The date 2nd October will ring a bell in individuals who possess an obsessive enthusiasm for our homeland. Also, it should have been because it is the day when India’s greatest freedom fighter Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born. However, what the majority of us tend to overlook is that on precisely the same date following 35 years of Gandhi's birth, that is in 1904, a kid named Lal Bahadur, who later grew up be the 2nd Prime Minister of India, was born in Uttar Pradesh's Mughal Sarai town.
He succeeded Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964, after Nehru’s unexpected death. He is associated with leading India through the Indo-Pakistan War in 1965, even though he was new to the PM’s office. He understood the requirement for self-reliance in India and raised the motto 'Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan' which he is even remembered today.
Lal Bahadur Shastri as the Prime Minister of India
I. White Revolution
A significant section of India’s population depend on agricultural produce and cattle milk production for their livelihoods. The milk industry, according to Dr. Verghese Kurian, is the only industry that allows a marginalised family to earn a small amount of cash every day; requiring a small amount of investment in purchasing a milch cow, and providing nutritional supplement to the children of the house.
According to Kurien, the improper collection and distribution system of milk were reasons for the marginalisation of cattle owners.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Dr. Kurien set up the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) and the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) or the Amul Dairy Co-operation, in 1965.
The White Revolution eventually gave rise to ‘Operation Flood‘, a project by NDDB, which turned into the world’s largest dairy development program. It transformed India from a milk-deficient country to the world’s largest producer of milk, surpassing USA in 1998. In 30 years, the milk production per individual doubled making the dairy farming India’s largest self-sustainable rural employment generator. As of 2010-2011, India accounted for 17% of the worldwide output in milk production.
II. Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan – Green Revolution
The British Raj in India saw the nation being diminished from a net exporter of food to a net importer in 1919. The Bengal Famine of 1943 caused the estimated deaths of 1.5 to 3 million people due to food shortages. During the partition of India, Punjab was split into two nations. Punjab is the wheat growing centre of India, but following partition; most of the irrigated croplands went to Pakistan along with a majority of India’s agricultural research and education facilities, including the ‘Agriculture College and Research Institute at Lyallpur’.
One of the biggest problems for India was shortage of food. Lal Bahadur Shastri’s tenure as PM was described as intense food shortages, with imports of food touching 10 million tonnes that helped avoid a famine. He requested the citizens for a one-day fast every week to reduce the demand for food.
India was attacked by Pakistan in 1965 that resulted in a scarcity of food grain production in the country. He raised the slogan ‘Jai Kisan, Jai Jawan’ (Hail the Soldier, Hail the Farmer) to boost the morale of the Indian Army, and to urge the farmers to do their best to increase food production of grains for reducing imports.
At the time of his Prime Ministership, C. Subramanian was elected to be the Minister of Food and Agriculture. Subramanian and Shastri worked together to increase food production. Taking recommendation of the Food grains Prices Committee offer incentive prices for grains that are higher than procurement and market costs. Subramaniam also preferred increasing government reserves of grains by purchasing them in the open market on incentive prices.
Subramaniam published the ‘Agricultural Production in the Fourth Five-Year Plan: Strategy and Plan’ in 1965, which envisioned the government’s commitment towards the Green Revolution.
III. Appeasement of Non-Hindi speaking States
During the Indian Freedom Struggle, there was mass activation under the leadership of Gandhi for the substitution of the English language to Hindi and regional languages. The intention behind this was to overcome any barrier between the elite class and the common society, in a bid to associate them towards constructive works in nation building.
The Nehru report supported for the making of ‘Hindustani‘as the official language of India, in a bid to give encouragement to provincial languages. Nonetheless, as English was used in all official work by the leaders, it could not be gotten rid of. Moreover, little attention was paid to the details of the vernacular language notion, in terms of how the choice of the national language would affect North-South states’ relations.
