Shastri: Portrait of an honest PM

NEW Delhi, February 9 (Agencies): At a time when Indian politicians make news for corruption and misuse of power comes a book on Lal Bahadur Shastri, the country’s second prime minister who was so upright that he deposited money in government coffers because his sons had used his official car. The incident has been captured in the book “Lal Bahadur Shastri: Past Forward” (Konark) by his son Sunil Shastri, a Congress politician and a former minister in Uttar Pradesh.
Sunil Shastri says he used to imagine having a big luxury car commensurate with the status of his ‘babuji’ (father) and Lal Bahadur Shastri did get a Chevrolet Impala for official use. “One day I told babuji’s personal secretary to ask the driver to bring the Chevrolet to the residence. We asked the driver for the keys and went for a drive,” he says in the book. Lal Bahadur Shastri later confronted the driver, saying, “Do you keep a logbook with you?” “When he nodded, babuji asked him to note the distance the car had run the previous day. When the driver said 14 km, he advised him to note it ‘for private use’ and then asked amma to give his personal secretary the amount applicable to be deposited in the government account.”
Lal Bahadur Shastri ruled from June 1964 to January 1966, dying in Tashkent where he had gone to sign a treaty with Pakistan after the 1965 war. The book is replete with instances of how the late Shastri lived - and the values he embraced and preached. The son recalls how Lal Bahadur Shastri had shed tears upon meeting an Indian soldier badly wounded in the 1965 war with Pakistan. “I don’t have tears in my eyes because my death is near ... but despite being a major I am not able to stand up and salute my prime minister,” the younger Shastri quotes the soldier, who was on a hospital bed, as saying. And then it was the prime minister who could not control his own emotions. That was the only time he saw his father cry, says his son.
There are many interesting anecdotes on Shastri in the book.
* Lal Bahadur Shastri was told by his mother of his marriage in May 1928 only after he reached Varanasi. “He was surprised and told his mother that she should have at least asked him once before finalising it. Anyhow since his mother had decided, he said he would abide by her wishes.”
* When Lal Bahadur Shastri’s wife decided to learn Hindi, she paid the tuition fees by dispensing with the domestic maid and doing the household chores herself.
* Lal Bahadur Shastri often handed over to his wife his khadi kurtas when they became unusable and asked her to make handkerchiefs out of them. “He lived on the simple philosophy of ‘waste not, want not’.”
* In true Gandhian style, Lal Bahadur Shastri travelled like a commoner in trains even when he was railway minister. “He lived according to his principles.”
* During the independence struggle, Lal Bahadur Shastri protested when his wife smuggled two mangoes to him when he was in the Faizabad prison. He was angry because it was illegal for prisoners to have anything other than jail food.
* Despite his preoccupations as prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri was a family man who devoted time to his mother and others when he returned home. It helped him get over the day’s fatigue and worries.