Lal Bhadur Shastri 1904-1966
Lal Bahadur Shastri was the third Prime Minister of India between 1964–66. Diminutive in physical stature, he rose from humble origins to play a significant role in the national movement, becoming a ‘giant among man’. Shastri was born in 1904 in Mughalsarai, Uttar Pradesh. Due to his father’s early death, he was sent to Varanasi to attend high school. Mahatma Gandhi was Shastri’s inspiration to join politics. After hearing a speech by the Mahatma in 1915, he decided to dedicate his life to the service of the country. He was an active participant in the Non-Cooperation Movement and was arrested in 1921 but later released as he was a minor. During Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha in 1930 however, he was arrested and imprisoned for over two years. After India’s Independence, during the Chief Ministership of Gobind Ballabh Pant he served as Minister for Railways and Transport in the Union Cabinet between 195156. In 1956, he resigned after a railway accident in Mahbubnagar but it was not accepted. However, another railway accident in Ariyalur which claimed 114 lives prompted him to resign, owning moral and constitutional responsibility. This time, Nehru accepted the resignation and Shastri’s stature only grew as a rare man of high principles. Shastri’s finest hour in politics was between the years 1964-66. Shahstri was a socialist in the Nehruvian mould who believed in ‘building a socialist democracy at home with freedom and prosperity for all and the maintenance of world peace and friendship with all nations’. Internally, the country was facing an economic crisis and food shortage and externally. India’s relations with Pakistan was looking ominous. Shastri responded to both these situations with firmness and a far-reaching vision. He initiated steps to usher in a ‘ Green Revolution’ in the country, which eventually led to India becoming a food surplus nation, though Shastri did not live to see this. Compelled by circumstances to go to a war with Pakistan in September 1965. Shastri, nevertheless, agreed to a cease-fire under UN auspices, though the Indian Army had achieved significant gains. After the cease-fire, Shastri agreed to a summit meeting with President Ayub Khan of Pakistan in Tashkent brokered by the Soviet Premier, Alexis Kosygin. This meeting led to the signing of the historic Tashkent Declaration. Unfortunately, Shastri suffered a massive heart attack and passed away on January11, 1966. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna posthumously.