As we celebrate the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the country pays respect to another great freedom fighter, a statesman who was India’s second Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. Born on 2nd October 1904 at Mughalsarai, a small railway town seven miles away from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. His father was a school teacher who died when Lal Bahadur Shastri was only a year and a half old. His mother still in her twenties, took her three children to her father’s house, and settled down there.
As he grew up, Lal Bahadur Shastri became more and more interested in the country’s struggle for freedom from foreign yoke. He was greatly impressed by Mahatma Gandhi Ji. Lal Bahadur Shastri was sixteen when Gandhiji called upon his countrymen to join the Non-Cooperation Movement. He decided at once to give up his studies in response to the Mahatma’s call.
Lal Bahadur Shastri threw himself into the freedom struggle as a young man and spent many years in jail. He was sworn in as Prime Minister in June 1964, Shastri was interviewed by the New Delhi correspondent of the Manchester Guardian. The journalist wrote up the conversation in an article entitled ‘A Sparrow’s Strength’. He found Shastri “rock-sure of himself”, a “very strong man indeed'”, who spoke in short and sharp sentences – “no words wasted”.
During the 1965 India-Pak war, when the country faced food scarcity Lal Bahadur Shastri, who was the Prime Minister then, stopped drawing his salary. He was a man of tremendous integrity; he resigned from his post of Railways Minister because he felt responsible for a railway accident that had killed many people. His slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ during the 1965 war boosted the morale of the soldiers as well as farmers amid food scarcity.
Lal Bahadur Shastri promoted the White Revolution, a countrywide campaign to increase milk production. He supported the Amul milk co-operative at Anand in Gujarat and created the National Dairy Development Board. To boost India’s food production, Lal Bahadur Shastri promoted the Green Revolution in India in 1965, which led to an increase in food grain production, especially in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh.
His tenure as the Prime Minister was only for 19 months. He died in Tashkent on January 11, 1966. In his first broadcast as Prime Minister, on 11 June 1964, Shastri stated- “There comes a time in the life of every nation when it stands at the crossroads 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.”
All his lifetime, Shastri was known for honesty and humility. He was the first person to be posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, and a memorial “Vijay Ghat” was built for him in Delhi. Several educational institutes, Shashtri National Academy of Administration (Mussorie) is after his name these were some examples. The Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute was named after Shastri due to his role in promoting scholarly activity between India and Canada.