October 2 happens to the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. Another birth anniversary happens to be that of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri who usually gets overshadowed by the former.
Here is a look at eight hits of Shastri...
1. Jailed as a school student: When we discuss the freedom struggle, we usually mention regularly how Gandhi and first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru went to jail. Even former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's imprisonment crops up regularly.
Did you know that Shastri participated regularly in the freedom struggle and spent a total whopping 9 years in jail? The first time he was jailed as a student and had to be released because he was a minor!
2. Women conductors: Today well into 2015 many Indian cities are still struggling to appoint women conductors in State buses. So it's quite difficult to believe that he did the same way back in the 1940s!
He made this progressive move when he was Transport Minister in the Uttar Pradesh Government.
3. Water cannons over lathis: Shastri was also (the now defunct) Police Minister after the above stint. He tried to give a human touch to the post. Once he prevented violence from going out of hand while watching a cricket match.
He also made the police used water cannons instead of lathis to prevent protestors from getting injured. In his career even though there were protests against his governments, there were never any protests and slogans directly against Shastri.
4. Simplicity: He is probably the simplest Prime Minister we have ever had. A man of very little needs, he led a simple lifestyle and amassed absolutely no wealth. He was one of the poorest politicians around.
5. Accountability: A young Shastri was plucked by Nehru from the UP Ministry to become a Union Minister. He became Railways and Transport Minister. But when a railway accident took place he resigned taking moral responsibility, a rarity. Nehru accepted his resignation on the grounds that it would set a good example for the country and not because Shastri was in any way responsible.
When Shastri returned to the Cabinet, he received great respect from everyone.
6. Jai Jawan: Nehru dithered over Kashmir in 1947-48 and his absolute bungling of the China problem led to a humiliating defeat in the 1962 war. When Pakistan attacked us in 1965, the whole nation was on tenterhooks whether we would continue to bungle in military affairs. But Shastri gave a free hand to our defence forces and that laid the foundations for a strong military. Marshall of the Air Force Arjun Singh stated that the then defence chiefs were taken aback by his resolve and the freedom he gave them.
7. Jai Kisan: While Nehru focused on industry, Shastri said agriculture was also equally important. He pushed both agriculture and dairy policies and it may be said that he laid the foundations for the Green and White revolutions.
8. The peacemaker: Shastri tried resolved the Rann of Kutch conflict peacefully in 1965. Pakistan saw it as a sign of weakness but they later realized that he could play both peace and war equally well. The Sirima-Shastri Pact went a long way for the Tamils of Sri Lanka.
He mended ties with Burma and went out of his way to shake General Ayub Khan's hands after the Pakistan war.
The big miss...
Let's face it. Shastri died mysteriously and nobody knows how it happened. His successor Indira did absolutely nothing to find out and along with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the nation has every right to know what happened.
While people say it's too late, countries like England and Russia maintain detailed secret files over almost each and everything. It is high time that the government declassified all files related to Netaji and Shastri and also ask foreign countries for all the information they have so that some light can be shed on these two greats.
Shastri was Prime Minister for just a mere 19 months, but he left his stamp on the future policies of India just as he did in his brief stints as Transport and Police ministers.
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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here