Debashish Chowdhury: It is not necessary that people paint multiple pages of newspapers with giant advertisements marking the birthday of Lal Bahadur Shastri wasting tons of money which they do in the case of Mahatma, but to remember the work of a non-Gandhi prime minister and to spread his message is what we must do. He wouldn’t have mind for he too loved Gandhiji and was one of his ardent followers. Lal Bahadur Shastri (2 October 1904– 11 January 1966) was the 2nd Prime Minister of India and a senior leader of the Indian National Congress political party.
Shastri ji was brought up in his maternal home, as his father died when he was very young. He studied urdu and Persian as was the custom for kyastha boys to learn. His family surname was srivastava. In 1921 when he was to write his matriculation exam he left school at the call of Gandhi and Madanmohan Malaviya. He continued his studies in a nationalist school opened by J.B Kripalni. Later he finished his graduation from BHU in philosophy and ethics and earned the title of Shastri. Lal bahadur had already foregone his family caste surname of Srivastava and hence the new title Shastri stuck on to him.
He held many important positions in UP congress and after death of Nehru made the PM as per the Kamraj plan. He was chosen as the compromise candidate to stop Morarji Desai as well as indira Gandhi. In the first general election he was in charge of selecting candidate for the congress and also planning the campaign. In 1964 he was made the second prime minister of india. In his short tenure he deviated from Nehruvan socialism and took a more pragmatic approach to questions of development and poverty alleviation.
He visited Anand in Gujrat and met V.G. Kurien the then head of the Kaira Milk Cooperative in Anand. He was so impressed by Kurien’s work that he decided to form National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) there in Anand only with Kurien as Chairman. Rest as we all know this history. Hence we can easily say that Shastri ji was Father of dairy revolution in india and the creator of Amul.
He was also very worried about the dismal condition of farming in our country. He was not in support of collectivisation or forced increase in agricultural production. His tenure saw acute food crises in india. Yet he did not lose heart and set up Food Corporation of India (FCI) which later on became the backbone of our green revolution. Thus we can safely say that as regards milk and grains he set up the infrastructure which made us self reliant in the future.
In 1965 Pakistan attacked India and thrust all its military might on the narrow sector of Chamb and Khemkaran. The operation launched by Pakistan was called Operation Gibraltar. Pakistan wanted to cut off Kashmir and Himachal from India by marching through Jammu and Panjab. Tables were turned when India launched massive counter attacks in Jaisalmer and Sindh. Also India retaliated in Kargil and Drass sectors of Kashmir and Ladakh. Ultimately Indian troops had marched on to Lahore and captured its airport and suburban police station areas. The city of Sialkot was also heavily sieged and on the verge of falling. India faught with minimum help and support from the western powers, even soviet Russia did not intervene in favour of India. Russia ultimately agreed to broker peace as Pakistan touched feet of western powers to help it. USA was desperate to end the war because all its latest Patton tanks and Sabre jets were being destroyed by vintage challenger and Churchill tanks of Indian army and small gnat fighter jets of Indian air force. USA armament industry was feeling the heat as its equipments in Pakistani hands was being trumelled like so many ants. In this war there was the largest tank battle in Khem Karan after that of Kursk in second world war. And in Khem Karan Indian vijayanta tanks destroyed hundreds of Pakistani Patton tanks. Even today almost every major city in India has in its main square a captured Patton tank on display.
But all the major achievements which Shastri ji had attained for us by sheer strength of his character and sacrifice were given away by a strange capitulation in the Tashkent Agreement. During war time Shastri ji had given the clarion call of Jai jawan Jai kisan. He had also asked all the people of this country to forego food for one time daily to help the war effort. Millions of Indians responded to this and people did not eat one time daily. In the Tashkent agreement, india left all its captured areas and the situation of 1948 was reinstated. We fought such a massive and hard war but ultimately Pakistan did not get to pay any war damages to us. We let off Pakistan very easily without inflicting any punishment on it.
This has remained a greater mystery than the sudden death of Shastri ji. It can very well very surmised that Shastri ji did not approve of such a capitulation and losers agreement and hence he might have been killed. Shastri ji had called up his family just one hour before he allegedly suffered the heart attack. He was sounding very healthy as per the family members and wanted to tell them something important the next day. But alas that next day never came. Shastri ji’s family had since always asked for post mortem of the body when it came back from Tashkent, but congress never agreed to it. Like the mysterious deaths of Netaji and Shyamaprasad, Shastri ji’s death has since remained the biggest mystery of congress politics.
In a short term of two years as PM Shastri ji made great changes to our agricultural policy, fought bravely and won a war and given India long term institutions that would make us proud one day.