The Biography of Famous Personalities of India will tell you about the controversies, the dark sides of a person that you may have never heard of.
A Politician Apart and Personality Traits of Shastri Ji
A Politician Apart
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
Lal Bahadur Shastri shared little in common with his predecessor Jawaharlal Nehru. While Shastri preferred peace with Pakistan, writing to a friend after the Indo-Pakistani War in 1965 that the problems between both countries should be settled amicably, he had previously displayed a knack for taking quick and decisive actions during the war. He swiftly took the advice of his commanders, and ordered a strike across the Punjab border. This was in stark contrast to Nehru who in a similar situation in 1962, had refused to call in the air force to relieve the pressure on the ground troops. At the end of the conflict, Shastri flamboyantly posed for a photograph on top of a captured US-supplied Pakistani M48 Patton tank.
However, in common with Nehru, Shastri was a secularist who refused to mix religion with politics. In a public meeting held at the Ram Lila grounds in Delhi, a few days after the ceasefire, he complained against a BBC report which claimed that Shastri’s identity as a Hindu meant that he was ready for a war with Pakistan. He stated :
“While I am a Hindu, Mir Mushtaq who is presiding over this meeting is a Muslim. Mr. Frank Anthony who has addressed you is a Christian. There are also Sikhs and Parsis here. The unique thing about our country is that we have Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis and people of all other religions. We have temples and mosques, gurdwaras and churches. But we do not bring all this into politics. This is the difference between India and Pakistan. Whereas Pakistan proclaims herself to be an Islamic State and uses religion as a political factor, we Indians have the freedom to follow whatever religion we may choose, and worship in any way we please. So far as politics is concerned, each of us is as much an Indian as the other.”
During the Quit India Movement, his daughter was ill and he was released on parole from jail. However, he could not save her life because doctors had prescribed costly drugs. Later on in 1963, on the day when he was dropped from the cabinet, he was sitting at his home in the dark, without a light. When asked about the reason, he said as he no longer is a minister, all expenses will have to be paid by himself and that as an MP and minister he didn’t earn enough to save for time of need.
Although Shastri had been a cabinet minister for many years in the 1950s, he was poor when he died. All he owned at the end was an old car, which he had bought on instalments from the government and for which he still owed money. He was a member of Servants of India society (which included Gandhi, Lala Lajpat Rai, Gopal Krishna Gokhle) which asked all its members to shun accumulation of private property and remain in public life as servants of people. He was the first railway minister who resigned from office following a major train accident as he felt moral responsibility. Our present day politicians lack such moral courage.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru while accepting the resignation of Shastri as Rail Minister paid glowing tributes to him in Parliamnet by saying “I should like to say that it has been not only in Government but in the Congress, my good fortune and privilege to have him as a comrade and colleague, and no man can wish for a better comrade and better colleague in undertaking—a man of the highest integrity, loyalty, devoted to ideals, a man of conscience and a man of the hard work I have the highest regard for him and I am quite sure that in one capacity or another we shall be comrades in the future and work together.”
I am just, an ordinary man and not a very bright, man.
Self-respect and Courage were two virtues, which took deep root in Lal Bahadur Shastri from his childhood. While in Banaras, 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 quietly 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. Twice he was about to be drowned but was saved. It is said that when he was saved the second time, he had his teacher’s three-year- old baby on his shoulders.
Lal Bahadur acquired virtues like boldness, love of adventure, patience, self-control, courtesy and selflessness in his childhood. Even as a boy he loved to read books. He read whatever books he came across.
Having lost his father as an infant, his mother’s influence was strong upon him and to the very end he faithfully followed the advice she had given him when he had announced his intention of joining the freedom struggle: “Think well and decide, but once having decided, never turn back.”
From an early age he was involved in the National Movement, and to the end of his life he remained a member of the Servants of the People Society founded by Lala Lajpat Rai. This membership had a deep influence on him and instilled the spirit of service which was so characteristic of him.
The lasting impression one has of him is his essential goodness. He was in every sense of the word one of God’s good men, full of compassion and the milk of human kindness. Never did he wish ill to others, and he always recoiled from giving pain.
For one who was the Home Minister and Prime Minister of India he could not always avoid doing so, but never did he consciously desire it. And whenever he did come to know of any hurt caused to somebody by any action of his, he agonised over it, sometimes to the extent of making himself miserable. Always, and to all matters, he sought to bring the healing touch.
