Lal Bhadur Shas­tri 1904-1966

1904-1966

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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.

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