadur’s virtues shone even in the prison. He was a model to others in discipline and restraint.
Once when he was in prison, one of his daughters fell seriously ill. The officers agreed to let him visit his daughter since he knew that he was truthful and therefore they did not insist on a written agreement. Lal Bahadur was released for fifteen days. But sadly his daughter died before he reached home. After performing the final rites he returned to prison even before the expiry of the period.
He passed a year in the prison when news came to him that his son was sick with influenza. Lal Bahadur was permitted unconditionally to go home for a week. But the fever did not come down in a week’s time. Lal Bahadur got ready to go back to prison. The boy pleaded with tearful eyes and urged, “Father, please stay…” For a moment Lal Bahadur’s mind was shaken. Tears rolled down from his eyes. But the next moment he bade good-bye to all and left his home for prison. Luckily his son survived.
Thus, he brushed aside all thoughts of personal
happiness and plunged into the Freedom Struggle. After India got Independence and when Govind Vallabh Pant became the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Lal Bahadur was appointed as Parliamentary Secretary to Pant. Pant praised him and said, “I have never seen a more
likable, hard-working, devoted, trustworthy and a
When he was appointed as the Railways and Transport Minister in the Central Cabinet. 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, 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 which 112 people died. Lal Bahadur though was in no way responsible for these accidents, was very much pained. He felt he could not escape the moral responsibility for them. When the Mehboob Nagar accident took place, he submitted his resignation letter to Pandit Nehru, who was the prime minister then. But Nehru did not accept it. But when the Ariyalur accident took place Shastri said, ‘”I must do penance for this. Let me go.” So strong was his sense of responsibility that he did not care if he was losing a prestigious post.
After Nehru’s death on May 27, 1964 the responsibility came on the shoulders of Shastriji. It was decided that Lal Bahadur Shastri was the only person responsible enough to pilot the nation. Thus he was elected the Prime Minister of India, when he was 60 years of age. The first problem that he had to face after he became the Prime Minister was one caused by Pakistan. Pakistan started to create trouble along the Indian border in order to capture Kashmir for itself. 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 against Pakistan. He even tried to reason with President Ayub Khan of Pakistan to settle down in peace. His efforts did pay off when both countries agreed to stop fighting. When Lal Bahadur was praised for his worthy efforts he just replied, “I am just an ordinary man and not a very bright man.”
But Pakistani soldiers entered Kashmir in disguise and were engaged in forcibly occupying areas, which belonged to India. An enraged Lal Bahadur gave full freedom to the Commander of the Army to go forth in war. He said, “Go forward and strike. Force will be met with force. It does not matter if we are destroyed. We will fight to the last to maintain the high honour of the Indian nation and its flag.” Under Shastri’s guidance the Army and Air Force fought the1965 war with Pakistan heroically. The invaders were beaten. During the war when there was shortage of food he introduced the
concept of fasting once a week which he himself used to religiously follow.
He was a simple man with simple living. 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 where he used to stay whenever he went to the city. Such was the simplicity of our great leader.