Come October 2, the entire nation pays homage and remembers the great leader and the father of our great nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi or ‘The Mahatma’.
This is because October 2, was the day the great social reformer, freedom fighter, writer, proponent of truth, non-violence and peace was born. Functions, prayer meetings, memorial ceremonies, speeches, talks and a host of other activities are conducted in the name of Mahatma Gandhi.
It should be done and people are doing it. But what about others born on the same date and have contributed greatly to building our nation and? Nobody ever remembers these leaders who contributed to the peace, progress and growth of our country.
Here is a brief life sketch of Lal Bahadur Shastri (1904-66), India’s second Prime Minister and a man with steely determination. Though born into an impoverished family, Shastri rose to political eminence purely on the strength of moral principles.
He is perhaps the only politician and former prime minister who left no house, no land, no money to his children.
On this day and age, where corruption is the way of life, Shastriji has set an example of integrity and honesty.
Lal Bahadur Shastri was born on October 2, 1904 – the same day as the father of nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – in Mughalsarai, Uttar Pradesh. His father – Sharada Prasad – passed away when Shastri was barely 18 months old, leaving him in the care of his mother Ramdulari Devi.
Growing up without a father was not easy, it placed the burden of family upon his shoulders at an early age. Sponsored by his uncle, he went to Varanasi to pursue higher studies.
While at Varanasi, Mahatma Gandhi visited and spoke of the non-cooperation movement. Later in 1921, inspired by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Gandhiji, Shastri discontinued his studies and plunged into the freedom movement.
Working part time, he enrolled at the Kashi Vidyapeeth and obtained a degree in philosophy which earned him the epithet ‘Shastri’. Soon after completion of his studies, Shastriji entered into social work to improve the Harijans’ living standards.
Two years later he married Lalita Devi and moved to Allahabad, where Shastriji served as secretary of the District Congress Committee.
Upon his return from the 1929 Lahore session of the Congress, Shastriji actively spoke out against the British Raj in favour of ‘Purna Swaraj’ which led to his arrest.
After spending long periods in jail he was finally released in 1946. On August 15, 1947 when India gained independence Shastriji was appointed Minister of Police.
He also held several other important posts in the parliament including General Secretary of the Lok Sabha, railway minister, communications minister and Home minister. In 1956, when a train accident killed 144 passengers near Ariyalur in Tamil Nadu, Shastriji who was then Railway minister owned moral responsibility to the mishap and resigned.
On May 27, 1964 when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru died Shastriji was the unanimous choice to became India’s second Prime Minister.
Although Shastriji’s tenure lasted only nineteen months, it was a period of high excitement and conflict.
Pakistan attacked India in the Chhamb sector of Jammu & Kashmir state in 1965. Shastriji promised to meet force with force, and by early September the second Indo-Pakistan war had commenced. History is witness to India’s triumph over the invading Pakistani army.
Shastriji portrayed his love for peace and magnanimity by signing a peace treaty with Pakistan’s military dictator General Ayub Khan on January 11, 1966, in Tashkent, when the then Russian president Aleksei Kosygin intervened and brokered peace.
But, that was the last peace accord he was to sign, hours after signing the treaty Shastriji, suffered a fatal heart attack and passed away. His body was brought back to India, and a memorial – Vijay Ghat – was built in his honour.
The slogan Jai Jawan, Jai Kisanm coined by Shastrij is inscribed here. He was the first person to be posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna.
Regrettably, most of the country has forgotten, Lal Bahadur Shastri, a visionary and a great patriot.
In his personal life too, Shastriji was a generous man, he gave away all of his wealth and became an advocate of land reform through donations (Bhu daan).
A staunch and practicing Gandhian, he advocated social reform as a means to achieve self-reliance and was a popular leader of the Indian National Congress and gave the country the slogan Jai Jawan- Jai Kisan (Hail the Soldier, Hail the Farmer).
Shastri, who epitomised honesty and sincerity in public life has been totally forgotten. In this phase in our nations history where corruption, criminilisation and power brokering dominates politics, it would do good to remember this man and try to follow his principles and emulate his life.
One of the greatest ironies of life is the fact that the entire nation celebrates Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday but not a single public function, newsreport or television programme is conducted to remember this great man.