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Lal Bahadur Shastri biography

Lal Bahadur Shastri

(1904-1966)

biography

The diminutive Lal Bahadur, with an unimpressive personality and self-effacing and gentle personality, is remembered for his toughness and tenacity as the second prime minister of India during the 1965 war with
Lal Bahadur Shastri
Lal Bahadur Shastri
Pakistan.

Lal Bahadur was born on 2 October 1904 at Mughal sarai, near Varanasi. His father, Sharda Prasad Srivastava, was a school teacher who later became a clerk in the Revenue Office at Allahabad. It was a lower middleclass family. Lal Bahadur was the youngest of the three children of his parents, the other two were girls. His father died when Lal Bahadur was only a year and-a-half His mother moved to her parent’s house in Mirzapur where Lal Bahadur lived till his tenth year.
After finishing his primary education in Mirzapur, he came to Varanasi for further studies and joined the Harish Chandra Vidyalaya. Here he became a favourite student of his teacher, Nishkameshwar Prasad Misra, who played an important role in moulding the character of his young pupil. When the Congress led by Gandhi started the Non-Cooperation movement in 1920 and asked students to forego studies, Lal Bahadur left the school. But when the movement was suspended in 1922, Lal Bahadur joined Kashi Vidyapeeth, a nationalist institution founded in 1921 in Varanasi. Here, Lal Bahadur saw stalwarts like Bhagwan Das, J.B. Kriplani, Sampoornanand, Acharya Narendra Dev, who were teachers in this infant institution. From there, Lal Bahadur graduated in 1925, getting the degree ‘Shastri’, thus acquiring the suffix Shastri with his name. As the Shastri degree was not recognised by the government, it was not easy for Lal Balladur to find a job. He enrolled himself as a life member of Servants of the People Society founded by Lajpat Rai earlier. The main function of the society was to train nationalist missionaries whose duty was to work for educational and social upliftment of the people. Shastri was assigned to work for the upliftment of Harijans at Muzzaffarabad and Meerut. He worked there for two years. In 1928, Lal Bahadur was married to Lalitadevi, Whose parents also lived in Mirzapur.
After the death of Lajpat Rai in 1928, Purushottam Das Tandon became the president of the Servants of People Society. Tandon became Lal Bahadur’s first political guru and asked him to move to Allahabad. On the advice of Tandon, Shastri joined the Congress. His journey towards a political career had begun. At Allahabad, he came close Contact with Jawaharlal Nehru which propelled his political career with the passage of time. He was elected as secretary, and later president, of the Allahabad District Congress Committee. He moved one step higher by becoming general secretary of the U.P. Provincial Congress Committee (1935-1937). In 1937, Shastri was returned to the U.P. Legislative Assembly, and came in Contact with Govind Ballabh Pant who became the first chief minister of Uttar Pradesh under the 1935 Act. Pant was to be a great influence on Shastri, next only to Nehru. Shastri became the secretary of the U.P. Parliamentary Board. When Gandhi started the individual Satyagraha in 1940, Shastri was selected as a satyagrahi by Gandhi and was imprisoned. Shastri went to jail thrice and spent nine years in various jails. In the 1946 elections, the Congress had won majority in several states including Uttar Pradesh. Pandit Pant had again become the chief minister of U.P. Pant had liked Shastri’s unassuming and un-controversial nature, unlike most of the political workers in the Congress. Besides, he was very hard-working, sincere and honest. Pant asked Shastri to move to Lucknow in 1946 and made him his parliamentary secretary. In 1947, when India had become independent, a greater responsibility had fallen on the Congress ministries and Pant was looking for efficient and honest persons who would deliver the goods. Shastri was an obvious choice. He was made the police and transport minister in Pant’s cabinet.
In 1951, Shastri moved to the national scene at the behest of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who made him general secretary of the Congress party. Shastri shifted to Delhi. During the first general elections of 1952, Shastri Worked hard as general secretary. The Congress won majority in the states and in the Parliament. Shastri was inducted by Nehru in his cabinet as minister of Railways and Transport, the portfolio which he held till 1956, when he resigned, taking moral responsibility for the train accident near Ariyalur in the south in which 144 persons were killed, setting an embarrassing precedent for the future railway ministers. Even after almost five decades, whenever there is a railway accident the opposition vociferously begins to urge the railway minister to resign reminding him of the precedent set by Shastri in 1956. So far no railway minister has resigned though there have been hundreds of railway accidents since 1956 in which thousands of passengers have lost their lives. That speaks highly of the man that Shastri was. In the 1957 elections, Shastri was returned to the Parliament from the Allahabad constituency and Nehru inducted him again in his cabinet. He held various portfolios successively as minister of Transport and Communications, Commerce and Industry and became the Home minister in 1961. Once again Shastri resigned, this time under the Kamraj Plan in 1963. But Nehru called him back Soonafter, Nehru suffered a massive heart attack at the Bhubaneswar Congress session and could never fully recover from it. He wanted someone to share his burden and appointed Shastri as minister without portfolio. That Nehru selected Shastri for this important post from among the stalwarts of Congress party showed the immense faith Nehru had developed in the modest, self-effacing but hard-working Shastri.