In spite of the fact that voices and protests against Hindi were observed in different parts of the country, it was Madras that vehemently voiced its resistance to the notion. An Anti-Hindi Conference was held on January 17th 1965, and was attended by D.M.K. leaders and C. Rajagopalachari.
The conference deeply criticised the ‘language policy of the Union government’ and expressed a firm determination from the citizens to resist the imposition of Hindi. Students organised widespread Anti-Hindi agitations in Madras and Madurai, which took a violent turn and went on for two months.
Students in Madras were able to compete better in the All Indian Administrative Service with their proficiency in English, and feared losing their lead in the service as a result of the imposition.
Lal Bahadur Shastri, however at first hesitant to make an interpretation of Nehru's affirmations to Non-Hindi expresses that ‘no switch over to Hindi would take place until they were ready for it’, following the agitations in Madras; offered assurances to these states that English would remain as the official language which finally calmed down the agitations.
IV. Repatriation of Indians from Burma
Between 1948 and 1962, Burma (Myanmar) had a democratic, Parliamentary government. It was however, tormented with conflict and internal struggle. The political and internal tensions weakened the Burmese government which results in constitutional disputes as well. By 1958, the Prime Minister of Burma, U Nu was forced to accept military rule, under the interim rule of General Ne Win, to restore political order. The military eventually stepped down after 18 months, but there were gaping holes in U Nu’s government that left it vulnerable for rivals to exploit Burma.
On March 2nd, 1962, a military coup was arranged by General Ne Win, which abrogated the democratic government, and established military rule.
Under the military rule, many Indians who had incorporated the Burmese culture for centuries becomes targets for oppression and discrimination by the people and the government. General Ne Win ordered the expulsion of Indians from Burma.
The Central government monitored all the processes of repatriation and arranged for the identification and transport of Indians from Burma. Local governments were assigned to provide adequate facilities to repatriates upon entering into Indian soil.
In December 1965, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri made an official visit to Rangoon in Burma, along with his family, and restored cordial relations with the military government of General Ne Win in Burma.
V. Sirima-Shastra Pact
The Sirima-Shastri Pact was bilateral agreement signed between India and Ceylon that focused on the citizenship of Indian workers in Ceylon. Ceylon’s Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri signed the pact on October 30th, 1964. The Citizenship Act of 1949 stripped the legal citizen statuses of the Indian workers
A series of unsuccessful negotiations led Mrs. Bandarnaike to visit in India in 1964, and the pact was drafted after six days of negotiations.
The objectives of this pact was to recognise all people of Indian-origin in Ceylon who were not citizens of either India or Ceylon; ought to become citizens of either India or Ceylon. The Indian government would accept repatriations of persons within a period of 15 days. Ceylon agreed to permit those people who were employed during the signing of this pact, to continue with their jobs until the date of repatriation.
VI. Tashkent Agreement
The Indo-Pakistan War of 1965 was one of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s greatest moments as leader of the nation. The war with Pakistan continued for 5 months, from April to September of 1965, and resulted in about 3000 to 4000 casualties on both sides.
On September 23rd, 1965, the United Nations mandated a ceasefire which resulted the end of war between India and Pakistan. After the declaration of the ceasefire with Pakistan in 1965, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and the then President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan, entered into an agreement in Tashkent, mediated by Premier Alexei Kosygin.
The Tashkent Declaration was signed between India and Pakistan on January 10, 1966- to give away the conquered regions of each other by both the nations, and return to the 1949 ceasefire line in Kashmir.
Lal Bahadur Shastri was a great freedom fighter, nationalist and even a greater leader of the nation. He was an epitome of simplicity and humbleness and lived for the welfare of the nation.
Ironically, he shares his birthday with Mahatma Gandhi on October 2nd.
Shastri’s death remains a mystery, though officially reported as a heart attack, after signing the Tashkent Agreement on January 11th, 1966.
He was the first person to posthumously be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s most prestigious civilian award.
We remember him on his Jayanti with a deep sense of gratitude for everything he has done for India.