His goodness found its base in his gentleness and humility, his simplicity and shining integrity. The last few years of his life were those of constant rise, but the pleasures and privileges of office sat lightly on him.
In his own quiet, humorous way he put it very nicely when after laying the foundation of Mangalore Port as Minister without Portfolio in early 1964, he visited Bangalore. He was presented with a Civic Address by the Bangalore Corporation, on which occasion the then Congress President, Shri Kamaraj Nadar, was seated by his side. In the Address, after the usual complimentary sentiments and phrases, there was a reference to Bangalore’s problems—the need for more roads, housing, water, civic amenities, etc. and above all the need for more funds for which the Minister’s help was solicited.
When it came to Shastriji’s turn to reply, he thanked them for the honour done to him. Then he went on to say: “You have referred to some of your problems, with which I am in full sympathy. But why have you addressed them to me, because I am only a Minister without Portfolio? At one time I was the Home Minister of India, and I thought I was a big and powerful man. But, along came a man called Mr. Kamaraj, and he said, 1 have a Plan’. As a result of that Kamaraj Plan, I found office and power vanishing away from me.
However, constituted as I am, accepted this change without getting upset, and was settling down to my befitting role of a quiet, constructive worker. But suddenly Panditji fell gravely ill at Bhubaneshwar, and then along came this man, Mr. Kamaraj, once again and told me. “You have got to help Panditji”. So he took me by the ear and brought me back into the Cabinet, though this time as a Minister without Portfolio. So you see (pointing to Mr Kamaraj), this is where the real power resides. So why not address your problems to him?”
One of Lal Bahadur Shastri’s most endearing characteristics was his utter simplicity—simplicity in thought, word and deed. This used to be exemplified in his dress itself. There is a humorous and endearing example of this.
Once the closed collar black coat of ‘pattu’ that he used to wear on formal occasions had got so worn out that even the weave was becoming visible. To replace it the family got a black pashmina coat made to the measure of the old coat. But when Shastriji was shown this, he reacted sharply and firmly refused to wear anything so bright and shining.
Since he was going to Calcutta to attend an important dinner where the Prime Minister Pt. Nehru would also be present, the old pattu coat, all mussed up at the tailor’s, was hurriedly got dry- cleaned, and both the coats were put into his suitcase and sent off to Calcutta. When the time for the dinner came, Shastriji put on his old coat, but having just come from the dry cleaner’s it had a very strong, almost unbearable odour.
Seeing his desperation he was persuaded to lay it aside, and put on the new black pashmina coat for just this once, which he reluctantly did. But all the way in the car he kept saying. “These people (the home people) act so thoughtlessly and get this son of coat prepared for me. What will people say when they see me wearing this chamkili-bharkili (shining, exotic) dress.
So I will go quietly to some corner of the hall and try to be as inconspicuous as possible.” But the moment he entered the hall, the first person he ran into was none other than Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru himself. Panditji took a good look at him, and then placing his hands on both shoulders brought Shastriji into the light, and then gave him a big whack on the back and said, “Lal Bahadur, you are wearing pashmina. Now you are becoming fashionable!”
Shastriji, who looked as if he was praying that the earth would open up and swallow him, was just able to mumble: “Ji, I did not wear it. She (meaning Smt. Shastri) put it in my suitcase.” Upon which Panditji gave him another whack on the back and said, “Well, one day she will put a pair of pyjamas in your suitcase, and then you can start wearing pyjamas also”.
But Shastriji would never agree to wear pyjamas, so wedded was he to his dhoti. The only occasion when he did wear them was at the Rashtrapati Bhavan dinner in honour of the Queen of England in 1961, when his daughters, who were keen on getting a first-hand account of the glamorous young Queen, virtually lifted and put him into a pair of churidar pyjamas to attend the Rashtrapati Bhavan formal dinner.
Even when he was the Minister of Commerce and Industry, when there was not only the opportunity but also the necessity for the Minister to go abroad. Shastriji would avoid going, because he did not want to wear anything other than the dhoti.
Shastriji used to say that it would be difficult to manage abroad wearing a dhoti, and he would not wear anything else. When pointed out that Gandhiji used to go abroad in a loin cloth, he said that Gandhiji’s case was quite different, he was in a class by himself; but he himself would rather forego the foreign visits than give up his dhoti. And so in the giant Ministry of Commerce and Industry with unlimited opportunities for foreign travel, he was unwilling to stir a foot outside India. It was only much later, after he became Prime Minister and could go anywhere in his dhoti that Shastriji began to experience the pleasures of travel abroad.
