Home / Politics / Policy /  Remembering Lal Bahadur Shastri in Jawaharlal Nehru’s home

New Delhi: Situated on the first floor of Teen Murti Bhavan, residence of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, is an airy ballroom. Teen Murti Bhavan itself is a national memorial to Nehru, with its rooms, be it the sitting room, or the offices, preserved exactly as they were during Nehru’s time, including the room in which he breathed his last. But the ballroom itself, is currently hosting an exhibition about another Indian Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, never mind that a film about Nehru is still playing on the lone screen in the room.

Titled Lal Bahadur Shastri: The Pioneer of Peace and Power, the exhibition, which comprises essentially of information boards done up in light blue placed around the room, highlights the achievements of Shastri’s political life and seeks to remind people about the prime minister who steered India through a war (the 1965 war with Pakistan) and coined the famous slogan, Jai jawan, Jai kisan (Victory to soldier, victory to farmer).

“I have not gone for the exhibition till now but remembrance is always a welcome gesture. I am very happy that it has been set up in Teen Murti. Lal Bahadur Shastri is a name that is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago," says Anil Shastri, son of the former Prime Minister. Shastri is himself a senior politician with the Congress party. 

Lal Bahadur Shastri was India’s second prime minister who occupied the office for only 19 months. He died in Tashkent, then in the USSR, now the capital of Uzbekistan, after signing the Tashkent Agreement, which formally ended the 1965 war between India and Pakistan. The cause of death was declared as a heart attack, but there have always been doubts about whether it was a natural death or not. Shastri was involved with the freedom struggle. He later went onto serve as railway minister and home minister, before being appointed prime minister after the death of Nehru.

In 1956, he had resigned from his post as railway minister following the Ariyalur train disaster in Tamil Nadu, which left over 100 passengers dead. The exhibition which features content in both Hindi and English celebrates Shastri with “untold stories of a Nishkarm Karmyogi", (selfless devotee to work) his achievements as prime minister and home minister, complete with news reports from that era. There is also an infographic about his “early life" which traces his journey as a young man involved in the freedom struggle to his political life. Interestingly, Shastri already has a museum dedicated to him at Delhi’s 1 Motilal Nehru Place, which was his residence as prime minister.

The exhibition comes on the heels of the government’s intention to convert a part of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) into a museum for all the prime ministers of the country, though its primary character, that of a library and research centre which has groomed generations of India’s academics, will remain intact. “We are upgrading all of NMML, bringing in more material from Nehru’s life and upgrading galleries. There are several different aspects of Nehru, the man and his letters, his relationship with Gandhi, Nehru and foreign policy. There is massive upgradation happening for the first time in 50 years," says Shakti Sinha, director, NMML.

As for the exhibition about Shastri, Sinha says it’s because he was the second prime minister of the country and as such, it was natural that he would find a place at NMML. “There will be exhibitions about other prime ministers also, side by side with the changes in NMML. We are not going sequentially, however, it depends on the archival material available," says Sinha. Currently, two teams are working on an exhibition on former Prime Ministers P.V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Sinha expects the Rao exhibition to be next simply because the team has been working on it longer. 

Mint has earlier written about the discomfort that seems to exist around the government’s decision to install a museum for other prime ministers. The current exhibition of Shastri, however, cannot be faulted seeing that he was a popular prime minister and from the same school of thought as Gandhi and Nehru.

“Lal Bahadur Shastri was prime minister for a brief period of time. Gandhi’s contribution to the country started with World War 1 and ended in 1948. So, just in terms of the number of years that were devoted, its like comparing apples to oranges. But even then, Shastri has done much more for the nation than any leader of Jan Sangh from that period," says Manoj Joshi, a distinguished fellow at Observer Research Foundation, an Indian think tank. According to him, BJP has been trying to appropriate political figures since 2014, starting with Dr B.R. Ambedkar. “But you can’t put words in their mouth espousing their (the party’s) ideology so they try these methods. But erasing history is never that simple."

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