Inspired by Gandhi: Lal Bahadur and Lalita Shastri

October 2 is the birth anniversary of two greats who contributed to the building of modern India—Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri. The celebration of the first has always overshadowed the second (though with each passing year, both are fading from memory).

To make up, here are some gleanings building on a biography of Shastri that I recently had the opportunity to read (Lal Bahadur Shastri: Politics and Beyond. Sandeep Shastri–not a relative by the way, only an ardent admirer).

Shastri’s father was a school teacher and later clerk in government service. Sadly, he died when Lal Bahadur was barely 18 months old. His mother, the daughter of a teacher, moved back to her maternal house where the children grew up.

Shastri’ family was not particularly active in the Freedom Movement, but he was highly influenced by a teacher, Nishkameshwar Prasad Mishra, who was passionately involved in the Movement. Inspired by his teacher, young Lal Bahadur started reading the works of national leaders, and after attending a meeting addressed by Gandhiji and Madan Mohan Malaviya, he dropped out of school just 3 months before his Std. 10 exams,  to join the independence struggle. He later graduated in Philosophy and Ethics from Kashi Vidyapith, where ‘Shastri’ was the degree given, which then became attached to his name!

As a member of the Servants of the People Society, he worked under the guidance of Gandhiji for the betterment of Harijans. Under the Mahatma’s influence, he also became a member of the Indian National Congress 1928, and went on to play a leadership role in the organization and during various phases of the struggle, including the Quit India movement.

After Independence, he went on to the Central Government after a short stint in UP. He went on to hold several portfolios, before becoming the Prime Minister in 1964.

A few snippets and facts which are not widely known:

Shastri is known for the slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’. But his respect for business people was no less. Exhibiting a very modern understanding of the linkages between business and society, as far back as 1965 he said businessmen had ‘an even greater role than that of an economist and the politician. Too often the community views the businessman’s aims as selfish gain.. (That) impression can be removed only when business becomes fully alive to its social responsibilities.’

He was the one behind India’s White Revolution–the national campaign to increase the production and supply of milk. It was his political leadership that saw the Amul milk co-operative take shape, and the creation of the National Dairy Development Board.  

Lal Bahadur married Lalita Devi in 1927. She too was an ardent Gandhi follower and lived a very simple life. Her unstinting support to her husband enabled him to live a life of service to the nation.

This story is a beautiful illustration of Lalitaji’s high ideals and principles.

Once when Shastri was in jail, he learnt that Lalita was unwell. He wrote to her, asking her to take a glass of milk every day. The reality was that the household was very short of money, and she just could not afford a glass of milk for herself. But she did not want to trouble her husband by telling him this. So she found an ingenious way to do what her husband wished. She found a tiny glass, such as used to feed infants, and took milk in this every day. She wrote to her husband that she was doing as he wished. It was only much after his release that he learnt about this. He was amazed by how she stuck to the truth and still helped him stay him untroubled by the everyday problems so that he could focus on his work.

To such people of integrity and principles do we owe our freedom. Every day the thought should trouble us as to whether we are living up to their vision.




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