Lal Bahadur Shastri (and I would prefer to respectfully address him in the traditional Indian way as Shastriji) is a name synonymous with truth and humility, not just in India but in the entire world. And this fact cannot be emphasized more clearly as done by C.P Srivastava in his book “Lal Bahadur Shastri – A Life of Truth in Politics”.
The status that Shastriji has achieved during the course of his long and illustrious association with Indian Politics, and more particularly in a short stint of nineteen months as the Prime Minister of India, has been brought out remarkably by the author.
While referring to Shastriji’s birthday, he feels compelled to mention that it was also shared by Mahatma Gandhi, adding weight to an event which happened in Mughalsarai, a town close to the holy Indian city of Benaras, in the year 1904.
The author articulately recreates Shastriji’s years, from a young boy of sixteen in Allahabad filled with a sense of national pride to his rise as a world statesman ingrained with extreme integrity, humility, will-power and honesty.
A frail stature of 5’ 4”, made weaker by prolonged years of abject poverty and deprivation, did not do justice to the towering respect that he had created for himself in Indian and world politics by the end of Tashkent Summit in 1966.
He drew admiration from friends and foe alike, both at home and abroad. Just as the world was awakening to a very different kind of politics from a very unassuming man, Shastriji left us, in a manner as modest as the life he had led until then.
The author wonders whether Shastriji had a premonition of his death as ‘he wrote a couplet by the celebrated and venerated Urdu poet Saqib Lakhnavi on a piece of paper’ on the morning of 10th January (he passed away at 1:32 AM on January 11th):
Zamana bare shauq se sun raha tha
Hameen so gaye dastaan kahte kahte.
(All the world was listening very intently,
Only I fell asleep while narrating the story)
Although he was a cabinet minister for many years during the 1950s and assumed Priministership in 1964 (for a brief period of 19 months), Shashtriji died a poor man. At the time of his death, he left behind no money, no house, and no land. His material legacy was an old car that he had bought on installments from the government on which the loan was outstanding at the time of his death.
The reader, in all probabilities, may ignore the fact that the author adamantly refused to showcase any shortcomings that Shashtriji had. In C.P Srivastava’s own words, he was “advised to disclose Mr. Shastri’s deficiencies alongside his achievements. I am afraid I could not discover any”.
The detailed analysis of the Prime Ministerial years of Shastriji by a close aide is an ideal read for students of Indian political history and Shastriji’s fans. The reader would be compelled to read the book, down to the last sentence, in a single sitting.
The only part which possibly could be given a skip is a long list of references at the end of the chapters, although a cursory flip is recommended to even to the most disinterested soul so as to fully understand the effort and patience that has gone into the making of this epic book.
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