REMEMBERING SHASTRI

Late Lal Bahadhur Shastri in his first broadcast as Prime Minister of India on 11th June 1964 said, “There comes a time in the life of every nation when it stands at the cross-roads of history and must choose which way to go. But for us there need be no difficulty or hesitation, no looking to right or left. Our way is straight and clear, the building up of a socialist democracy at home with freedom and prosperity for all, and the maintenance of world peace and friendship with all nations.” While remembering the great Indian leader on his birth anniversary today one can well realize that Shastri’s aforesaid statement holds greater significance in today’s national and international scenario. Deeply impressed and influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, Shastri was a loyal follower, first of Gandhi, and then of Jawaharlal Nehru. After independence in 1947, he became one of the Prime Minister Nehru’s principal lieutenants, first as Railways Minister (1951-56), and then in other assignments including that of Home Minister and was chosen as Nehru’s successor owing to his adherence to Nehruvian socialism after Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi turned down Congress President’s offer of premiership. Continuing Nehru’s policies of non-alignment and socialism, he led the country during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965 with his slogan of “Jai Jawan Jai Kissan” (“Hail the Soldier, Hail the Farmer”) becoming very popular during the war and is remembered even today with great pride by every Indian. The significant period of metamorphosis of Shastri’s ideology was during the pre independence struggle especially during his almost nine years jail stay in total, where he spent time reading books on diverse subjects thus becoming familiar with the works of western philosophers, revolutionaries and social reformers. The greatest contribution of Shastri was the appointment of women conductors for the first time in India when he was the Transport Minister in UP government. Not only this, as the minister in charge of the Police Department (Now called Home Ministry), he ordered that police should use jets of water instead of lathis to disperse unruly crowds. His political acumen and clear vision made him successful during his tenure as Police Minister especially in 1947 when he achieved great success in curbing communal riots in UP, preventing mass migration and playing a significant role in resettlement of refugees. A man of great conviction as the Minister of Railways and Transport in the Central Cabinet he offered his resignation after a railway accident at Mahbubnagar that led to 112 deaths but Nehru did not accept his resignation. However three months later, he resigned accepting moral and constitutional responsibility for a railway accident at Ariyalur in Tamil Nadu that resulted in 144 deaths. While speaking in Parliament on the incident, Nehru stated that he was accepting the resignation this time because it would set an example in constitutional propriety and not because Shastri was in any way responsible for the accident. This in itself speaks of the respect for moral as well as the political values in Shastri’s vision and philosophy that is missing from the scene in the present times with Ministers and bureaucrats remaining clung to their positions despite their prima facie involvement in various scams thus showing complete disregard of moral values. As Union Home Minister Shastri was instrumental in appointing the Committee on Prevention of Corruption and created the famous “Shastri Formula” to contain the language agitations in the states of Assam and Punjab that was accepted by all sections of the people. He is known for the apt handling of the situation arising out of the incident of missing sacred relic from Hazratbal Mosque in Srinagar besides resolving the crisis between the Chief Minister and his deputy in the state of Kerala in 1962. As a Prime Minister he promoted the White Revolution, a national campaign to increase the production and supply of milk besides motivating the nation to maximize the cultivation of food grains by ploughing the lawn himself, at his official residence in New Delhi. Under his leadership India faced and repulsed the Pakistani invasion of 1965. On the foreign policy front Shastri built closer relations with the Soviet Union in the aftermath of the Sino-Indian War of 1962. While paying rich tributes to this great leader it is hoped that the present day politicians emulate Shastri’s philosophy, vision and attitude that is fit to deal with the crises confronting the nation today.