Saturday, August 30, 2008

Biography of Lal Bahadur Shastri

Lal Bahadur Shastri (October 2, 1904 - January 11, 1966) was the second permanent Prime Minister of independent India and a significant figure in the struggle for independence.

Shashtriji was born in Mughalsarai (also spelt as Moghalsarai), in United Province (now Uttar Pradesh). To take part in the non-cooperation movement of Mahatma Gandhi in 1921, he began studying at the nationalist, Kashi Vidyapeeth in Kashi, and upon completion, he was given the title Shastri, or Scholar, Doctor at Kashi Vidyapeeth in 1926. He spent almost nine years in jail in total, mostly after the start of the Satyagraha movement in 1940, he was imprisoned until 1946.

Following India's independence, he was Home Minister under Chief Minister Govind Ballabh Pant of Uttar Pradesh. In 1951, he was appointed General Secretary of the Lok Sabha before re-gaining a ministerial post as Railways Minister. He resigned as Minister following a rail disaster near Ariyalur, Tamil Nadu. He returned to the Cabinet following the General Elections, first as Minister for Transport, in 1961, he became Home Minister.

Jawaharlal Nehru died in office on May 27, 1964 and left a vacuum. The major figures of the Congress Party were unable to find enough support which allowed the lesser regarded Shastri to come through as the compromise candidate, becoming Prime Minister on June 9. Shastri, though mild-mannered and soft-spoken, was a Nehruvian socialist and thus held appeal to those wishing to prevent the ascent of conservative right-winger Morarji Desai.

Shastri worked by his natural characteristics to obtain compromises between opposing viewpoints, but in his short tenure was ineffectual in dealing with the economic crisis and food shortage in the nation. However, he commanded a great deal of respect in the Indian populace, and he used it to advantage in pushing the Green Revolution in India; which directly led to India becoming a food-surplus nation, although he did not live to see it. His administration began on a rocky turf.

The chief problem was Pakistan. Laying claim to half of the Kutch peninsula, Pakistan sent incursion forces in August 1965, who skirmished with Indian tanks. Under a scheme proposed by the British PM, Pakistan obtained 10% of their original claim of 50%. But Pakistan's main aggressive intentions were upon Kashmir. Just in September 1965, major incursions of militants and Pakistani soldiers began, hoping not only to break-down the government but incite a sympathetic revolt. The revolt did not happen, and an angry India sent its forces across the Line of Control, and the war broke out on a general scale. Massive tank battles occurred in the Punjab, and while Pakistani forces made some gains, Indian forces captured the key post at Haji Pir, in Kashmir, and brought the Pakistani city of Lahore under artillery and mortar fire.

A ceasefire was declared, and the soft-spoken, mild-mannered Shastri, once butt of jokes was now a national hero. In January 1966 Shastri and Pakistani President Muhammad Ayub Khan attended a summit in Tashkent (former USSR, now in modern Uzbekistan), organised by Kosygin. Shastri signed a treaty with Pakistan on January 10, the Tashkent Declaration, but the next day he was dead of a heart attack. He is the only Indian Prime Minister to have died in office overseas, and indeed probably one of the few heads of government in history to do so. All his lifetime, he was known for his honesty and humility.

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