When the first prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru passed away, the one question that rang across the entire nation was who next. Two weeks later, the former minister of Home Affairs, Lal Bahadur Shastri, was made the second prime minister of India. Though a Nehruvian socialist in his ideology, Shastri’s personality was in stark contrast to that of Nehru. The soft spoken, demure man was known best for his simplicity and austere lifestyle. Shastri’s low profile style is perhaps also the reason why the second prime minister of India is barely spoken about.
On October 2, as we celebrate Gandhi Jayanti, the birth anniversary of Lal Bahadur Shastri is almost hidden behind the shroud of humility that was the strongest aspect of his personality. Despite the fact that he was the one who filled up the large political vacuum left behind by the first prime minister of the country, it is Shastri’s modesty more than anything else that has gone on to define him in the years that followed.
Here are five instances that show that Lal Bahadur Shastri was the most humble prime minister of India.
1.Once while Shastri was still the home minister of India, he had to catch a flight to Delhi from Calcutta. The flight was in the evening and the rush hour traffic had made it practically impossible for Shastri to reach the airport on time. Subsequently, the commissioner of police decided to send a car with a siren ahead of Shastri’s vehicle so as to clear out the road. However, Shastri firmly refused on the grounds that it would make the people of Calcutta feel that some important person was out on their streets.
2. As prime minister of India, there was an instance when he was scheduled to visit one of the states. However, right at the last minute he had to cancel the programme on account of some urgent work. When the chief minister of that state pleaded with Shastri to not change his plans as he had made ‘first class arrangements for his visit’, the prime minister responded asking ‘why do you make first class arrangements for a third class person?’
3. In 1964 India was embroiled in war with Pakistan and the country was facing acute food shortage. There was added pressure with the United States threatening to cut supplies. Faced with the crisis, Lal Bahadur Shastri announced to his family one evening that for the next few days they would all give up on their evening meal. Kal se ek hafte tak sham ko chulha nahin jalega (From tomorrow we would not cook in the evenings for a week),” he said adding that the kids would get only milk and fruits, while the adults will stay hungry. It is only after he was sure that his own family could survive without a meal a day that he announced on All India Radio, urging the public to sacrifice one meal at least once a week. For the next few weeks, all restaurants and eateries strictly followed the rule.
4. On one occasion when he was PM, his sons had used his office car to go on a drive. The next day Shastri swiftly deposited money into the government account to pay for the distance traveled by the car for personal use.
5. Reportedly, when Lal Bahadur Shastri passed away in 1966 he had no house on his name, nor any land in his possession. He had only left behind a government loan which he had taken to buy a Fiat car after he became prime minister. After his death the bank asked his wife, Lalita Shastri for the repayment of the loan, which she repaid from the family pension.