Lal Bahadur Shastri on his successors after death!


PM  Shastri with his confident "Lamboo" Kuldip Nayar
Lal Bahadur Shastri on his successors after death!
·         First choice was Indira  if died in two years followed by  Y. B. Chavan
·         Morarji  never forgave Kuldip Nayar for spoiling his chance to be PM
Dr. Hari Desai
Sometimes the history is not only politicized but is also polluted. So is in the case of Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s untimely death in Tashkent immediately after signing the declaration with Pakistan President Ayub Khan on 10 January 1966 following the 1965 war. India was to return the two conquered posts of Haji Pir and Tithwal to Pakistan. Even today the public debate is being raised in India whether Shastri was poisoned. Some raise fingers at his Information and Broadcasting Minister Indira Gandhi but Morarji Desai, an outspoken Gandhian who was an arch critic of Shastri and Indira both, records in his autobiography “The Story of My Life” (Volume II): “He (Shastri) had had two heart attacks before this. Several doubts and suspicions have been expressed in many quarters with regards to his death. But looking to all the circumstances, I do not find any ground for these doubts. I do not believe in the allegations that he did not die a natural death but was murdered.”
Desai was keen to be the Prime Minister immediately after PM Jawaharlal Nehru died in May 1964. A Nehru loyalist Morarji was a Union Minister in the Indian Government headed by Pandit Nehru. He lost to Shastri since the Congress President K. Kamraj and others favoured  Shastri and even ‘smart’ Lal Bahadur ‘begged’ support of Indira Gandhi for a stable government. Desai again threw his hat in the ring after death of Shastri but was defeated by Mrs. Gandhi by a big margin. He had to wait till 1977 to fulfill his ambition.  All the three i.e. Shastri, Morarji and Indira nourished ambition to be the PM but continued to pose as if they were not keen for the highest post. Even Gulzarilal Nanda, two time interim PM, was desparate to get confirmed as PM.
Nehru’s weakness was his daughter, Indira Gandhi. He may have denied in the public, but in reality he wanted her to succeed him. The book “On Leaders and Icons from Jinnah to Modi” by Kuldip Nayar, published after his death with a foreword by Mark Tully, reveals two names as successor of  Shastri. Kuldip quotes his conversation with Swaran Singh after Lal Bahadur’s death: “Shastri had himself told me a few months earlier, ‘If I die in the next two years, my successor will be Indira Gandhi. If I survive, it will be Y.B. Chavan (then the Defence Minister).” Chavan, who was also part of our group that day, commented, ‘Kuldip, make sure you write this down somewhere.’ It seems Shastri had premonition of his death. Needless to say, Kuldip was not only on the staff of the late PM Shastri but was also his confident.
Despite everyone knowing Indira to be Nehru’s choice as his successor, Morarji was her staunchest opponent. Shastri aspired to be the PM. Thanks to Morarji calling her ‘that chit of a girl’ and rejecting a consensus name, Congress President K. Kamraj preferred Shastri. Nayar notes, ‘He (Shastri) was considered a key which can fit into any lock.’ After Nehru’s death, Kuldip had written an exclusive for UNI, saying ‘Morarji was the first one to throw his hat in the ring’ and this dispatch had devastating impact on Desai’s chances to become PM! Morarji could not pardon the celebrated journalist for life and believed that the story was at the instance of Shastri. During Janata rule even when External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee proposed Kuldip’s name as India’s Ambassador to Rome or when Home Minister Charan Singh wanted to appoint Nayar as joint Governor for Punjab and Haryana, PM Desai stood in the way and vetoed both the proposals!

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Lal Bahadur Shastri on his successors after death! Lal Bahadur Shastri on his successors after death! Reviewed by Dr.Hari Desai on July 18, 2019 Rating: 5

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