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Remembering Lal Bahadur Shastri: Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Vigyan

Few people remember that October 2 is birth day of Shastri apart from Bapu. It is not surprising that our text books have not done justice to such role models of honesty, simplicity, frugality and devotion to public causes. When series of railway accidents took place in the last few years, some people had remembered that Shastri had resigned as a railway minister after Mehbubnagar accident in 1956. Not many ministers have maintained such standards of morality. When Nehru didn’t accept his resignation, after three months, he resigned again when 144 people died in Tamil Nadu in another accident.

During the period 1965-1966, India had faced a severe drought and post war economic stress. USA had stopped cheap food grain aid to India because of its annoyance at Indo-Pak war. Originally, the PL 480 grain aid was devised to prevent India going the communist way. This was a very precarious situation. Because of crop failure, after 1943, this was the worst famine ever faced. Shastri’s family stopped eating grain on Monday evening for a month and then he asked the countrymen to avoid eating grains once a week. And the country followed. He had ploughed his lawn for growing grains. Let me recall another incident of this kind in the International Centre for Genetic Diversity set up by Nikoli Vavilov in Leningrad. During the siege of Leningrad, despite the evacuation orders, a group of scientists had boxed up important seeds in the basement to protect them during the war. Nine of the scientists refused to eat those grain seeds and died of starvation. It is this spirit of safeguarding the interest of the society over one’s own personal life that Shastri personified.

As the then Home Minister in 1961, he had set up the Committee on Prevention of Corruption under the chairmanship of K.Santhanam. His choice of Guljarilal Nanda as Home Minster after taking over as Prime Minsiter showed his continued commitment to probity in public life. His visit to Anand in 1964 forever changed the history of milk production in India. There are not many Prime Ministers who have spent a night in the village as Prime Minister which he did. When he observed that both high caste and low caste milk producers poured the milk in the same can, he realized that replicating Amul model would not only help in boosting milk production but also bring about a social revolution. The rest is history.

It is not without significance that when Kurian wanted to set up headquarter of National Diary Development Board in Anand, he faced no problem because of enthusiastic support of Shastri. In a federal structure, there was no reason why all or majority of national organisations should have their headquarters in Delhi or nearby. The autonomy of NDDB also became an institutional point of reference for several other organisations including National Innovation Foundation. In that sense, Shastri was a great institution builder.

The Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee added the slogan, Jai Vigyan after Pokran, peaceful nuclear test. It is worthwhile to recall the visit of Shastri to IARI to observe the research being done at that time in developing improved varieties of crops. The green revolution was about to take off, thanks to the acumen shown by C.Subramaniam, Minister of Food and Agriculture in Shastri’s Cabinet. The actual ground work for the green revolution took place during 1964-66 when Shastri supported the experiments in finding solutions to chronic food problem. His death after Tashkent declaration has remained a subject of controversy while officially he was supposed to have died of cardiac arrest, his wife remained unconvinced of this explanation.

Time has come to reassess the legacy of Lal Bahadur Shastri so that when we celebrate the birth day of two of the great sons of India, we put proper emphasis on their shared social mission. His extraordinary honesty in his personal and professional life will continue to inspire the nation.

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