Another of his lovable characteristics was his courtesy and consideration for others. This is something that knew no bounds, and the greatest as well as the humblest felt completely at home with him. One had only to meet him to succumb to his charm.
Lal Bahadur Shastri was also a lover of cricket. Once, when he was watching a match at Kanpur, trouble broke out between the spectators and the Police. The young men came to blows. Since Shastriji was on the spot, the situation did not go out of control.
The young men demanded, “The red turbans (the police) should not be found on the cricket ground tomorrow”.
Shastriji agreed to their wishes, but the police were there the next day too. The young men became angry with Shastri and protested.
Shastriji laughed and said, “I fulfilled my promise to you faithfully. You did not want red turbans to be here. You see the police are now wearing khaki turbans.” The spectators laughed and dropped the matter.
One of the qualities Shastriji will always be remembered for, was his humility. He was in every sense of the word an Apostle of Humility, and he remained so till the end even as Prime Minister. There is a great sweetness as well as strength in humility, and Shastriji’s humility was one of the sources of his strength. He used to say that from childhood he was attracted by one of the verses of Guru Nanak Dev: “Nanak, nanhe hi rahio, jaise nanhi doob, Aur vrukh sookh jayenge, doob khoob kikhoob”(Nanak, be small like the little blade of grass. When the other trees wither and die, the grass will continue to remain green).
- Lal Bahadur Shastri Samadhi—Vijay Ghat in Delhi.
- Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussorie.
- Lal Bahadur Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute.
- A biographical museum at his ancestral house in Ramnagar, Varanasi.
- Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport, Babatpur, Varanasi (Varanasi International Airport).
- Lal Bahadur Shastri National Memorial Trust at 10 Janpath, Motilal Nehru Place, New Delhi.
- A street in the Tashkent, Uzbekistan is named after him.
- Lal Bahadur Shastri Sagar (Aimatti Dam), Northern Karnataka.
- A cargo ship is named as MV Lal Bahadur Shastri.
- Lal Bahadur Shastri Hospital, Mayur Vihar, Delhi.
- 1904 : Born on 2nd October in Mughai Sarai, Uttar Pradesh.
- 1921 : Joined Indian Independence Movement.
- 1926 : Completed Graduation in 1st class honour from the Kashi Vidyapeeth and awarded with the title of Shastri (“Scholar”).
- 1927 : Got married to Lalita Devi from Mirzapur, UP.
- 1930 : Participated in Salt Satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi.
- 1937 : Chosen as organizing secretary of the Parliamentary Board of UP.
- 1940 : Went to jail for one year because of his active participation in the Indian freedom movement.
- 1942 : Went to jail for years till 1946 for his active participation in the Quit-India Movement.
- 1947 : Elected as the Parliamentary Secretary in Uttar Pradesh and on 15th of August became Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh.
- 1951 : Selected as the General Secretary of All-India Congress Committee in the Prime Ministership of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.
- 1952 : Entered Rajya Sabha after getting elected from UP and became Union Railways and Transport minister.
- 1956 :
- In the month of September resigned from the post of Railway minister after a big accident, which was not accepted by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.
- In the month of December again resigned from the same post after another railway accident in Tamil Nadu which was accepted on his insistence.
- 1957 : Inducted again into the Union Cabinet.
- 1961 : Became the Home Minister of India.
- On 9th of June, became the Prime Minister of India after the death of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.
- Signed an agreement with the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (Sirimavo Bandaranaike) regarding the status of Indian Tamils.
- 1965 :
- Solved the Madras anti-Hindi agitation by assuring people about the continuation of English language as an official language.
- Supported the Amul and White Revolution in order to create a National Dairy Development Board in India as well as requested people to skip at least one meal a day to deal with the food shortage in country.
- In the month of August and September, courageously faced the War with Pakistan and encouraged Indian people by giving the slogan of “Jai Jawan – Jai Kisan”.
- On 23rd of September, the war with Pakistan was ended in his Prime Ministership with the ceasefire mandated by UN.
- On 10th of January, signed the Tashkent Declaration with Ayub Khan of Pakistan.
- On 11th of January, died in Tashkent mysteriously.
- Became the first person of India to be posthumously awarded with the Bharat Ratna.
- In his honour, the National Academy of Administration of India was renamed as “Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration”.
Some Rare Photographs