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Lal Bahadur "Shastri" Shrivastav ( , pronounced ; 2 October 1904 - 11 January 1966) was the third Prime Minister of the Republic of Indiamarker and a significant figure in the Indian independence movement.

Early life

Lal Bahadur was born on 2 October in the year 1904 in Ram Nagar,Ahmedabad Mughalsaraimarker, United Provinces, British India as Lal Bahadur Shrivastav. His father Sharada Shrivastav Prasad was a poor school teacher, who later became a clerk in the Revenue Office at Allahabadmarker. When Lal Bahadur was three months old, he slipped out of his mother's arms into a cowherder's basket at the ghats of the Gangesmarker. The cowherder, who had no children, took the child as a gift from God and took him home. Lal Bahadur's parents lodged a complaint with the police, who traced the child, and returned him to his parents.

Lal Bahadur's father died when he was only a year and a half old. His mother Ramdulari Devi took him and his two sisters to her father's house and settled down there. Lal Bahadur stayed at his grandfather Hazari Lal's house till he was ten. Since there was no high school in their town, he was sent to Varanasimarker where he stayed with his maternal uncle and joined the Harischandra High School. While in Varanasi, Shastri once went with his friends to see a fair on the other bank of the Ganges. On the way back he had no money for the boat fare. Instead of borrowing from his friends, he jumped into the river and swam to the other bank.

As a boy, Lal Bahadur loved reading books and was fond of Guru Nanak's verses. He revered Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the Indian nationalist, social reformer and freedom fighter. After hearing a speech of Mahatma Gandhi at Varanasi in 1915, he dedicated his life to the service of the country. He also dropped his surname Shrivastav, as it indicated his caste and he was against the caste system. During the non-cooperation movement of Mahatma Gandhi in 1921, he joined processions in defiance of the prohibitory order. He was arrested but let off as he was a minor. He then enrolled at the nationalist Kashi Vidyapeeth in Varanasimarker. During his four years there, he was greatly influenced by the lectures of Dr. Bhagawandas on philosophy. Upon completion of his course at Kashi Vidyapeeth in 1926, he was given the title Shastri ("Scholar"). The title was a bachelor's degree awarded by the Vidya Peeth, but it stuck as part of his name. He also enrolled himself as a life member of the Servants of the People Society and began to work for the upliftment of the Harijans at Muzaffarpurmarker. Later he became the President of the Society.

In 1927, Shastri married Lalita Devi of Mirzapurmarker. In spite of the prevailing hefty dowry tradition, Shastri accepted only a charkha and a few yards of khadi as dowry. In 1930, he threw himself into the freedom struggle during Mahatma Gandhi's Salt Satyagraha. He was imprisoned for two and a half years. Once, while he was in prison, one of his daughters fell seriously ill. He was released for fifteen days, on the condition that he not take part in the freedom movement. However, his daughter died before he reached home. After performing the funeral rites, he voluntarily returned to prison, even before the expiration of the period. A year later, he asked for permission to go home for a week, as his son had contracted influenza. The permission was given, but his son's illness was not cured in a week. In spite of his family's pleadings, he kept his promise to the jail officers and returned to the prison.

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 freedom movement. On 8 August 1942, Mahatma Gandhi issued the Quit India speech at Gowalia Tank in Mumbaimarker, demanding that the British leave India. Shastri, who had just then come out after a year in prison, traveled to Allahabadmarker. For a week, he sent instructions to the freedom fighters from Jawaharlal Nehru's hometown, Anand Bhavan. A few days later, he was arrested and imprisoned until 1946. Shastri 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. He also translated the autobiography of Marie Curie into Hindi language.

In government

Following India's independence, Shastri was appointed Parliamentary Secretary in his home state, Uttar Pradeshmarker. He became the Minister of Police and Transport under Govind Ballabh Pant's Chief Ministership. 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.

In 1951, he was made the General Secretary of the All-India Congress Committee, with Jawaharlal Nehru as the President. He was directly responsible for the selection of candidates and the direction of publicity and electioneering activities. He played an important role in the landslide successes of the Congress Party in the Indian General Elections of 1952, 1957 and 1962.

In 1951, Nehru nominated him to the Rajya Sabha. He served as the Minister of Railways and Transport in the Central Cabinet from 1951 to 1956. In 1956, he offered his resignation after a railway accident at Mahbubnagarmarker it led to 112 deaths. However, Nehru did not accept his resignation. Three months later, he resigned accepting moral and constitutional responsibility for a railway accident at Ariyalurmarker in Tamil Nadumarker that resulted in 144 deaths. While speaking in the Parliament on the incident, the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, stated that he was accepting the resignation because it would set an example in constitutional propriety and not because Shastri was in any way responsible for the accident. Shastri's unprecedented gesture was greatly appreciated by the citizens.

In 1957, Shastri returned to the Cabinet following the General Elections, first as the Minister for Transport and Communications, and then as the Minister of Commerce and Industry. In 1961, he became Minister for Home. As Union Home Minister he was instrumental in appointing the Committee on Prevention of Corruption under the Chairmanship of K. Santhanam.

Prime Minister

Jawaharlal Nehru died in office on 27 May 1964 and left a void. The then Congress Party President K. Kamaraj was instrumental in making and installing Shastri as 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.

In his first broadcast as Prime Minister, on 11 June 1964, Shastri stated:

Shastri worked by his natural characteristics to obtain compromises between opposing viewpoints, but in his short tenure he 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 gain 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. During the 22-day war with Pakistan, Lal Bahadur Shastri created the slogan of "Jai Jawan Jai Kisan" ("Hail the soldier, Hail the farmer"), underlining the need to boost India's food production. Apart from emphasizing the Green Revolution, he was instrumental in promoting the White Revolution. Greatly impressed by a visit to the Kaira district in October 1964, he urged the rest of the country to learn from the successful experiment at Anandmarker. The National Dairy Development Board was formed in 1965 during his tenure as Prime Minister.

