H C Singh

1964 – 1966

With the demise of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, who was Prime Minister of India for 17 years, war of succession between leaders of congress Parliamentary Party and Congress working committee started with full force. Gulzari Lal Nanda was made interim PM Nanda could not be a regular PM as he was neither very popular nor very resourceful with a following.

K. Kamraj who was from a low caste family of Madras, had been Chief Minister of his state and then slowly and steadily climbed to the position of Congress President. Immediately after the death of Pandit Nehru, he started consulting Chief Ministers of all congress-ruled states and other senior leaders. He himself opted out because he had neither proficiency in Hindi nor in English as he was dropout from school and had joined Indian independence movement under Mahatma Gandhi. The final contest was between Murarji Desai and Lal Bahadur Shastri.

Murarji Desai was not preferred by many because he was hot-headed and arrogant and would not show respect to juniors or listen to other MPs. On the other hand Shastri had the reputation of being cool-headed and also experience of being a fine administor in Nehru’s cabinet. Accordingly Desai was persuaded by Kamraj to withdraw his candidature to which he reluctantly agreed.

After his illness, mainly because of shock of defeat of India from China in 1962 war and thereafter because of loss of prestiege both in India and abroad because he was founder and leader of non-aligned nations, Nehru persuaded Lal Bahadur Shastri to join cabinet as Minister without portfolio but in effect he was virtually deputy to Nehru, though not designated as deputy PM. This one fact paved the way after Nehru’s demise for shastri elevation, though process was quite tough as a result of war of succession started. I reproduce below extracts from Guha’s book “India After Gandhi” which shows how finally succession to Nehru was resolved.
They had decided on Shastri because Shastri was supported by some powerful leaders of groups or States, largely I think because of antagonism to Morarji; Shastri was regarded as the lesser of two evils. Morarji is unpopular in large sections of the country because of his rigidity. Kamaraj announced the next day that he had seen everybody concerned and his view was that Shastri should be the next leader. Shastriji was correct in his behaviour. He said he was not going to contest the leadership, he would not split the party. He knew he was going to be the Prime Minister.”

On assuming Prime Ministership Shastriji faced a number of problems: the first problem or issue that he faced was: whether India should also go for manufacture and stockpile of Atom Bombs in view of china having tested an atomic bomb in Oct 1964. The eminent atomic scientist Dr. Homi J Bhaba agreed for the manufacture as India was capable scientifically and economically and also needed it inview of Indian Army’s defeat in 1962 war. But Shastri stuck to his Gandhian philosophy of peace and non violence. The opposition, particularly Jan Sangh, who had been advertising for the manufacture and testing of the atom bomb which will raise India’s prestiege in the comity of nations. But Shastri argued in Parliament in a defensive manner that these bombs were a threat to survival of humanity. Thus the move in Parliament on the issue of atomic bomb was defeated because of high cost as well as because it was against the Gandhian philosophy.

The second issue that came up was whether Hindi should be sole official language of union of India or English should be retained along with Hindi as official language. The constitution of 1950 had granted 15 years for English to continue as second official language of the Union of India. The southern states, in particular, and all other non-Hindi speaking states opposed first silently and then violently as the ‘grace period’ was coming to close. As long ago in 1956, Academy of Tamil Culture passed resolution that English should continue as official language of Union along with Hindi. This resolution was supported and signed by C.N. Annudurai and E.V. Ramaswami ‘Periyar’ and even C.Rajagopal Achari, eminent freedom fighter and Gandhiji’s associate as well as former Governor General of India. Just 15 days before Republic Day of 1965 Annudurai wrote to Prime Minister Shastri that Tamil Nadu would observe the day of change over i.e. Republic Day of 1965 as day of mourning and even suggested that the day of change over should be postponed so that Tamils could join in the celebration of Republic Day of 1965.

But Shastri was adamant. He stood by the decision of 1960 to enforce only Hindi as sole official language. As a result DMK launched a campaign throughout Tamil Nadu. Hindi books and even relevant pages of the Constitution were burnt in public. Hindi signs throughout Tamil Nadu particularly those on Railway Stations and Post Offices were defarced. There were pitched battles between demonstrators and police all over Tamil Nadu in all districts and even in remote villages. On Republic 1956 two families set themselves on fire in Madras. Shastri was in a dilemma. His heart was for Hindi, but on 11th February 1956 two ministers from Tamil Nadu resigned. This made Shastri to rethink whether unity of India was more important or enforcement of Hindi as sole official language of the India. In all 12 young men in Tamil Nadu had lost their lives in 1956 opposing imposition of Hindi, beside one of the most prominent Tamil Politician Sriramulu. This forced Shastri to change his mind and so English continues to be second official language of the union.

