We celebrate 2 October as Gandhi Jayanti, but did you know another great leader was born on that day in 1904? India’s first ‘accidental’ prime minister — Lal Bahadur Shastri.
After Jawaharlal Nehru’s death, there was uncertainty over who would succeed him. Congress leader K Kamaraj, known as the ‘Kingmaker’, then pushed for Shastri for the top post.
Without staking a claim for the job, Shastri took over the reins of the country at a very critical juncture. But he left a deep impression in his 18 months as prime minister.
He took the first steps in resolving India’s food shortage by promoting the Green Revolution and the White Revolution (Amul cooperative). He also led India in the 1965 war against Pakistan, and famously said, ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’.
Here are seven facts about India’s second prime minister:
1. Born Lal Bahadur Shrivastava, he dropped his upper caste family name as he was opposed to the casteist practices in the country. He was also a life member of the Lok Sevak Mandal, where he worked to uplift the backward classes.
2. He was against practices like the dowry system and accepted only a khadi cloth from his father-in-law after his insistence.
3. Known for being frugal, he had to apply for a bank loan of Rs 5,000 to buy his first car, a Fiat, after becoming the prime minister.
4. The title ‘Shastri’, meaning scholar, was given after he completed his graduation at Kashi Vidyapeeth, Varanasi, in 1925, but stuck as part of his name.
5. When he was the minister of police and transport, the first women bus conductors were appointed. He also suggested using water cannons instead of lathis to disperse unruly crowds.
6. India was facing a shortage of food during the 1965 war. Shastri asked his family to skip dinner and asked the citizens of the country, on AIR, to follow suit and skip one meal, once a week.
7. After a railway accident in 1956 in Ariyalur, Tamil Nadu, which left 140 dead, Shastri, who was the railway minister, took moral responsibility and resigned.