Yesterday, October 2, the nation celebrated Gandhi Jayanthi, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Overshadowed by this event, we tend to forget that October 2 was also the birth anniversary of another extraordinary servant of India, our former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.
From childhood, I was a huge admirer of Prime Minister Shastri, who I believe is someone who never really got his due share of the credit for his contributions to our country. His deeds were so much in my mind that I wrote about him in my debut novel, “It Can’t Be You.”
In this story, Colonel Belliappa recalls; “We felt cheated that we missed out on a major opportunity as we were in our final year at the NDA when war broke out between India and Pakistan in 1965. This war which caught our imagination raged- but only for five weeks. We felt really frustrated that wars in the modern day seemed to end so fast when in earlier times they had gone on for years.
“I have no idea what exactly the Pakistani President, General Ayub Khan thought of India’s relatively new Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri. He was filling the huge shoes of Jawaharlal Nehru and looked quite simple and ordinary in his looks and small build. If the Sandhurst-educated General turned President thought this puny little man with his dhoti and Gandhi cap was a pushover, he was in for a nasty shock. The small frame hid a heart of steel and the slightly built man galvanized India with his slogan “Jai Jawan, Jai Kissan”. He proved to be a tough nut to crack and gave his Commanders a free rein to fight this new war which resulted in a comprehensive victory for India.
“In the air, our aging Gnats and Hawker Hunters fought the more vaunted US supplied F 86 Sabres and F 104 Starfighters that the Pakis had. On the ground our older Sherman tanks stopped the more powerful Patton M 47 and M 48s in some of the biggest tank battles since World War II. As cadets in the NDA itching for a fight we talked endlessly about the tactics used by the different commanders. We heard with awe about one of those stirring battles- the battle of Pillora in the Sialkot sector, from one of the survivors. The main hero of that battle, Lt. Col. Ardeshir B. Tarapore of the Poona Horse was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously for his valiant leadership. The Pakis found out that the Indian forces were not the pushovers they had been for the Chinese in’62.
Prime Minister Shastri’s sudden death after signing the Tashkent Accord to end the ’65 war came as very sad news for us. He was probably the only politician of that time, whom we admired- for his humility as well as his courage.
My friends and I were thrilled that the shame of the ’62 debacle was wiped off and the Army had finished the war with a strong reputation. Little did we know that we may have missed this war but would be on hand for the next -within the next decade.”
This then was my small tribute to the great Lal Bahadur Shastri.