As the nation celebrates the birth anniversary of Lal Bahadur Shastri, India’s second Prime Minister’s on October 2, coinciding with Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, Filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri paid his tributes to former Prime Minister by calling him a ‘Tyagi’ and India’s first economic reformer.
In a tribute published today in DNA, Vivek Agnihotri, who recently directed the critically acclaimed movie – ‘The Tashkent Files’, based on the suspicious death of Lal Bahadur Shastri, writes that there was a silence of disbelief, not just by the political supporters but mostly by common people, including all sections of India who waited as if their own family member’s body was going to arrive after the untimely death of Lal Bahadur Shastri.
“When Lal Bahadur Shastri’s body reached the Palam airport on the freezing morning of January 11, 1966, thousands of people lined up for his ‘antim darshan’. People loved Lal Bahadur Shastri who, in a short period, had won everyone’s heart and respect with his honesty, sincerity and passionate dedication to serving the downtrodden,” writes Vivek Agnihotri.
According to the filmmaker, Former PM Shastri not only brought back the lost glory of the country by winning in the 1965 war against Pakistan but also revived the pride of forgotten people, especially, farmers.
While India was engulfed in corruption during the Nehru’s era, Shastri showed a humble way of life-based on Tyaga or sacrifice, opines Vivek Agnihotri. He writes that people of the country were aware that Shastri did not even have the money to buy a personal car and had to take a bank loan to get one.
The mysterious death of Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent followed obituaries from across the world reflecting the respect he had garnered in such a short time. “Lal Bahadur Shastri died at a pinnacle of popularity that no one in India believed possible when he succeeded the late Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister barely nineteen months ago,” the New York Times had written.
“It was said that Nehru died too late and Shastri’s death came too early. Though it is widely believed that his popularity had raised because of his response to the war with Pakistan in 1965, Shastri introduced unprecedented reforms in the economy.”
Agnihotri asserts that it will not be wrong to say that he was India’s first economic reformer as he realised certain Nehruvian model of economics was inimical to national development. The writer states that Shasti was expected to follow Nehruvian economics of emphasis on physical controls instead of prices, focus on industry instead of agriculture and crushing web of controls, however, he did not.
Instead, in a very short period of time, Shastri dismantled it piece by piece. The then Prime Minister pumped in fresh thinking into India’s development strategy. People understood that Shastri wore no ideological blinkers. Instead, Shastri chose to see facts as they were in reality and emphasised on tackling them with practical solutions to help the downtrodden.
“Unlike Nehru, he went about his job in quietly, without any showmanship,” writes filmmaker-turned-author Agnihotri.
The article cites Myron Weiner, a professor in Political Science at MIT, who had praised Shastri’s policies to improve Indian agriculture and to increase the production of consumer goods. Shastri’s growing dependence on the free market mechanism and removal of government control from the steel industry relieved many Indian economists and businessmen, observed Weiner.
Agnihotri quotes John Kenneth Galbraith, the then American ambassador to India, who had said that Shastri’s ability to manage Indian affairs during “one of the most difficult periods in Indian history” was a “very considerable achievement.” He cited Shastri’s skill in dealing with India’s food and border problems and in substituting Hindi for English as the official language.
Expressing his deep admiration to Lal Bahadur Shastri, Agnihotri wrote that the former Prime Minister exuded courage, conviction and gave hope to people and he was a symbol of ‘Tyaag’. He personified the Hindu philosophy of ‘Sada jeevan, uchchvichar’ (simple living, high thinking), he writes further.
Shastri, in his personal life, was very simple, against wastage of resources and was fanatic about honesty in public life. As AICC general secretary, he used to give his wife Lalitaji a monthly allowance of Rs 40. When he came to know that she had managed to save Rs 10 out of it, he felt he was overpaying her and cut ten rupees from her allowance!
“Therefore, there remain legitimate grounds to speculate how the Indian economy would have developed had Shastri lived longer. India went on to adopt similar reform measures 25 years later, which put the economy on a higher growth trajectory. The little man was just way ahead of his times,” the article reads.
According to the writer, Nehru did not learn Tyaag from Gandhi but Shastri did. Tyaag is the highest quality a man can possess, a door to Shuddhi or cleansing. Without Shuddhi there is no transformation, noted filmmaker writes.
During the 1965 Indo-Pak war, when Lal Bahadur appealed for a voluntary Vrat (fasting), India was going through a food crisis. “Shashtri used ‘Tyaag’ as a political Shashtra (weapon) to address it besides sowing the seeds of a Green Revolution. Politics needs optics, and optics which are ingrained in the Indian ethos, are always most effective. Vrat is part of Indian culture. Shastri used it to make a point about the food crisis,” reads the tribute piece.
As Shastri deviated from Nehruvian ideology, the media, people and intellectuals, who were patronised by Nehru and became the beneficiaries of the seeping corruption, called Shastri’s call for ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ a political gimmick. Agnihotri claims that the so-called intellectuals were not prepared to sacrifice one meal and intellectualised their lack of commitment to the national cause instead. However, millions of Indians did fast on Sundays.
“If we entrust our destiny in a leader’s hands, we must be prepared to be led by him on the path of change. If that path requires sacrifice then why shouldn’t the true followers be ready to sacrifice? If Bharat has to become truly independent then Tyaag has to be mutual. Citizens must always choose Tyaag- based leadership over leaders with egos”, writes Agnihotri.
Lastly, Agnihotri writes that he believes that he was destined to make a film on Lal Bahadur Shastri’s mysterious death. Agnihotri states that it gives him immense satisfaction that children all over India will learn that October 2 is not only Gandhi Jayanti, but also Lal Bahadur Shastri’s Jayanti. What can be a more fitting tribute to this great ‘tyaagi’ son of the soil of India? he noted.