Thursday, November 23, 2017
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Today was that fateful day in 1966 when the beloved leader of the nation, Lal Bahadur Shastri suddenly passed away in Tashkent after signing a historic agreement with President Ayub Khan of Pakistan who even gave a shoulder to the bier that was carrying his last remains to India.


I distinctly remember that night when I was on night duty in The Leader . The Tashkent deal had been signed. We made that the top story in the newspaper. I was a junior. Late Mr Ishwar Deo Mishra was a senior colleague  who stayed on the Leader Press premises. After releasing the first page with Tashkent accord as the top news, I cycled home about 3am. I dozed off wondering what will be the lead headline in the Patrika.
But round 5am our call bell rang. In winter time, who could it be at that hour? Others were fast asleep but as I had been awake almost the whole night it did not take me long to get up. I rushed to the door and opened it. I saw two strangers standing there. They wanted to meet my elder brother who was incharge of Indian Airlines office in Allahabad then. Barnetts were the local handling agents of the IAC.I politely told them: ‘But you could certainly call at the office in daytime. What’s the urgency?’


You could have knocked me down with a feather when they told me:’We are from the household of Chaudhury Nau Nihal Singh. He has to rush to Delhi today and wants to ensure an air ticket for him by the earliest flight.’ But what’s the matter? I asked. They revealed: ‘Lal Bahadur Shastri is dead....’ ‘What?’ I shouted back at them: ‘How could that be when only a few hours ago he was fine. We have given that in our headlines. He even spoke to Lalitaji on phone’. They said: ‘All that is true. But he passed away after that’.

I immediately woke up my elder brother. The whole household was awake, jolted out of bed as they were on hearing about the news. I just wondered what would happen to our headlines. But when the newspapers came, the headline was, ‘Shastri dies of heart attack in Tashkent’. So the headline had been corrected. How could that happen when all of us had left the newsroom together?

Ishwardeo Mishraji revealed to me the next day. He said: ‘I had gone home to rest too and was barely in  bed when the peon (Kailash was his name) knocked at my door saying that the PTI people are urgently calling us on the line.’ Ishwardeoji rushed to the press, climbed the staircase in suspense and was flabbergasted to learn about Shastriji’s sudden passing away. He said, ‘It was too late to call any colleague’. He said: ‘I was too shocked, too dazed. But I edited the story even while tears were trickling down my eyes.’ The Patrika headline, given by Reggie Mukherji was, ‘Bolt from the Blue’ and thereafter the news.
Never was the nation more stunned. Lal Bahadur had become the nation’s hero after the 1965 war in which we had  stunned the Pakistanis by reaching the outskirts of Lahore before there was truce. My thoughts rolled back to that evening when Shastriji  was visiting Allahabad in late December in 1965 and was going ahead to address a public meeting where he gave the slogan iof ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’, His motorcade passed through Mahatma Gandhi Marg. I stood at the Subhash Crossing to have a glimpse of the national hero. The rush was stupendous. There was not an inch of space left. Crowds were jostling and the whole place was renting with the slogan, ‘Lal Bahadur Zindabad’. Shastriji’s car was moving at a snail’s pace. It was an open jeep. Shastriji stood facing the crowds with a smile on his face. And Lalitaji, with that broad ‘bindiya’ on her forehead was standing by his side. It was loud cheering, cheering all the way. And Shastriji was peeping into almost every eye. Everyone thought that he was throwing a special glance at him. Even I thought that way when the motorcade passed away a few yards from the spot where I stood like one of the hero worshippers.
Thereafter I rushed to the Leader Press. There later in the evening the chief reporter Mr N.D.Agarwala came from Shastriji’s public meeting and I asked him. ‘Did he say anything special?’ He replied: ‘He has given a new slogan to the countrymen: Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ . He told me that the crowds went delirious and they kept on shouting, Shastriji Zindabad’.  Mr Agarwal told me that it was very rare to see such wild hero-worship as was witnessed that evening.
That was Shastri. Today when I think of those days I am moved. I didn’t realize that I too had been a witness to the making of rare moments of history in our post-independence era. We do pay tributes to him. But have we cared to imbibe his values? Simplicity and humility were his cherished ornaments.

When he visited Rajapur unannounced


The late Syed Rahman Ali narrated an interesting incident to me about Lal Bahadur’s visit to their house in Rajapur when he was a Union Minister.Mr Rahman Ali’s father, late Mr Mahboob Ali was also a freedom fighter and he had very close and cordial relations with Shastriji. ‘But I neither knew anything about Shastriji nor recognized him’, he told me. He went on: ‘ Then one fine evening, rather late in the evening, there was a knock at our door. I opened the door and saw a short-statured person standing. He told me that he wished to see my father. I asked him to wait outside and told him that I was going in to call him. I asked him: “ Who should I say is wanting to meet him”, Mr Ali questioned him. The gentleman replied, ‘Tell him that Lal Bahadur has come’.”  Even then it did not occur to  Mr Ali who he was. He went and told his father. When he mentioned Lal Bahadurji’s name his father was startled: ‘Where is he? What have you told him?’ Mr Ali said he had asked him to wait outside. His father told him, ‘Go and immediately usher him in and let  him be seated comfortably. Don’t you know who  he is? He is Union Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’. It was then that Mr Ali says he was  taken aback. Shastriji was ushered in. His father came. They spoke like old friends. Shastriji told him: ‘I was passing this way. I thought of  meeting you. How could I pass through this area without meeting you?’ Mr Ali told me: ’How could I feel that he was a Minister when there was no escort, no gunman accompanying him? He had halted his car on the main road and had just walked the distance. He did say he was Lal Bahadur. But it is a very common name. I presumed that someone had come to have some work done’.
I am recalling this incident with the special intention of telling readers that what Arvind Kejriwal is doing is nothing new. Lal Bahadur Shastri did that then. No wonder he was the darling of the masses.

 

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