Writing a full-fledged biography of Lal Bahadur Shastri is a labour of love as well as a tribute this author offers to the memory of a unique and fascinating personality that bestrode the Indian political stage after Independence-a bright and shining meteor that flashed across India's horizon.
. For a long, long time to come, Indians, their children and their children's children will speak with gratitude of the great "little man" who so briefly, and yet indelibly, illumined the pages of modem India's history, in whose light physical frame, gentle nature, humility and strength of character, they saw embodied the Indian ideal of a "public servant" so completely dedicated to nishkamakarma.
Shastri translated into real, crass political life the biblical phrase "the meek shall inherit the earth". He combined a child's heart that was easily moved to tears by human suffering with a granite will that ordered the Indian Army to march across the international frontier into West Pakistan to punish the latter's perfidious activities in Jammu and Kashmir.
His great achievement was to have bolstered up the Indian people's sagging spirits during depressing years and restored self-confidence to them as a nation. He had taught a truculent neighbour to respect India and in the, process won the confidence and personal regard of its arrogant dictator.
Had Lal Bahadur lived longer, the modus vivendi thus forged might possibly have dissipated the suspicions, misunderstandings and disputes between the two neighbours "born out of the same loins". There were many signs during Shastri's career in office to underline his determination to establish friendly relations with Pakistan. And he had given ample evidence of his "healing touch" in resolving many a knotty problem whether in Kashmir or Assam or elsewhere in the country.
At Tashkent, he had proved that while he could be a resolute war leader, he could make a better leader of peace, and that he was prepared to go a very long way to attain a great and noble objective. For Shastri's uniqueness also lay in the fact that he had the courage - rare in a politician - to say and do the unpopular thing, if his conscience dictated such a course.
When in December 1964, six months after he assumed the Prime Ministership of India, I brought out a political biography of Lal Bahadur Shastri, the man had been so little "written up" that it was difficult to find any literature on him in English or even in Hindi. Most of the material for the volume had, therefore, to be garnered out of personal interviews with Lal Bahadur himself (who was kind enough to find time to give me in the midst of his busy daily routine) and his cronies, relatives, friends, colleagues and officials who had worked under him.
That was indeed the first biography of Shastri to be published. I was in hurry to bring out the book as I felt that the one stepping into Jawaharlal Nehru's shoes as India's Prime Minister needed introduction in the shape of a political biography not only to the international public but even to his own people-even so did he hide his light under a bushel. That book went into three editions: the second covered Lal Bahadur's "Finest Hour" following the twenty two day war with Pakistan; and the third rung the curtain down on a unique life story following the sudden Tashkent.
Whereas my earlier book largely concentrated on Shastri's political career and on the period in office, the present volume strives to tell the full-fledged life story of Lal Bahadur in all its phases and aspects. The new material incorporated in this biography was collected from, among others, interviews with Lalita Shastri, as also from the considerable literature published in the last five years, in the shape of personal memoirs and impressions of leaders and journalists, friends and relatives.
Here I must acknowledge my debt to Kamla, my wife, who did most of the interviewing of sources, including Lalita Shastri, and generally helped in reading up fresh literature on the subject and preparing the material.
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