Nehru died on 27 May 1964. Who would succeed Nehru? The nation was perplexed. Even before Nehru’s death, books and articles had been written hazarding guess about Nehru’s successor. But by appointing Shastri as a minister without portfolio, Nehru had given a glimpse of what was in his mind. just a day before his death, he had asked Shastri to be prepared to attend the Commonwealth Conference scheduled to be held in june. The election of the successor of Nehru was surprisingly quite smooth. The Congress president, Kamaraj, played a crucial role in Shastri’s election as leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party. Shastri inherited many problems, the major ones being food shortage and menacing postures of Pakistan and China. He gave the slogan Jai Jawan, Jai Kissan (Hail the Soldier; Hail the Farmer) to meet the challenge on both the fronts. To meet the food shortage, he imported foodgrains from wherever he could and took steps to increase the domestic production. That was the beginning of ‘Green Revolution’ which made India self-sufficient in food grains in due course.
Soon after Shastri’s taking charge as the prime minister, Pakistan got onto the offensive. Pakistan was being ruled by General Ayub Khan at that time. They started with a probing attack in the Rann of Kutch in April, 1965 as the boundary between the two countries was not clearly marked there. The Indian side suffered as they were not prepared for such an eventuality. Emboldened by this, the Pakistan army crossed the international border in Chhamb area of Kashmir in September, 1965. This time India did not take it lying down. Shastri went on air to address the nation. "We are at war” he declared, but the war will not be fought on Indian soil." Shastri assured the nation. The country stood up and cheered their leader. Shastri gave full freedom to the armed forced to retaliate as they thought fit. The Indian army crossed the international border in Punjab and within days had reached the outskirts of Lahore and Sialkot. Pakistan air force was badly mauled. Their armored units suffered heavy losses in the tank warfare near Ferozepur. The war lasted for twenty-two days. The matter went to the United Nations. A resolution moved by both U.S.A. and Soviet Union demanded cease fire, which came into effect Soonafter. The Soviet premier, Alexei Kosygin, offered his good offices to settle the dispute.
Shastri and Ayub Khan were invited to Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan. After lot of deliberations and discussions, in which Kosygin played the mediator, an agreement was signed on 10 January 1966 between Shastri and Ayub Khan. According to the agreement, which has come to be known as Tashkent Agreement, the armed forces of the two countries were to go back to the position they held before the hostilities broke out. The two countries also had to restore diplomatic relations. India had to surrender about 2000 sq. kms. of Pakistan’s territory which their forces had conquered after a great sacrifice. Immediately after signing the agreement, Shastri, it seems, realized that he had committed a mistake by giving back territory which had been acquired at the cost of many lives by the armed forces. Within hours, he had a massive heart attack and died on the morning of 11 January 1966 at Tashkent. His body was brought to Delhi and was cremated on the banks of the Yamuna River, at a spot which is now called Vijay Ghat.
Shastri signed the Tashkent Agreement with considerable misgivings. He knew that when he went back home he would have to face an angry Parliament and a resentful nation. This overpowering thought may have been bothering him. But the nation has forgiven him. He is remembered today for his slogan Jai Jawan Jai Kissan; for taking moral responsibility for a train accident when he was the railway minister. He is remembered for the way he conducted the Indo-Pak 1965 war. And he is remembered as an honest and sincere man. No one in such high office ever displayed such modesty and humility. It was not something put on like a grab for public display. It was something innate to the man. He fully realised that he was stepping into the shoes of a great man and that he had neither the qualities not the upbringing which would make it possible for him to play the same distinguished role that Nehru had done. But Shastri’s distinction lay in the clear realization of this fact, and in his acting in a manner well suited to the limitations of his character and personality." But surprisingly he overcame these limitations during the 1965 war. Those who used to jest about his unimpressive personality and his humble ways, suddenly realized that there was greatness in the man, and while the war lasted, he became immensely popular – almost an idol of the people. And in many ways he still is.

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