The Gentle Giant – Lal Bahadur Shastri

Sharing one’s birthday with great people might be a matter of pride for lesser mortals like you or me, since we can boast that we were born on the same day as so-and-so. But when the person sharing his birthday with Mahatma Gandhi is a giant in his own right, it is sad that he is forgotten.

Lal Bahadur Shastri, who was born on October 2, the same day as Mahatma Gandhi is slowly being relegated to the inside pages of Indian history.  Barring the cursory laying of wreaths by political leaders on his Samadhi at Vijay Ghat, there is not much mention of him anywhere, not in print media, not in visual media. I wonder if schools celebrate his birth anniversary.  A whole generation is growing up without any knowledge of this gentle giant of a statesman.

A simple man who had great integrity and vision, Lal Bahadur Shastri participated in the freedom struggle after being inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. He believed in social reform as a way of progress for the country. He worked ceaselessly for the upliftment of Harijans. Not one to just preach the doctrine, he donated all his land to the Bhoodan  Movement of Vinoba Bhave and was perhaps the only leader past or present, who left nothing – no land, house or property for his family when he died.

Today, the political dramatists offer to resign their posts at the drop of a hat, knowing fully well that they would not be allowed to; but this man had done it with full remorse when he had been the Railway Minister in Nehru’s cabinet, taking full moral responsibility for the accident in Ariyalur Tamil Nadu that had killed nearly 150 people.

In his short tenure as the Prime Minister after he took over the country’s reins when Nehru died in 1964, he set exemplary standards in public administration. When Pakistan attacked India in 1965 in the Chhamb sector of Jammu and Kashmir, he took on the challenge. India won the ensuing war but he offered peace to the then military ruler Ayub Khan of Pakistan. Tragically he died under mysterious circumcstances in Tashkent, in the then USSR, where he had gone to sign the peace treaty on January 11,1966.

His convocation address to the students of Aligarh Muslim University in 1964 is uncannily what the nation needs today.

Some excerpts from his speech:

Whatever your station in future life, each one of you should first of all think of yourselves as citizens of the country. This confers on you certain rights, which are guaranteed by the Constitution, but it also subjects you to certain responsibilities, which also have to be clearly understood.

Ours is a democracy, which enjoins freedom to the individual, but this freedom has to be subjected to a number of voluntary restraints in the interests of organized society. And these voluntary restraints have to be exercised and demonstrated in every-day life.

Never forget that loyalty to the country comes ahead of all other loyalties. And this is an absolute loyalty, since one cannot weigh it in terms of what one receives. It is essential to remember that the entire country is one and that any one who fosters or promotes separatism or fissiparous tendencies is not our true friend.

The country can progress only if it does away completely with fissiparous tendencies and emerges as an integrated whole. And it is in the field of education that the seed of secularism has to be sown at the earliest stages, so that the plant can be carefully nurtured as it grows.

It must be remembered that the vast majority of Indians are extremely poor and it is only a small minority that live in relative comfort and have the benefit of university education and other worthwhile things. It is when we look at the Indian scene in such a perspective that Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsees and others, instead of feeling that they are different, will together begin to put forth a tremendous effort to fight poverty, to eradicate disease and banish illiteracy.

So let us pledge ourselves to this great man’s vision on his 106th birth anniversary year and stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow citizens to build a strong India. As he exhorted, we are all Indians first!

Jai Jawan! Jai Kisan!

(Adapted from the original version published in The  Children’s World)

17 comments

  1. wonderful post!

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  2. Great tribute indeed to the brazenly oft-neglected great former PM, who indisputably was much better than many of his oft-celebrated contemporaries due to the glorious culture of sycophancy…!

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    1. He was a man of great personal integrity. Though he had two sons, he never thought of ‘grooming’ them for his gaddi like the leaders of today. Leave alone grooming, he left them nothing in the name of property. Even the good work he did is forgotten today! You are so right about the culture of sycophancy! 😀

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  3. Beautifully written! It’s sad that our media tends to forget giants outside the ‘Gandhi’ family. Shastri jee is the only Indian PM who died under mysterious circumstances in ‘Tashkent’ but the reasons are not yet made public even after his wife, Lalita Shastri, alleged that he was murdered. Is the Indian public so immature that we will over-react to the truth, if released?
    I tried to pay my respects to the man on my blog as well. http://bit.ly/cFlejN The sentiment needs to be spread. Just tweeted, fb’ed and mailed it to a few friends.

