Lal Bahadur Shastri: A Towering Figure As The Third Prime Minister


Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been in government for eight years, recently intimated that he is ready for a third term. Speaking virtually at a conference of beneficiaries of several federal government projects in Bharuch, he said a “very senior” Opposition leader once asked him what else he had left to accomplish after being Prime Minister twice. Modi stated that he would not rest until the country had “100%” coverage of government programmes.

Modi, 71, is the first Prime Minister to be born after independence. Over the course of seven decades, the country has had 15 Prime Ministers, with social, political, and economic developments. The tenures of India’s prime ministers are examined by the Indian Express. Lal Bahadur Shastri, India’s third Prime Minister, was one of the prominent figures who always took on the country’s many obligations. Shastri was sworn in as Prime Minister on June 9, 1964, and served for 581 days — till his death on January 11, 1966, in Tashkent.

When the country faced severe food shortages in the mid-1960s, Shastri led from the front, introducing new ideas such as fixing foodgrain prices for producers – known as the minimum support price (MSP) – and establishing a Prices Commission, which is now known as the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), which recommends the MSP.

Shastri was critical of his own government at times, but when it came to accountability, he always led from the front. He was Jawaharlal Nehru’s Railway Minister, and he was so diligent that he resigned after a train catastrophe in Ariyalur, Tamil Nadu, in 1956. His gesture was applauded by everyone, including Nehru, whom he regarded as his “idol.”

Nehru then told Parliament that he was accepting Shastri’s resignation because it would set a good example of constitutional propriety, not because he was guilty for the train accident. As Prime Minister, Shastri carried Nehru’s policy of “democratic socialism” forward. He used to tell members of his Council of Ministers and top officials to visit communities and interact with locals and farmers.

When the Opposition introduced a vote of no-confidence against his government in September 1964, Shastri openly acknowledged both its triumphs and failings. When then Praja Socialist Party leader JB Kriplani recommended to Treasury Bench members on September 18, 1964, that they use Nehru’s name “sparingly to defend their conduct,” Shastri replied: “We shall attempt to work on our own as far as feasible.” We do not wish to invoke Pandit Jawaharlalji’s name to cover up our flaws and inefficiency. That will never happen. We must accept full responsibility for what we do.”

Shastri did not spare his own government in this argument, criticising the lack of coordination amongst several departments. Citing the water-logging problem in Punjab, Shastri stated, “I am merely expressing the view of an expert or a great engineer; he has said that because of the canals that have been constructed in the last few years, and some of the railway bridges or culverts that have been built, and also because of some roads that have been built, many areas have been affected, and because there is no coordination between different departments, the water-logging problem has occurred.”

“I am sorry I am critical of the government or the administration, but I can state from personal experience that no department is equipped to take the duty,” he continued. When you bring it up with the railways, they say, “We have nothing to do with it; the bridges or culverts were erected a long time ago.” If you go to the transport ministry, they will tell you, “Well, the roads are fine, so there should be no problem.” If you’re talking about the irrigation department, they’re a law unto themselves.”

Then Shastri continued, “I accept it; I have said that; I should be held accountable for that.” But what I want to emphasise is that the administration must accept responsibility for this situation. This type of operating in watertight cubicles across departments must end.” Shastri was born in Moghalsarai on October 2, 1904. He served in various roles in the Uttar Pradesh administration and at the Centre as a freedom fighter and Mahatma Gandhi disciple. He was also the Congress party’s general secretary. His interests were swimming and badminton. In addition, he had translated Marie Curie’s autobiography into Hindi.