Lal Bahadur Shastri: The apostle of simple living and high thinking

What matters is what you are and not what you appear to be. We are living in a demonstrative world where there is more focus on our outer appearance than what we are actually from inside. These are such times when the line between the ideal and the cunning is blurred. We as a nation are proud of the fact that the country has produced many people who believed in simple living and high thinking and Lal Bahadur Shastri is outstanding among such people. It is an ideal occasion to remember the virtues of this great son of India on his birth anniversary. In fact, it is seen that the public psyche and mental space is occupied mainly by the Father of Nation, Mahatma Gandhi in the month of October as the 2nd October is the date of birth of both the great leaders of India.  It is not a matter of comparison between these two great sons of India, but to remember them together and get inspiration from the virtues of both of them.

The great leader, who is popularly known for his slogan Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan (“Hail the soldier, Hail the farmer”), had joined the Indian independence movement in the 1920s. He was deeply impressed and influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and was close to Jawaharlal Nehru. Following independence in 1947, he joined the latter’s government and became one of Prime Minister Nehru’s principal, first as Railways Minister (1951–56), and then in a variety of other functions, including Home Minister. He led the country during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965. The war formally ended with the Tashkent Agreement on 10 January 1966; he died the following day, still in Tashkent, the cause of death still not deciphered clearly. He died on 11 January 1966.

Sharada Prasad Srivastava, Lal Bahdur Shastri’s fathyer was a school teacher who later became a clerk in the revenue office at Allahabad, while his mother, Ramdulari Devi, was the daughter of Munshi Hazari Lal, the headmaster and English teacher at a railway school in Mughalsarai. There was an imprint of a teaching background on Lal bahadur Shastri’s ideals and simple living. When Lal Bahdur Shastri father died (1906) in an epidemic of bubonic plague while he was at a young age, his family supported his mother Ramdulari Devi to rear her children presenting an instance of high level of family values of India. The greatness of the traditional Indian joint family system, and the traditions of family responsibility and kinship, are deeply evident in Shastri’s case, where the orphan child of a penniless widow was raised by his distant relatives in a manner which enabled him to become Prime Minister of India.

Early inspirations of Lal Bahdur Shastri

In his young age Lala Bahadur Shastri was inspired by his teachers at Harish Chandra High School, especially Nishkameshwar Prasad Mishra, who was an intensely patriotic and highly respected teacher. He also gave Shastri much-needed financial support by allowing him to tutor his children. Inspired by Mishra’s patriotism, Shastri took a deep interest in the freedom struggle, and began to study its history and the works of several of its noted personalities, including those of Swami Vivekananda, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gandhi and Annie Besant. In January 1921, when Shastri was in the 10 standard and three months from sitting the final examinations, he attended a public meeting in Benares hosted by Gandhi and Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya.

Inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi

Inspired by the Mahatma’s call for students to withdraw from government schools and join the non-cooperation movement, Shastri withdrew from Harish Chandra the next day and joined the local branch of the Congress Party as a volunteer, actively participating in picketing and anti-government demonstrations. He was soon arrested and jailed, but was then let off as he was still a minor. Shastri’s immediate supervisor was a former Benares Hindu University lecturer named J.B. Kripalani, who would become one of the most prominent leaders of the Indian independence movement and among Gandhi’s closest followers. Recognising the need for the younger volunteers to continue their educations, Kripalani and a friend, V.N. Sharma, had founded an informal school centered around “nationalist education” to educate the young activists in their nation’s heritage. With the support of a wealthy philanthropist and ardent Congress nationalist, Shiv Prasad Gupta, the Kashi Vidyapith was inaugurated by Gandhi in Benares as a national institution of higher education on 10 February 1921. Among the first students of the new institution, Shastri graduated with a first-class degree in philosophy and ethics from the Vidyapith in 1925. He was given the title Shastri (“scholar”). The title was a bachelor’s degree awarded by the Vidyapith, but it stuck as part of his name.

Political Activism of Lala Bahdur Shastri

Lal Bhadur Shastri became an active member of Congress in 1928 and participated in the Salt Satyagraha in 1930. He was imprisoned for two and a half years. Later, he worked as the Organizing Secretary of the Parliamentary Board of U.P. in 1937. In 1940, he was sent to prison for one year, for offering individual Satyagraha support to the independence movement. On 8 August 1942, Mahatma Gandhi issued the Quit India speech at Gowalia Tank in Mumbai, demanding that the British leave India. Shastri, who had just then come out after a year in prison, travelled to Allahabad. For a week, he sent instructions to the independence activists from Jawaharlal Nehru’s home, Anand Bhavan. A few days later, he was arrested and imprisoned until 1946.

Creative Years in Jail

Shastri was not deterred by the fear of being imprisoned. His courage and creative was also not bogged down in the prison because he was well aware that the cause of freedom struggle was historic and no price is bigger to pay for that.   He spent almost nine years in jail in total. During his stay in prison, he spent time reading books and became familiar with the works of western philosophers, revolutionaries and social reformers.

Lal Bahadur Shastri after Independence

Following India’s independence, Shastri was appointed Parliamentary Secretary in his home state, Uttar Pradesh. He became the Minister of Police and Transport under Govind Ballabh Pant’s Chief Ministership on 15 August 1947 following Rafi Ahmed Kidwai’s departure to become minister at centre. As the Transport Minister, he was the first to appoint women conductors. As the minister in charge of the Police Department, he ordered that police use jets of water instead of lathis to disperse unruly crowds. His tenure as police minister (As Home Minister was called prior to 1950) saw successful curbing of communal riots in 1947, mass migration and resettlement of refugees.

