After the death of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1964, Lal Bahadur Shastri stepped in to fill up the political void (tenure: 9 June 1964 to 11 January 1966). Although Lal Bahadur Shastri was a Nehruvian socialist, his own personality was quite dissimilar to that of Nehru. He was a soft-spoken, simple, humble man with extreme willpower. His simplicity and austere manner define his strong personality. It was Shastri Ji who gave the Indian people the slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’, and it was he who boosted the confidence of the Indian armed forces in the 1965 Pakistan war. Unlike modern day ministers of India, Shastri Ji focused more on delivering results and not in making fake promises and lengthy speeches. Following are some of the reasons why Lal Bahadur Shastri was one of the greatest pm in Indian History.
1. Shastri’s role in 1965 war –
After the humiliating defeat of India in the 1962 Sino-Indian War, it was Shastri who greatly boosted the demoralised Indian Army. Here is a brief account of the 1965 war and Shastri’s role in it-
Obviously, the story of the war goes back to the Partition of India. Pakistan always wanted the beautiful Kashmir valley, which is rightfully the Jewel of India, in its own control. Therefore they came up with Operation Gibraltar for it. The strategy was that Pakistan would infiltrate J&K, and start a rebellion against India. However, their operation was a massive failure, but it did spark a war between both the countries.
Of course, the Indian army retaliated to Operation Gibraltar and launched a full-scale military attack on West Pakistan. The Indian army was almost four sizes larger than that of Pakistan’s. “The 17-day war caused thousands of casualties on both sides and witnessed the largest engagement vehicles and the largest tank battle since World War 2”.(Source: Wikipedia)
The war finally came to a standstill after UN suggested a cease-fire and both the countries agreed to it.
JN Dixit ,former national security advisor writes that Shastri had authorised the Indian Armed forces to expand the scope of the war beyond J&K across the international border The army was ready to aim at Lahore and Silhakot, taking the Pakistan army with utter shock and compelled them to withdraw from the Chhamb-Akhnoor sector and resist Lahore and Silhakot, hence giving India a strategic upper hand in the war. While granting liberty to the armed forces Shastri said,”Force will be met with Force.”
Although the war ended in a standoff the conflict is seen as a strategic and political defeat for Pakistan. Thus, Shastri played a big role in the Indian Army’s victory.
2. Anti-Hindi agitation –
Background: The roots of the anti -Hindi agitation can be traced back to pre-independence era. In 1937, when the first Indian National Congress government was formed in Madras, the teaching of Hindi was made mandatory in all schools of the Madras presidency. This move was opposed be EV Ramaswamy and the opposition Justice Party (later Dravidar Kazhagam). An agitation was launched, which involved fasts, conferences, marches, and protests. The government tried to suppress the agitation resulting in the arrest of almost 2000 people. However, after the Congress resigned in 1939, compulsory Hindi education was withdrawn by the British government.
During the making of the Indian Constitution, after a big debate, Hindi was made the official language with English as the associated language for the next fifteen years (i.e., until 1965)
Many non-Hindi states were very discomforted with the efforts of the Indian government to make Hindi as the sole language after 26th January 1965. The DMK opposed these efforts. Nehru tried to diminish their fears and assured them that the use of English would continue beyond them and also enacted the Official Languages Act in 1963. However, the DMK was not convinced.
As the D-Day, i.e., 26th January 1965 came closer, the anti-Hindi agitation in Madras grew and became more and more restless. Various student organisations participated and led the protests. Key political leaders like Annadurai, S.Duraisamy, P.Seenivasan also supported the movement. On 25th January, a clash broke out between the party workers of Congress and the protesting students and became a massive riot, which became huge and spread to various other parts of the state The Bhaktavatsalam government brought in paramilitary forces to control the situation. After two -weeks of rioting, about 70 people were killed (official estimates). Unofficial reports state that 500 people lost their lives in the riots.
How Shastri Ji controlled the situation: Shocked by all the rioting and loss of life, Shastri Ji, on 11th February 1965, vowed to honour Nehru’s assurances. He promised the Tamilians that English would continue to be used as the medium for the center state and interstate communications etc. After his assurances, the agitation and protests gradually came to an end. hence, Shastri played an important role in controlling the anti-Hindi agitation, which, had he not dealt carefully with it, could have turned disastrous.
3. Started the Green Revolution and White Revolution –
The green revolution in India was started by Shastri Ji, but unfortunately, he did not live to see India becoming a food surplus nation. During the 22 day war with Pakistan, he gave to the Indian people the slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan'(Hail the soldier, Hail the farmer). Through this slogan, he emphasized the importance of farmers by saying that soldiers safeguard our country, same way farmers are important because they make the country self-sufficient. For this slogan Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (India) commemorated Shastriji even after 47 years of his death on his 48th martyr’s day:
”Former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was one of those great Indians who has left an indelible impression on our collective life. Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri’s contribution to our public life was unique in that they were made in the closest proximity to the life of the common man in India. Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri was looked upon by Indians as one of their own, one who shared their ideas, hopes, and aspirations. His achievements were looked upon not as the isolated achievements of an individual but of our society collectively.
Under his leadership, India faced and repulsed the Pakistani invasion of 1965. It is not only a matter of pride for the Indian Army but also for every citizen of the country. Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri’s slogan Jai Jawan! Jai Kisan!! reverberates even today through the length and breadth of the country. Underlying this is the inner-most sentiments ‘, Jai Hind’. The war of 1965 was fought and won for our self-respect and our national prestige. For using our Defence Forces with such admirable skill, the nation remains beholden to Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri. He will be remembered for all times to come for his large heartedness and public service.”
Apart from the Green Revolution, Shastri also promoted the White Revolution (a national campaign to increase the production and supply of milk)He lent his support of the Amul milk co-operative of Anand, Gujrat and set up the National Dairy Development Board in 1965.
4. Because of the prevailing rice and other food shortages in India –
Shastri urged the people to give up one meal in the day so that he could distribute the saved food to the poor and the needy. But first, he experimented with this idea in his own family. When he saw that this system was safe enough to be adopted, he appealed to the whole country to skip a meal a week.
The people open-heartedly welcomed his appeal. Even the restaurants closed their shutters on evenings. People observed the ‘Shastri-vrat’.Hence we can see Shastri Ji’s mass appeal- the Indian public adored Shastri’s simplicity and supported all his appeals and instructions with their full heart.
5. Sirima-Shastri Pact –
Shastri Ji signed the Sirima -Shastri pact with the Sri-Lankan PM Sirimavo Bandaranaike Under the terms of this agreement almost 600,000 Indian Tamils was to be repatriated while 375,000 were to be granted Sri Lankan citizenship. Hence, Shastri’s visionary statesmanship helped in finding a solution to the complicated question of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka.
Lal Bahadur Shastri died on 11th January 1966 in Tashkent, just a day after the Tashkent agreement was signed.T he causes of his death still remain shrouded in mystery. His tenure as a PM was quite small, only of 18th months, but in these 18 months, he successfully claimed many achievements to his credit. An honest and true leader, he serves as a worthy icon to the upcoming future leaders. He was indeed one of the greatest PMs of India.
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