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The Shastri saga ...

Anil Shastri in New Delhi. Photo: R.V. Moorthy.

DURING THE 1930s Lala Lajpat Rai's Servants of the Society provided financial assistance to families of freedom fighters in distress. When Lal Bahadur Shastri was in jail, he wrote to his mother asking if she was getting money regularly and able to meet family requirements. She replied she was getting Rs.50 out of which she spent 40 and saved the rest. Shastri then wrote a letter of thanks to the Servants of the Society and asked them to send his family only Rs.40 from next time and send the money saved to someone else needy.

Today as his 100th birth anniversary is celebrated by the Ministry of Culture and Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of Management, his sons Anil and Sunil Shastri reflect on different aspects of this frail yet powerful man.

Great self-respect

"I was in the last year of my school at St. Columba's when Babuji became Prime Minister. It was only after he became the PM that he bought a car on loan," recalls elder son Anil, a Congressman and Chairman of LBSIM. "Since I am post-Independence born, I did not see the days of his freedom struggle but I saw him as a father who would idealise his mother for being a woman behind his success. He had great self-respect. So much so that he would swim across the Ganges if he did not have money to pay the boatman," he says.

Anil, who joined politics "to carry on the lineage" reveals, "He wouldn't mingle with family members much. We used to have a respectable distance from him. He wasn't a great movie buff but he saw Manoj Kumar's Shaheed and old Mirza Ghalib and relished them. He loved eating potatoes, salad and green vegetables but did not have a sweet tooth."

For the lineage... Sunil Shastri. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty.

Sunil Shastri, who belongs to the BJP, recalls, "We hardly got to have meals together because of his hectic schedule but whenever he called us for meals, it used to be like a festival. Once he called all the family members for dinner and said, `Kal se ek hafte tak sham ko chulha nahin jalega. Kids will get milk and fruits only, others will fast.' After a week he called us again and explained, `I just wanted to see if my family can sacrifice one meal every day, my larger family (the nation) can definitely stay hungry at least once a week.' It was in response to the U.S.'s PL-480 pressure. He refused to pay for PL-480 saying we can stay hungry but will not compromise with our self-respect. After this incident he appealed to the public on All India Radio not to cook one meal at least once a week. All dhabas, restaurants and families followed it religiously."

Has Shastriji been sidelined today? Anil defends, "I don't think so. In all AICC meetings his name is being mentioned, his portrait forms the backdrop, there are talks of a stamp release on him on the Centenary."

A tough ideal

Sunil is forthright. "Because present politicians cannot live up to his ideology which demands shunning glamorous life, he has been sidelined."

Both brothers, despite being in different political parties "do not have personal differences".

While Anil is now monitoring the transformation of the Shastri Memorial Hall into a museum to exhibit his belongings - the pandal where he got married, his car, etc. - Sunil is in the final stages of another book on him, "Shastriji as a Political Leader". Sunil also hopes to bring one of his three sons into politics.


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