Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indian prime minister at the time of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, was born on October 2, 1901, at Mughalsarai, Uttar Pradesh.
Shastri graduated from Kashi Vidya Peeth in Varanasi in 1926, attaining the degree of shastri (equivalent to a bachelor’s degree). His surname, Shastri, was taken by him from this degree. He was attracted to the freedom movement while at school and participated in the noncooperation and civil disobedience movements launched by Mohandas K. Gandhi.
After India’s independence Shastri became the home minister of Uttar Pradesh state. He then joined politics on the national level, became the general secretary of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in 1951, under Jawaharlal Nehru as president, and became a close confidant of Nehru. Shastri was a humble man and tolerant of opposing viewpoints, but never wavered from his convictions. He resigned as railway minister after an accident near Ariyalur, Tamil Nadu, taking responsibility for the event. Shastri was a very capable organizer of the Congress Party and contributed to the success of his party in general elections.
After Nehru’s death on May 27, 1964, party stalwarts favored the noncontroversial Shastri as his successor as prime minister. As prime minister, he tried to solve the rising problem of food shortage in the country and worked to ameliorate the condition of the peasantry.
Shastri showed strong determination and iron will in his dealings with Pakistan. These had been bad since independence. But the second Indo-Pakistani Wars began during Shastri’s premiership. India had been humiliated in the Sino-Indian War of 1962, and Pakistan exploited the situation by fomenting trouble on the western border of India. Shastri made diplomatic efforts to solve the problem but failed. The conflict began in the Rann of Kutch region in Gujarat in March 1965 when Pakistani infiltrators entered Kashmir. The war was a stalemate. The United Nations Security Council called for a cease-fire on September 22. Then a meeting of the premiers of India and Pakistan, arranged by Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin, took place in the city of Tashkent.
The Tashkent Agreement was signed by Shastri and Pakistani president Ayub Khan on January 10, 1966. It restored normal relations between India and Pakistan. Both armies went back to the positions they had held before the war, and the cease-fire line became the de facto border between the two countries. Shastri suffered a heart attack and died the next day. A grateful nation awarded him with the highest honor, Bharat Ratna, posthumously. Shastri had left an indelible mark in Indian politics because of his leadership quality, honesty, and steadfast determination.
Patit Paban Mishra