Like Mahatma Gandhi, with whom he shares birth date, Lal Bahadur Shastri is one of the most loved leaders of India. Admired for his integrity and values he lived by, this Gandhian, a man of principles, led an austere life and brought the same set of values to Public office. Here are some anecdotes from his life that are inspiring and worth reading over and over again.
A Story of Courage
Anyone who has seen the spread of Ganges in Kashi will know how wide the river is. As a small child Shastri ji along with his friends went to see a fair across the river. On the way back he did not have the money for the boat ride. Not wanting to ask his friends for the money, Shastri ji did a remarkable thing. While his friends took the boat, much to their dismay, they saw Lal Bahadur dive into the river to swim to the other side. Soon, he emerged on the other side safely.
A Super Communist
This anecdote comes from “Lal Bahadur Shastri: Lessons in Leadership”, a book co-authored by his son Anil Shastri and writer Pavan Choudary. When Shastri ji left for Tashkent January 1966, he only had his usual Khadi woolen coat with him. Realizing that the coat was not warm enough for chilly Central Asian winters, Alexei Nikolayevich Kosygin, the Russian Premier gifted Shastri ji a Russian coat. However, the next day, Kosygin noticed that Shastriji was still wearing the khadi coat. Hesitantly, he asked the Prime Minister if he liked the overcoat. Shastriji replied in the affirmative and said, “It is really warm and very comfortable for me. However, I have lent it to one of my staff members who was not carrying a good woolen coat to wear in this severe winter. I will surely use your gift during my future trips to cold countries”.
Kosygin narrated this incident during his welcome address at a cultural program organised in honor of Shastri ji and remarked, “We are Communists but Prime Minister Shastri is a super Communist.”
Austerity begins at home
The book has another interesting story narrated by Sharstri ji’s son Anil. When Lal Bahadur Shastri was serving as the Home Minister, his sons were studying at St. Columba’s School in New Delhi and would commute to school on a ‘tonga’-horse carriage. They once complained to their father that despite being children of the Home Minister, they commuted by ‘tonga’ while other children came by car. Shastri told them that they would get this facility of drop by a car only as long as he was the Home Minister and it would “perhaps be worse” to switch back to the tonga. The children realized the significance of their father’s philosophy and decided to stick with the horse carriage.
The only time Shastri ji cried
The book narrates an incident when Shastri ji wept upon meeting a wounded Indian Army officer. Confined to his hospital bed, the soldier was regretful that he was unable to greet his Prime Minister properly. “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,” said the soldier. These words opened the flood gates of emotions and was perhaps the only occasion when Shastri ji’s son saw him crying.
Our respects to this great leader on his 111th birth anniversary!
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