Yesterday was the birth anniversary of both Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri. I asked friends if they knew Shastri’s real name, but none were aware of it. Below is an extract from my book The Puffin History of India volume 2, that reveals his name. It had always struck me as strange that such a simple man who dropped his own surname so as not to be identified with any caste, then took on a brahmanical one.
Looking back on those days I remember the food shortages. Shastri requested everyone in the country to skip one meal a week. Would that really conserve food? I don’t know, but most people, including my family, followed this.
The extract is below:
‘After Jawaharlal Nehru died, the major question was, who would
be the next prime minister? Gulzarilal Nanda, who was the
acting prime minister,was one possibility, while others were Morarji
Desai, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Jagjivan Ram. Kamaraj was in favour
of Shastri, and persuaded others in the Congress to support him.
Thus on 2 June 1964, Shastri was unanimously chosen as prime
minister by the Congress and assured the support of all the other
leaders. He was a short, slim man, 155 cm (5’2”) tall, always neatly
dressed in dhoti, kurta and cap.
A heavy responsibility
On his appointment, Shastri said, ‘I have been entrusted with a very
heavy responsibility, with the highest charge. I tremble when I am
reminded of the fact that the country and Parliament have been led
by no less a person than Jawaharlal Nehru . . . I can assure you I will
try to discharge my responsibility with utmost humility.’
Lal Bahadur Verma was born on 2 October 1904, at Mughalsarai
near Varanasi. In 1906, his father, a school teacher, died, and he was
brought up by his mother and various relatives. During his school
days, he dropped his surname, as he did not want to be identified
with any particular caste. In 1921, in his last year of school, he heard
Mahatma Gandhi speak, and left school without completing his final
exams to join the freedom movement.
A new name and a new life
Later the same year, he joined the Kashi Vidyapeeth, a national
educational institution, and graduated in 1925 with the ‘Shastri’
degree. From this, he took the name Shastri.After this he joined the
Servants of the People Society, an organization of service to the
nation, and worked both for this and for the Congress. He
participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement and other
Congress activities, and like Nehru, was imprisoned for a total of
nine years. In the meantime, in 1928, he married Lalita Devi, a
young woman of seventeen and over the years had four children.
His family lived in great poverty, specially when he was in jail.
Between 1937 and 1939, he was part of the United Provinces (UP)
After independence he became the UP home minister and transport
minister and then held several posts in the union government. He
was minister for transport and railways in 1952, for transport and
communication in 1957, commerce and industry in 1958, and home
minister in 1961. He resigned in 1963 under the Kamaraj Plan, but
again joined the union cabinet in January 1964, on Nehru’s request.
As prime minister
When he took over as prime minister, the country was full of
problems. The sense of mission and dedication to a cause that had
been there at the time of independence, had diminished. The
Chinese war was a shock from which the economy had not
recovered. The Third Five-Year Plan had begun to show declining
There is more on him in my book!