Lal Bahadur Shastri: The Prime Minister Who Shaped Modern India

Lal Bahadur Shastri was the second Prime Minister of India, who served from 1964 to 1966. He was a senior leader of the Indian National Congress and a key figure in the Indian independence movement. He is remembered for leading India through the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, promoting the White Revolution and the Green Revolution, and coining the slogan “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” (Hail the Soldier, Hail the Farmer).

Lal Bahadur Shastri: The Prime Minister Who Shaped Modern India

Table of Contents

Early Life and Freedom Struggle

Lal Bahadur Shastri was born on October 2, 1904, in Mughalsarai, Uttar Pradesh. He shared his birthday with Mahatma Gandhi, whom he considered his idol and inspiration. He lost his father when he was only a year old and was raised by his mother and maternal grandparents. He was deeply influenced by his teacher Nishkameshwar Prasad Mishra, who instilled in him a sense of patriotism and social service.

He joined the Indian National Congress in 1921, after attending a public meeting addressed by Gandhi and Madan Mohan Malaviya in Varanasi. He withdrew from Harish Chandra High School and enrolled in Kashi Vidyapith, a nationalist institution founded by J.B. Kripalani and V.N. Sharma. He graduated with a degree in philosophy and ethics in 1925 and was given the title of “Shastri” (Scholar). He dropped his caste-based surname of “Srivastava” and adopted “Shastri” as his last name.

He participated in various movements and campaigns launched by Gandhi, such as the Non-Cooperation Movement, the Salt Satyagraha, and the Quit India Movement. He was arrested several times by the British authorities and spent a total of nine years in jail. He also worked closely with other prominent leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Govind Ballabh Pant, C. Rajagopalachari, and K. Kamaraj.

Political Career and Prime Ministership

After India’s independence in 1947, Shastri became the Minister of Police and Transport in Uttar Pradesh under Pant’s chief ministership. He introduced several reforms and innovations, such as appointing women as police officers and drivers, using water jets to disperse unruly crowds instead of lathis (batons), and promoting cooperative societies.

He was elected to the Lok Sabha (the lower house of parliament) in 1952 and became the Minister of Railways and Transport in Nehru’s cabinet. He resigned from his post in 1956, taking moral responsibility for a railway accident that killed 112 people. However, he was re-inducted into the cabinet in 1957 as the Minister of Commerce and Industry. He also served as the Minister of Home Affairs from 1961 to 1963.

After Nehru’s death in 1964, Shastri was unanimously elected as the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party and became the Prime Minister of India. He faced several challenges during his tenure, such as food shortages, language riots, border disputes, and external aggression.

He launched the White Revolution, a national campaign to increase milk production and distribution. He supported the establishment of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) under Verghese Kurien and encouraged the cooperative model of Amul. He also initiated the Green Revolution, a program to boost agricultural output and self-reliance. He appointed C. Subramaniam as the Minister of Food and Agriculture and supported the use of high-yielding varieties of seeds, fertilizers, irrigation, and mechanization.

He led India during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, which broke out over the disputed territory of Kashmir. He mobilized the nation’s resources and morale with his slogan “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan”. He also sought international support from countries such as USSR, USA, and UN. He agreed to a ceasefire with Pakistan’s President Ayub Khan on September 23, 1965, under the mediation of USSR’s Premier Alexei Kosygin.

He also signed several agreements with other countries to improve India’s relations and security. He signed the Sirima-Shastri Pact with Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1964 to resolve the issue of Indian Tamils in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He signed the Tashkent Declaration with Pakistan’s President Ayub Khan in 1966 to restore peace and normalcy between the two countries. He also maintained cordial ties with Burma (Myanmar), Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zambia.

Death and Legacy

Shastri died of a heart attack on January 11, 1966, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, just hours after signing the Tashkent Declaration. His sudden and mysterious death raised many questions and suspicions, but no conclusive evidence of foul play was ever found. He was cremated in Delhi and his ashes were immersed in the Ganges. He was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor, in 1966.

Shastri is widely regarded as one of the most honest, humble, and visionary leaders of India. He is remembered for his simplicity, integrity, courage, and dedication to the nation. He is also credited with shaping India’s economic, social, and foreign policies in the post-independence era. He inspired generations of Indians with his ideals and actions.

He is commemorated by various institutions, monuments, and awards in India and abroad. Some of them are:

  • Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, which trains civil servants for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and other central services.
  • Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of Management in Delhi, which offers postgraduate programs in management and research.
  • Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial in Delhi, which houses a museum and a library dedicated to his life and work.
  • Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium in Hyderabad, Telangana, which hosts cricket and football matches.
  • Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, which connects the city to domestic and international destinations.
  • Lal Bahadur Shastri Marg in Mumbai, Maharashtra, which is a major road that runs from Bandra to Thane.
  • Lal Bahadur Shastri Centre for Indian Culture in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, which promotes cultural exchange and cooperation between India and Uzbekistan.
  • Lal Bahadur Shastri Peace Award, which is conferred annually by the Lal Bahadur Shastri Foundation to individuals or organizations that have made outstanding contributions to world peace and harmony.

On his birth anniversary on October 2, which is also celebrated as Gandhi Jayanti (Gandhi’s birthday) and International Day of Non-Violence, the nation pays tribute to his legacy and values. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on October 2, 2020:

“Lal Bahadur Shastri Ji was humble and firm. He epitomised simplicity and lived for the welfare of our nation. We remember him on his Jayanti with a deep sense of gratitude for everything he has done for India.”

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