Though he was Socialist, Shastri stated that India cannot have a regimented type of economy. During his tenure as Prime Minister, he visited Russiamarker, Yugoslavia, Englandmarker, Canadamarker and Burmamarker in 1965.

War with Pakistan

See Also: Indo-Pakistani War of 1965

The problem for Shastri's administration was Pakistanmarker. Laying claim to half of the Kutch peninsulamarker, Pakistan sent incursion forces in August 1965, which skirmished with Indian tank divisions. In his report to the Lok Sabha on the confrontation in Kutch, Shastri stated:

Under a scheme proposed by the British PM, Pakistan obtained 10%, in place of their original claim of 50% of the territory. But Pakistan's aggressive intentions were also focused on Kashmirmarker. When armed infiltrators from Pakistan began entering the State of Jammu and Kashmir, Shastri made it clear to Pakistan that force would be met with force. 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 India sent its forces across the Ceasefire Line (now Line of Controlmarker) and threatened Pakistan by crossing the International Border near Lahoremarker as 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 Lahoremarker under artillery and mortar fire.

On 17 September 1965, while the Indo-Pak war was on, India received a letter from Chinamarker. In the letter, China alleged that the Indian army had set up army equipment in Chinese territory, and India would face China's wrath, unless the equipment was pulled down. In spite of the threat of aggression from China, Shastri declared "China's allegation is untrue. If China attacks India it is our firm resolve to fight for our freedom. The might of China will not deter us from defending our territorial integrity.". The Chinese did not respond, but the Indo-Pak war resulted in great personnel and material casualties for both Pakistan and India.

The Indo-Pak war ended on 23 September 1965 with a United Nations-mandated ceasefire. In a broadcast to the nation on the day the of ceasefire, Shastri stated:

Death at Tashkent

After the declaration of ceasefire, Shastri and Pakistani President Muhammad Ayub Khan attended a summit in Tashkentmarker (former USSRmarker, now in modern Uzbekistanmarker), organised by Kosygin. On 10 January 1966, Shastri and Khan signed the Tashkent Declaration.

The next day Shastri, who had suffered two heart attack earlier, died supposedly of a heart attack at 1:32 AM. . He was the only Indian Prime Minister, and indeed probably one of the few heads of government, to have died in office overseas.

Mystery of Shastri's Death

Although officially it was maintained that Shastri died of heart attack, his widow, Lalita Shastri kept alleging that her husband was poisoned. Many believed that Shastri's body turning blue was an evidence of his poisoning. Indeed a Russian butler attending to him was arrested on suspicion of poisoning Shastri, but was later absolved of charges.

In 2009, when Anuj Dhar, author of CIA's Eye on South Asia, asked the Prime Minister's Office under an RTI plea (Right to Information Act), that Shastri's cause of death be made public, the PMO refused to oblige, citing that this could lead to harming of foreign relations, cause disruption in the country and cause breach of parliamentary privileges.

The PMO did inform however that it had in its possession one document related to Shastri's death, but refused to declassify it. The government also admitted that no postmortem examination had been conducted on him in USSR, but it did have a report of a medical investigation conducted by Shastri's personal physician Dr. R.N. Chugh and some Russian doctors. Furthermore, the PMO revealed that there was no record of any destruction, or loss, of documents in the PMO having a bearing on Shastri's death. As of July 2009, the home ministry is yet to respond to queries whether India conducted a postmortem and if the government had investigated allegations of foul play.

Circumstances of Shastri's death do indeed make a case for close inquiry. On the night of January 11, Shastri was awakened by a severe coughing fit. Dr. R.N. Chugh came to his aid. Shastri was unable to speak and pointed to a flask kept nearby. A staffer brought some water which Shastri sipped. Shortly afterward, Shastri became unconscious and attempts to revive him proved futile.

A cold case forensic enquiry which keeps these facts in consideration, could point to three causes - in order of probability.

(i) Myocardial Infarction (ordinarily known as Heart Attack)

(ii) Café Coronary (impaction of food in windpipe - in this case, drops of water)

(iii) Poisoning by some very quick acting poison, say cyanide although its probability is minimal.


All his lifetime, Shastri was known for honesty and humility. He was the first person to be posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, and a memorial "Vijay Ghatmarker" was built for him in Delhi. Several educational institutes, Shashtri National Academy of Administration (Mussorie) is after his name these were some examples. The Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute was named after Shastri due to his role in promoting scholarly activity between India and Canada.

In 2005, the Government of India in Delhi University.

Personal life

Lal Bahadur Shastri had five sons, Anil Shastri and Sunil Shastri, who are politicians.


  • "Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan" ("Hail the soldier, Hail the farmer")
  • "If one person gives up one meal in a day, some other person gets his only meal of the day", spoken during the food crisis to encourage people to evenly distribute food.
  • "Perhaps due to my being small in size and soft of 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."


Further reading

  • John Noyce. Lal Bahadur Shastri: an English-language bibliography., 2002.
  • Lal Bahadur Shastri, 'Reflections on Indian politics', Indian Journal of Political Science, vol.23, 1962, pp1–7
  • L.P. Singh, Portrait of Lal Bahadur Shastri (Delhi: Ravi Dayal Publishers, 1996) ISBN 81-7530-006-X
  • (Sir) C.P. Srivastava, Lal Bahadur Shastri: a life of truth in politics (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995) ISBN 0-19-563499-3
  • (Sir) C.P. Srivastava, Corruption: India's enemy within (New Delhi: Macmillan India, 2001) chapter 3 ISBN 0-333-93531-4

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