"Hard work is equal to prayer"- India remembers the wise words spoken by one of the visionary leaders of the country, Lal Bahadur Shastri, a man who led all of us to the path of progress.
Today India marks the 56th death anniversary of India's second Prime Minister, who passed away in 1966, in Tashkent, presently in Uzbekistan.
Shastri succeeded former PM Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in June 1964 and served till January 1966. A gentle soul, Shastri led his life with humility and was known for his simplicity and honesty.
He was also the first posthumous recipient of the prestigious Bharat Ratna.
On October 2, 1904, Shastri was born at Mughalsarai in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. He did not receive adequate education in the primary years, as poverty dogged him, but after a few years, he started living with his uncle in Varanasi to attend high school.
At that time, India was under the British raj. As he grew up, Shastri started holding a keen interest in the country's struggle for freedom from foreign yoke. He was impressed by Mahatma Gandhi's work and his denunciation of Indian Princes for their support of British rule in India.
At 16, he decided to give up his studies to join Gandhiji's call for the Non-Cooperation Movement. Later, he joined Kashi Vidya Peeth, a national institution set up in defiance of British rule, where he was honoured with a bachelor's degree.
A Freedom Fighter
The former PM paid an integral part in India's struggle for independence. In 1930, Shastri joined Gandhi's Dandi march to break the imperial salt law. Like many other citizens of the country, the symbolic gesture moved Shastri. The freedom fighter spent nearly seven years behind bars for raising his voice against the brutality, but this did not put him down. His commitment to making his country free from the rule only made him consistent and wise with the time.
India's Home Minister
He was scripted; all the political parties and members recognised Shastri by that time. When the Congress government was formed in 1946, he was called upon to become a part of the administration and appointed the Parliamentary Secretary in Uttar Pradesh.
It was his official step towards politics, and he was one of the few personalities to hold multiple portfolios. He rose to the position of Home Minister. In 1951, Shastri moved to New Delhi and held several portfolios in the Union Cabinet, from the Minister for Railways, Minister for Transport and Communications, Minister for Commerce and Industry to Home Minister.
In 1956, India witnessed a tragic railway accident in Mahbubnagar, Andhra Pradesh, claiming 112 lives. At the time, Shastri was holding the Railway Ministry, and he tendered his resignation to then PM Nehru but was persuaded to withdraw. A few months later, in November 1956, another railway accident in Ariyalur in Tamil Nadu resulted in 144 deaths. This time, Shastri submitted his resignation and pleaded for its acceptance, The Print reported.
During a parliament session, Nehru confirmed Shastri's resignation. Nehru said he was accepting the minister's resignation only because he held integrity, high moral stands, and to set an example to the people of India.
"Perhaps due to my being small in size and soft of the tongue, people are apt to believe that I am not able to be very firm. Though not physically strong, I think I am internally not so weak," Shastri had said during a debate on the accidents.
Decades Of Sevice To India
Shastri spends over 30 years in the country's service through multiple portfolios. In all the years, his humble, tolerant nature was unvarying.
In January 1966, Shastri visited Tashkent to sign a peace agreement with Pakistani President Ayub Khan, ending the 17-day war between Pakistan and India of August–September 1965 and restoring diplomatic relations. But it wasn't known that the event would become one of the tragic days for India.
Hours after the meeting, Shastri was found dead mysteriously. Reports stated he died of a cardiac arrest, but the circumstances seemed highly suspicious, and his death remains a mystery to date.
According to a Free Press Journal report, several conspiracies surround the minister's death. The family claimed that Shastri had unnatural blue and white spots and cut marks on his abdomen and the back of his neck. Secondly, no post-mortem was conducted, and the first inquiry (Raj Narain) in his death had no conclusions.
Another media report quotes Shastri's family doctor, Dr RN Chugh, who had said that the minister never had heart problems; so, the cardiac arrest seemed unusual. Chugh also termed the marks mentioned by the family due to poisoning.
Another conspiracy alleges a Russian butler, who served as the Prime Minister at the time, given he had the most access to Shastri.
Another calls for a CIA agent's word. Journalist Gregory Douglas had interviewed CIA agent Robert Crowley, who confirmed that the CIA was behind Shastri's death. It possibly occurred after the minister had given the nod for nuclear tests.
The Home Ministry had transferred the matter to the Delhi Police and the National Archives for retrieving any documents or information based on the incident. At the time, Shastri's son had questioned the Centre's decision of heading over a Prime Minister's death case to district level officers.