Lala Resigning from the Cabinet and Becoming the Home Minister

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.

Lala Resigning from the Cabinet and Becoming the Home Minister

Resigning from the Cabinet

We are, all of us, different elements working in different ways towards a common goal—the service of the people.

Lal Bahadur Shastri 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 had 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 knowing he was innocent.

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 of a cabinet minister.

Lal Bahadur Shastri felt that the railway ministry must accept the blame for not preventing the accidents and that he must resign as the minister in charge. Jawaharlal Nehru had to accept his resignation on his insistence.

However, it did increase the reputation of Lal Bahadur Shastri. After the second general elections, everything about the railway accidents was forgotten and Shastri was elected to the Lok Sabha from Allahabad and served as Minister of Transport and Communications until March 1958. This was the reward for the fashion in which he did the selection of candidates, following Nehru’s wishes. In 1958, following the Mundhra Deal scandal and the resignation of TT Krishnamachari (TTK) as finance minister. Shastri in a Cabinet reshuffle got into the important Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has always been an important ministry. Even after getting such a big portfolio Shastriji remained as simple and humble as he was ever before. He never hesitated in rising from his chair and shaking hands with his subordinate staff. He was very modest and courteous in his day-to-day working with everyone that came across him.

He never exercised or imposed his authority over his officers. He never used words and tones like “Do this” or “Don’t do this”. It was always said in the form of request or a polite question. He was very gentle in approach towards everyone. But while taking important decisions he was always like “an iron hand in a velvet glove.”

Becoming the Home Minister

Discipline and united action are the real source of strength for the nation.

By February 1961, GB Pant’s health began to deteriorate and Lal Bahadur Shastri became acting Home Minister. On March 7, Pant died and bypassing Morarji Desai, Shastri became the Home Minister. He had to look after law and order, internal security, the central reserve police, the political department, the intelligence bureau, the language question, the centre-states relations, the All-India Services, major appointments in the high courts and the supreme court as also in the union public service commission, the minorities problem, and a hundred other vitally important issues.

He normally got up at 5.30 a.m. did some yoga exercises which he gave up after his first heart attack in October, 1959 and then met the visitors at his residence, at 1, Motilal Nehru Place which, long before he woke up resembled a metropolitan railway station at rush hour. As one observer put it, “Waiting there, you feel as if you were at the crossroads of India. Turbaned Sikhs, dhoti-wearing Congressmen, and half- naked sadhus are among the flood of audience-seekers who fill his sitting rooms and spill out into the garden.”

When Shastri would be ready, he would receive each caller individually rather than having them come in delegation as Pant used to do. He would rise to greet each visitor, he would not dream of lying on his couch, let alone allowing petitioners to touch his feet. Despite the milling crowds thronging outside and the other pressures on him he was always calm, courteous, and seemingly unhurried.

But despite the trying time he had with the visitors, he never lost his cool. He was always anxious to appear fair and very humane and tended to treat an individual as an individual rather than part of the mass. By this technique, he rose from the position of nobody in the Congress to fourth rank in the hierarchy by 1960.

Shastri preferred to be non-controversial and to stand in the wings of the party leaving the centre of the stage to Nehru. His admirers and kinsmen built up the legend of his administrative ability, he himself remaining a middle-of the- roader ideologically and building up a growing following among the rank and file. Gradually, he gained the reputation of being ‘a man of the people’ and ‘a pure man.’

As Home Minister, Shastri’s astuteness came into full display on the question of language dispute in the Cachar district of Assam. In late June and early July of 1960, language issue ignited the long-smouldering economic jealousies in Assam. The backward Assamese-speaking majority had always resented the fact that the Bengali-speaking minority held the best jobs and also dominated trade and commerce.

The Bengali resistance to the Assamese language being declared as the sole official language of the state was used as a pretext for a wholesale assault on the Bengali community About 45,000 Bengalis became refugees of whom about 40,000 went to West Bengal. On July 4, the police opened fire on a crowd in Gauhati killing one student and injuring six others. This made the anti-Bengali frenzy a hurricane of violence.

At least 500 Bengalis were killed in cold blood and many more hundreds injured. An ashen-faced Nehru walked among the hordes of the homeless during a tour of stricken villages. After the death of Pant eight months later, violence erupted again on 19 May, 1961 when the Bengalis agitating for the recognition of Bengali as an additional state language of Assam clashed with the police in which 15 persons were killed and 80 injured.

When the police opened fire on a crowd of 2000 Bengalis in Cachar district the result was hartals in the Bengali areas in Assam. On May 24, hartal was observed in Calcutta and other West Bengal cities. Shastri flew to Cachar. He went on probing and pursuing this thing until people started thinking in terms of human tolerance and their obligations to the country, ft required tremendous patience for him to convince all groups of his own deep sincerity and firmness.

Shastri listened to different viewpoints. As he put it, “I have the capacity of understanding different viewpoints. I kept an open mind. 1 talked to different sets of people.”

Shastri returned with a permanent solution acceptable to all. It was based on the use of English, Assamese, and Bengali languages for different purposes. Correspondence between Cachar district and Assam Government headquarters began to be conducted in English and both Assamese and Bengali were now used in Cachar government offices and schools with a preference for Bengali as the language of the local majority. This ‘Shastri formula’ ensured communal harmony in Assam. Cachar district was now represented in the Assamese Cabinet.

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. But the owner of the house soon let it out to another family. When Shastri resigned as minister he vacated the government quarters and for some time he did not have a place to live in!

The credit of first appointing the committee on Prevention of Corruption also goes to Lal Bahadur Shastri during his tenure as Union Home Minister. Lal Bahadur Shastri was the brain behind the landslide victories of the Congress party in the General Elections of 1952, 1957, and 1962.

In 1963, Shastri relinquished his cabinet post when Kamraj brought in the ‘Kamraj Plan’, which was formulated to rebuild the Congress party.