Rising up In the political hierarchy and mobilization of support for Congress

In 1951, Shastri was made the General Secretary of the All-India Congress Committee with Jawaharlal Nehru as the Prime Minister. He was directly responsible for the selection of candidates and the direction of publicity and electioneering activities. His cabinet consisted of the finest business men of India including Ratilal Premchand Mehta. He played an important role in the landslide successes of the Congress Party in the Indian General Elections of 1952, 1957 and 1962. In 1952, he successfully contested UP Vidhansabha from Soraon North cum Phulpur West seat and won getting over 69% of vote. He was believed to be retained as home minister of UP, but in a surprise move was called to Centre as minister by Nehru. Shastri was made Minister of Railways in First Cabinet of Republic of India on 13 May 1952. Jawaharlal Nehru died in office on 27 May 1964 and left a void. Congress Party chief Minister K. Kamaraj was instrumental in making Shastri Prime Minister on 9 June. 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.

Main Ideas of Lal Bahadur Shastri

On simple living and high thinking

Irrespective of his humble statement, that ‘I am not as simple as I look’, he was an apostle of simplicity. His simplicity like Mahatma Gandhi was not a mark of his misery and helplessness, but a strength chosen deliberately by them as a way of life. But he was a man of ideals. He did not like any gap in precept and practice. He said. “I had always been feeling uncomfortable in my mind about giving advice to others and not acting upon it myself.” He cherished the dream of freedom for all the nations and said, “We believe in freedom, freedom for the people of each country to follow their destiny without external interference.” He believed in   the dignity of man as an individual, whatever his race, colour or creed, and his right to better, fuller, and richer life. He was against violence and exploitation even during freedom struggle. He said, “We want freedom for our country, but not at the expense or exploitation of others, not us to degrade other countries…I want the freedom of my country so that other countries may learn something from my free country so that the resources of my country might be utilized for the benefit of mankind.”


Pacifist Leader

He once remarked, “We must fight for peace bravely as we fought in war.” He believed in peaceful coexistence and freedom from external control of any country or colonialism. He believed in freedom, freedom for the people of each country to follow their destiny without external interference. He was against war mongering and irrational military expenses. Shastri ji said, “We cannot afford to spend millions and millions over nuclear arms when there is poverty and unemployment all around us.” During the peak of the cold war period he said that Non-alignment would   continue to be the fundamental basis of our approach to world problems and our relations with other countries. Today we are observing the dangers of arms race, particularly nuclear arms. Way back he said, “It is most regrettable that nuclear energy is being harnessed for making nuclear weapons.” He expressed his belief in in peace and the settlement of all disputes through peaceful means, in the abolition of war, and, more particularly, nuclear war. He remarked, “We must fight for peace bravely as we fought in war.”


Lal Bahadur Shastri said, “Loyalty to the country comes ahead of all other loyalties. And this is an absolute loyalty, since one cannot weight it in terms of what one receives.” For Shatri ji patriotism did not mean zealot and extremist nationalism that loves itself and hates others. For him patriotism had a broad meaning. In his mind the meaning of patriotism was to have zeal to surmount the difficulties that face the country and work steadfastly for the happiness and prosperity of our country. For him patriotism meant dedicated work towards national development. We all have to work in our respective spheres with the same dedication, the same zeal and the same determination which inspired and motivated the warrior on the battle front. And this has to be shown not by mere words, but by actual deeds.

According to him unity is strength and patriotism. He expressed satisfaction that our country has often stood like a solid rock in the face of common danger, and there is a deep underlying unity which runs like a golden thread through all our seeming diversity. He said, “We believe in peace and peaceful development, not only for ourselves but for people all over the world.

Strength of a nation

Lal Bahadur shastri believed that strength of a nation lies in discipline and and united action. He often said that there the unique thing about India is that it has Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis and people of all other religions living in peace and brotherhood and fraternity. There exist all kinds of places of worship – temples and mosques, gurudwaras and churches, but still India does not bring these into politics. He expressed happiness that Our country has often stood like a solid rock in the face of common danger, and there is a deep underlying unity which runs like a golden thread through all our seeming diversity.  According to him this was one of the differences between India and Pakistan. Pluralism is secularism is strength of India.  Unity in diversity is the main feature of the Indian nation. According to him “Our country has often stood like a solid rock in the face of common danger, and there is a deep underlying unity which runs like a golden thread through all our seeming diversity.” In all the above assertions Lal Bahadur Shastri was basically articulating what we today call “the idea of India.”

Common man centre of all development activities

According to Shastri ji preservation of freedom is not the task of soldiers alone. The whole nation has to be strong. As long as people remain deprived, a nation cannot be strong. His pet statement and slogan was Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan. Although he was not against bigger projects, bigger industries, basic industries, but in his development model common man, the weakest link in society, should be given utmost importance. Shastri ji said, “Our way is straight and clear – the building up of a socialist democracy at home, with freedom and prosperity for all, and the maintenance of world peace and friendship with all nations abroad.” He believed that we could win respect in the world only if we were strong internally and can banish poverty and unemployment from our country. He was against social discrimination and insisted that India will have to hang down her head in shame if even one person is left who is said in any way to be untouchable.

On Ideology

There comes a time in the life of every nation when it stands at the cross-roads of history and must choose which way to go. But for us there need be no difficulty or hesitation, no looking to right or left. Our way is straight and clear—the building up of a socialist democracy at home with freedom and prosperity for all, and the maintenance of world peace and friendship with all nations. According to him, the economic issues are most vital for us and it is of the highest importance that we should fight our biggest enemies – Poverty, unemployment.

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