Next headache of Shastri was Pakistani aggression in Kashmir where a few days earlier in first week of August 1966 Pakistani Soldiers had crossed LOC and captured Akhnoor Bridge the only link between Jammu and Kashmir and state of Indian Punjab. India was left with no alternative than to send the elite Indian Army Regiments to fight against Pakistani aggression. As Pakistani soldiers had taken initiative and were well entrenched, Indian army felt difficult in dislodging them though after bitter fight they had captured Haji Pir- a strategic point. The Prime Minister and equally bold Defence Minister S B Chavan, unlike Nehru and Krishna Menon in 1962 opened a second front crossing the Wagha and other Borders and invading Pakistan proper. There were pitched battles but Indian Army with Tanks and Air Cover repulsed them and in short time they were halfway to Lahore. General Ayub of Pakistan got panic, fearing Lahore will be captured by Indian Army and thus humiliating Pakistan and capturing the only Railway link to Sindh and vast area of Pakistani Punjab. Hundreds of tanks were used by both India and Pakistan. It was considered biggest tank battle after World War II. Thus Pakistan approached USA and China and UN. Accordingly then UN Secretary General came to New Delhi to persuade India for cease-fire which India, though reluctant, as India wanted to teach lesson to Pakistan that aggression against India and Kashmir will not pay. On September 22 there was UN sponsored cease fire and hostilities ended.

During war with Pakistan, Shastri coined the slogan which is famous and will remain, like Jai Hind slogan of Netaji forever – JAI JAWAN, JAI KISAN, meaning hail the soldiers, hail the farmer.
After the end of hostilities and when cease fire became effective, Soviet Union offered to mediate between India and Pakistan for a lasting peace. As a result in January 1966, President Ayub Khan and Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri met in TASHKENT (USSR). Tashkent Agreement required that each country should return to old borders and withdraw their troops to the portion as was on 5th August 1965 when hostilities commenced. Thus India had to return to Pakistani possession HAJI PIR pass in Kashmir captured after great sacrifice by Indian army. As Shastri had said at a number of public meetings that under no circumstances India will vacate Haji Pir pass and give back to Pakistan. It was an unbearable shock for shastri, somewhat like defeat against china in 1962 that became unbearable shock to his predecessor Nehru. Thus Shastri, after signing the Tashkent agreement on 10th January 1966, had a heart attack that very night and passed away. On 11th his body was flown to Delhi in a soviet aircraft. His body was placed in green carriage followed by a million of Indian people and cremated near Gandhi and Nehru’s Samadhi in Nigambodh Ghat after all the leaders of all the political parties had paid glowing tribute. The highest tribute to Shastri was paid all over India and the world as will be evident from extracts from Americans LIFE magazine given below:
“Shastri gave India a ‘mood-a new steeliness and sense f national unity’.” Life magazine with cover story on Shastri with a number of catching photographs also said that “Indians all over came to honour a man with whom many Indians felt a closer affinity than with Nehru. Nehru like Roosevelt came from a rich family while Shastri like Truman came from an ordinary family. Though Truman was US President for 7 years Shastri was India’s Prime Minister for less than two years. Thus it can be concluded that Shastri’s status in India was more than Truman’s status in USA.”

It was India’s misfortune that India’s Iron-man Sardar Patel passed away before Chinese war and did not survive Nehru. It was India’s another bad luck that Shastri did not survive after virtually winning the war and giving crushing defeat to Pakistani soldiers who ultimately retreated and sued for peace through USSR, USA and UN mediation.

With the untimely and unexpected death of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri at Tashkent, the war of succession started once again. Once again Murarji Desai staked his claim to Prime Ministership more vigorously thanafter demise of Pandit Nehru. Once again K.Kamraj, the congress President played the role of a king maker. He got into consultation with all the congress-ruled chief Minister and Leaders of the Congress Party in and outside Parliament. Once again Gulzari Lal Nanda was sworn in as acting and interim Prime Minister.

Though Kamraj was now to an extent in favour of Desai becoming PM, yet he was left with no alternative than to place the matter before the congress parliamentary party though Kamraj and many senior leaders of congress had already proposed the name of Indra Gandhi because she was till then calm and quiet, considerate and non-controversial and above all she was daughter of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru who was India’s first PM and remained in that position for 17 long years despite strongmen of congress like Sardar Patel who had his own way on important issues like Police action in Hyderabad as well as sending Indian Army to Kashmir to fight the invaders and Pakistan Army.

On insistence of Desai and his hope that as he had more experience both as Chief Minister of Bombay as well as central leader and almost right-hand man of Pandit Nehru for a long time in comparison to Indra Gandhi who had no administrative experience at all. Accordingly Desai demanded election of PM after voting.

On 19th January 1966, voting took place in congress Parliamentary Party and Indra Gandhi won with thumping majority by 355 votes against Desai getting only 169. It was indirectly Kamraj’s victory, as he had lined up most of the senior leaders and chief Ministers behind Indra Gandhi by his constant meeting with leaders particularly of the south India and even “large scale lobbying and hectic horse trading”.

Indra Gandhi was second woman Prime Minister in the whole world so far. Srimavo Bandaranaike of Ceylon was the first. Indra was hailed particularly by the Indian women, who were quite backward and even neglected by most of men in India. For first couple of months Indra was having absolutely peaceful life, receiving congratulations and bouquets of flowers from Indian leaders, cabinet minister, state, governors etc and also from leaders all over the world. But in March trouble started in Mizo hills a tribal area bordering East Pakistan. Under the leadership of Laldenga leader of MNF (Mizo National Front) who had contact with military government of East Pakistan for getting arms and logistic support. More on Indra Gandhi’s Prime Ministership in next chapter.

August 24, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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