Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan: The man who was 'Bahadur' for his people

Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan: The man who was 'Bahadur' for his people

Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan: The man who was 'Bahadur' for his people

Today is the death anniversary of Lal Bahadur Shastri, the second Prime Minister of Independent India.

To commemorate the man that was the face behind India's White Revolution, let us revisit a short account of his life.

Birth and the advent of Shastri's part in the freedom struggle

The boy who would become the staunch, hardy freedom fighter inspired by the Mahatma was born on October 2, 1904. The entirety of India was already clamouring for release from the British Raj when he was born.

Following his family tradition of getting an education in Urdu, Shastri found an inspiration in one of his teachers at the Harish Chandra Singh High School, which coupled with a rousing speech from the Mahatma, urging students to enter the non-cooperation movement, resulted in the young man entering the rising freedom struggle.

Like so many who preceded him, Shastri was jailed countless times for his actions and did a total of 9 years behind bars, which he spent reading works of Western philosophers, social reformers and revolutionaries.

Political career

Eventually, India won its independence and with it, began Shastri's political career. He began by becoming Parliamentary Secretary in Uttar Pradesh in 1951 and went on to handle various positions including Minister of Police and Transport in UP, where he introduced women conductors and issued orders to the police to use water jets as opposed to lathi charge to disperse crowds. It was under his watch that the early communal riots were brought under control.

His political career only went up from there as he was soon made the general secretary of the Congress under the Premiership of Jawaharlal Nehru and the post of Railways minister in 1952.

After Nehru's death in '64, Shastri entered the fray to fill the void left behind. With the help of K. Kamaraj and his own appeal to the people, Shastri became the second Prime Minister, beating the right-wing conservative Maoraji Desai to the post of Premier.

It was during his time that the government, attempting to establish Hindi as the sole national language, saw anti-Hindi agitation in many of the non-Hindi speaking states, especially Madras. Shastri's assurance that the non-Hindi states may continue using English helped tide the agitation over.

White and Green Revolution

The White and Green Revolutions, commonly accepted to be Shastri's biggest contributions to the Indian economy, came soon after. Amul, found under the tutelage of Verghese Kurien, found significant support by Shastri, who appealed to him to replicate the Amul model across the country and founded the National Dairy Development Board to that effect.

A believer in the ideology that one must first attempt something before asking others to do the same, Shastri decided that his family would skip a meal per week and then appealed to the country to do the same, that those less fortunate could be fed. This resulted in the eponymous 'Shastri Vrat', which involved even eateries closing their shutters one day per week.

Indo-Pak war, 1965

The 22-day long Indo-Pak war of 1965 saw Shastri's still-renowned slogan 'Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan' come to the fore. As Pakistan bore down upon India, Shastri refused to bow, saying that it would be fine with living in poverty for a little longer, but freedom cannot be subverted.

During the course of the War, even China stepped in to try and strong-arm Shastri by alleging that India set up equipment in Chinese territory and threatened military action, which did not deter him in any way.

On September 17, 1965, the United Nations stepped in and mandated a ceasefire, ending the war before it became any worse for both young nations.

Death

Lal Bahadur Shastri's death remains to this day, an unsolved phenomenon. Shortly after the UN ceasefire, the leaders of India and Pakistan met Soviet leaders to sign the Tashkent Declaration to end the conflict for good. The Declaration preceded multiple high-profile incidents: the downfall of Ayub Khan, the birth of Pakistan People's Party and the death of Shastri in a foreign land, the first such incident of its kind.

Shastri was reported to have died in his hotel room at 0200 hours, reportedly of a heart attack, just hours after signing the Declaration. Despite many probes into how a man who had no prior heart ailments and was in generally good health died of a heart attack fueled conspiracy theories that he was poisoned by the CIA. To this day, all RTI applications filed for the disclosure of the circumstances and exact details surrounding Shastri's death have been declined for various reasons.

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