Lal Bahadur “Shastri” Shrivastav was the second Prime Minister of the Republic of India and a significant figure in the Indian independence movement. Born on October 2, 1904 in Mughal Sarai (Uttar Pradesh today), he is remembered for his slogan, ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’. He shared his birthday with Mahatma Gandhi and was very deeply influenced by his ideologies.
Lal Bahadur Shastri was born as Lal Bahadur Shrivastava, to Ramdulari Devi and Sharada Prasad Shrivastava. Shastri was the second child of the three siblings. Shastriji was against the prevailing caste system and hence he decided to drop his surname. In April 1906, When Shastriji was hardly a year and 6 months old, his father, who had only recently been promoted to the post of deputy tahsildar, died in an epidemic of bubonic plague. His mother, expecting her third child, moved out to her father’s house, and settled there with her children for good. Shastriji and his sisters grew up in his maternal grandfather’s house. The little Lal Bahadur began his education at the age of four at in Mughal Sarai. Shastriji used to swim ” The Ganges ” twice a day to attend school. He used to tie the books on the top of his head and would swim to school. He didn’t have enough money that time to take a boat to reach to school. He studied in Mughal Sarai until the sixth standard. His cousin maternal uncle took over the responsibility of the little Shastri, his mother and three sisters, after the death of his grandfather. They had to shift to Varanasi on account of job transfer of his uncle. Shastiji joined his seventh grade at Harish Chandra High School.
Making of a leader
Shastriji’s family had no links with the independence struggle which was rapidly taking place in those days. But, his teacher at school was an intense patriot. He gave Shastriji the very much required financial support. Shastriji was inspired by his teacher’s patriotism and started taking deep interest in the freedom struggle. He started studying the works of Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, and Annie Besant. When in tenth started he got pretty much inspired by Gandhiji’s call for young students and withdrew himself from the government school and joined the local branch of the Congress party as a volunteer actively participated in anti-government demonstrations. He got arrested and jailed too, but was let off as he was a minor.
Shastriji’s immediate supervisor, J.B. Kripalani (a former lecturer of the Benares Hindu University) and a most prominent leader of Indian independence movement was one of Gandhi’s close follower. He realized that the young volunteers should be imparted education. He, along with a friend founded an informal school based on ‘nationalist education’ which would focus on national heritage. Shastriji was among the first students of this new institute and graduated with a first-class degree in philosophy and ethics in 1925. Here, he was conferred the title of Shastri(scholar) which later became a part of his name. This was the beginning of the making of a leader.
In 1927, he got married to Lalita Devi, from Mirzapur, which was near his home town. The humble Lal Bahadur Shastri took a khadi cloth and a spinning wheel as a part of dowry. The couple had four sons and two daughters.
In 1928, Shastriji became an active member of the Indian National Congress. He was jailed during the freedom struggle and continued to be a part of the freedom struggle, until India got its independence in 1947.
Following independence, Shastriji became a part of the politics of free India. He became the Minister of Police and Transport under Govind Ballabh Pant’s Chief Minister ship on 15 August 1947. As a transport minister, he was the first to appoint women conductors. As a minster in charge of Police (as Home minister was called prior to 1950), he ordered the police to use water jets instead of the lathi charge done to disperse the unruly crowds.
After the death of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964, Shastriji was appointed as the second Prime Minister of India. He faced many agitations as the Prime minister but also introduced many revolutions that were intended to make India self-sufficient. He promoted the White Revolution- a national campaign for increasing the production and supply of milk by supporting the Amul milk co-operative movement in Anand, Gujarat and created National Dairy Development Board. Underlining the need to boost India’s food production, Shastriji also promoted the Green Revolution in India in 1965. During the 22-day war with Pakistan in 1965, on 19 October 1965, Shastriji gave’Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’ the national slogan in those war times. He led India in the 1965-Indo- Pak war.
Rest in peace - Man of Peace
Shastriji was known for his mild manners and simple living. He never wanted to make use of his position as the cabinet or prime minister of India. In spite of being a cabinet minister for many years, he died poor. All that he owned was an old car, which was bought in instalments from the government. The great leader died in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on the 11th January 1966, one day after signing a peace treaty to end the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war. His close aides and relatives suspect a foul play in his death.
Vijay Ghat was a memorial established in his memory as a mark of praise to this unassuming national hero. He will always be remembered for his humble living and his immense contributions to the making of a self-sufficient India which he envisioned after independence.