Friday 5 August 2011

Lal Bahadur Shastri : Peerless Patriot

Ever since attaining independence, India has been brokering peace with its neighbour Pakistan but of no avail. The recent carnage in Mumbai of the terrorist attacks in December 2008 has convinced the entire world that Pakistan is the epic centre of Terrorism. The United Nations and the Security Council have imposed a ban on certain terrorist organisations and named individual terrorists.
In this back drop a grateful nation remembers with gratitude when Lal Bahadur Shastri, second Prime Minister of India paid with his life in Tashkent while making peace with Pakistan. When he died, he left no house, no land and no cash. But he did leave behind an example of morally inspiring generations of mankind. In an age riddled with corruption and deep rooted casteisim, his life of exemplary integrity is of great relevance for contemporary India as well as the world.
Summing up his life as a saga of achievement, a Lok Sabha publication describes Shastriji as : “A peerless patriot, an eloquent parliamentarian, a skillful administrator, an acclaimed statesman, an astute negotiator, an embodiment of selflessness and honesty and a shining symbol of simplicity, integrity and affability, Lal Bahadur Shastri was an epitome of all that is best in Indian culture. He was a noble soul who lived in perfect purity of thought, work and deed.”
Sharing his date of birth, October 2, with the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi, Shastriji took an active part in the various Satyagraha movements and was universally regarded as a model satyagrahi by both leaders and volunteers. History accorded to him the role of a link between the old and modern. As a result, Shastriji entered the Servants of the People Society of Lala Lajpat Rai and worked with dedication. He played the role of a link within the Congress, helping to maintain on an even keel the relationship between venerable conservative leaders like Purushottamadas Tandon and Jawaharlal Nehru.
But Shastriji’s humility was not to be mistaken for frailty. Courage and firmness, he possessed in abundance.
It was in recognition of this quality that, after Independence, he was entrusted by Govind Ballabh Pant with the Police Department in U.P. Shastriji displayed rare ability to maintain discipline without provoking any rancour. In the U.P. he also handled the Transport portfolio and led the nation in road transport nationalisation.
It did not take Nehru long to requisition Shastriji’s services for the Union Government. Once in Delhi, he received from the Prime Minister not only an important portfolio but the status reserved for chosen and trusted counsellors.
The sympathy which Shastriji intuitively entertained from India’s ordinary people was evident in his handling of the Railway Ministry. For the first time, third class compartments saw electric fans installed. Similarly, dining car facilities, Class II air-conditioning and passenger – safety arrangements were the other innovations made.
He set an example by resigning as Railways Minister owning moral responsible for a railway accident near Ariyalur in Tamil Nadu.
Expressing high appreciation of Shastriji’s sterling qualities and impeccable character, Nehru observed in the Lok Sabha on 26 November 1956. “I would like to say that it has been, not only in the Government but for long, 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 any undertaking – – a man of the highest integrity, loyalty, devoted to ideals, a man of conscience and a man of hard work. We can expect no better.
And it is because he is such a man of conscience that he has felt deeply whenever there is any failing in the work entrusted to his charge.”
Although Shastri’s tenure as Prime Minister lasted only nineteen months, it was a period of high excitement and drama. Under his leadership India successfully fought a major war against Pakistan. This came as a tremendous boost to India after the China debacle three years earlier.
Shastriji’s role during the 1965 Indo-Pak war and in bringing about the Tashkent Declaration represented a remarkable milestone in Indian history.
Though India emerged victorious in the war, Shastriji wanted to resolve the issues of contention between the two countries amicably. This, he felt, was necessary if both countries were to live in peace and as good neighbours, particularly when their priorities should be food, clothing and shelter for their people and not wars and conflicts.
Lal Bahadur had the wisdom which consists of common sense in uncommon degree, and this he revealed in a growing measure in the brief months of his prime ministership.
In the period he faced calmly and with resolution more successive crises than have come the way of most prime ministers. Foodgrain scarcity with rising prices posed the first menacing problem in his early days in office, and this was followed by growing tensions in Kashmir, culminating in the detention of Sheikh Abdullah.
Then came the Pakistani incursion in Kutch and attack on Kashmir. Lal Bahadur had a rare capacity for remaining imperturbable but acutely vigilant through the most threatening times.
Something of this calmness and confidence he was able to convey to his countrymen, more especially in the later months of his prime ministership.
On 11 January 1966, this great son of India suddenly passed away at Tashkent. The entire nation, Parliament, State Legislatures, the Press, leaders from all walks of life and dignitaries from abroad-mourned the sad demise of this outstanding leader who laid down his life at the altar of peace.
Mourning the death of Shastriji, the then President of India, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, said “Lal Bahadur Shastriji’s case in an illustration of the strengths of democracy in this country. From humble beginnings, without any advantages of birth, position or wealth, he rose to the highest position in the government of the country.”
Smt. Indira Gandhi, who succeeded him as Prime Minister, said: “…He was very polite in his nature and was very peaceful but at the time of war he encouraged our morale strongly, provided his leadership to the nation which contributed to the unity and strength of the country.”
Deeply touched by the tragic news of Shastriji’s demise, American President Lyndon Johnson remarked “The world is a smaller place without him, and our hearts go out to his family and to the people of India”.
The serious looking Shastri could be light and jovial, people did not know. He reminded that President Ayub had declared that he would walk through Delhi. Shastri said President Ayub is “great, high and mighty. I thought he should not undergo the travail of such a long walk. We should ourselves march towards Lahore to greet him”.
Another one: Some people presented Shastriji a giant cake in the shape of a Patton tank on his birthday. Symbolically, the Prime Minister destroyed the tank putting a knife through it. He then asked the cake to be sent to Jawans. One more: I am not a marshal. I wear a dhoti. Maybe for this reason Pakistan considers India weak. Defence Minister Chavan also wears a dhoti. Dhoti-clad people have defended their country and marched up to Lahore.
Article by : R.K.Bhatnagar
Source: Bhavan's Journal 28 February 2009
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