    Best Regards

    JAI HIND

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    1. Thanks Azad. I will read your post right away. As Shrinath has rightly pointed out, sycophancy is what rules the minds of people today. Lick the boots of those in power for the crumbs that come your way. whether we are immature or not, we have a right to know the truth, isn’t it?
      Thanks for promoting this post on your networks. 🙂

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  4. Honestly ZM, even I had forgotten that it was Lal Bahadur Shastri’s birth anniversary as well. All we are taught today about him is “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” and about his episode of crossing a flooded river to get to school as a kid. The great leader that he was is unfortunately relegated to the backpages of Indian history. And his is not the only case. Bhagat Singh’s birthday passed barely a week ago without so much as a “twitter”.
    To take nothing from Gandhi, the mass uprising that he brought about elevated him to an almost immortal status. Yes, he was a great statesman but thats it. In their own right, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and more recently Atal Bihari Vajpayee were equally great statesmen. So lets celebrate Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s birthday too as we sing Christmas carols this year. 🙂

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    1. Shastriji was a statesman, but he was the real representative of the common man, since he never forgot his roots. In the days when sundry leaders are lining their pocket while the sun is shining on their fortunes, who will understand or even appreciate a leader who gave up his land for the sake of the landless? I’m gratified that at least his slogan remains in the memory of your generation. What about the little ones of today? They might laugh at his ‘foolishness.’

      Let’s remember Vajpayee’s birthday this year. Thanks for reminding me.

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    2. Pratibha · · Reply

      How could you forget Lal Bahadur Shastri?
      Whatever one says and feels, not a single Oct. 2 has gone when I have not paid my silent tribute to him. Unfortunately, his birthday is over shadowed by Gandhi Jayanti.
      Talking of Atalji, he is my favourite politician, besides being the best orator I have heard. Now that you brought up his name, I wonder if you know, he added ‘Jai Vigyan’ to Shastri’s ‘Jai Jawan,Jai Kisan’
      Even I was not aware of Bhagat Singh’s birthday. But, this yr sms did go around remembering him.
      Next time when you are in Delhi, ask your Mamaji to show you our photograph with Shastriji.

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      1. @Maa: you forget that Shastriji was a statesman in your generation while Atalji was there when our generation is around…. since none of us have ever seen Shastriji, it is quite natural to forget him… there are only a few who rise (or are allowed/made to rise) above the generation divide so unfortunately Shastriji is lost in the previous generation. I am certain that if the Congress were to lose national control for a prolonged period, maybe even 2-3 terms, Indira Gandhi, who according to me was one of the best PMs we ever had, would also be forgotten by the next generation… at least to the extent of her birthday…

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        1. Oh, do continue…. 🙂

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        2. Pratibha · · Reply

          Great! You seem to be forgetting my birthday too. Shastriji was my generation? How? Any idea of his primeministership?
          How come you remember so many dates & events that took place before your birth? No, I am not blaming you. As I mentioned earlier, his birthday (not his simplicity) is overshadowed by Gandhi Jayanti.

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      2. 😀 enjoying this immensely, Pratibha!

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  5. Not many have known LB shastri for his great work, Mainstream media always sidelines the contributions by LBS because of Mahatma’s birthday. However, the just one sentence “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” is still an inspiration for many. Great tribute.

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    1. Thanks Mohan. He was a real son of the soil who gave his all to the country, even his life! I am only sad I couldn’t post it on the day of birth anniversary since I was down with migraine.

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  6. In the din of ‘Gandhi Jayanti’ often people forget the legendary figure who signed the historical Tashkent agreement in Moscow.

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    1. We tend to remember even the PMs who slept through their tenures and fought to be in the chair for a few months, but can’t pay homage to a great son of India. It speaks of the times.

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  7. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shreyash, Vineet Rajan. Vineet Rajan said: The Gentle Giant http://goo.gl/fb/C7v5t […]

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