Was Lal Bahadur Shastri a ‘personal servant’ of Jawahar Lal Nehru rather than his successor?




I saw Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru only two times in my life and had no personal interaction with him. Hence all these anecdotes are from the people who knew him closely.

The first time I saw Jawahar Lal Nehru was sometime in 1961. Nehru had come to Lucknow for some meeting either at the Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI) or Lucknow University and he was supposed to pass through Hazratganj the main thorough-fare of Lucknow.

I still remember vividly the moment he came in view near the Mayfair building at a considerable speed in his cavalcade; he appeared like a white man in kurta- pajama. He was not wearing his Nehru cap and as he was quite bald, I saw a halo and a glow around his head. This was my first impression of Nehru.

As Nehru’s cavalcade came near Mayfair cinema my father shouted “Pandit Nehru ki Jai”. So when Nehru saw him he threw a bouquet at him. Those were the times when the Prime Minister of India went in an open motor car without any fear.

My father Jagdish Prasad Rajvanshi went to jail with Gandhi ji during 1942 Quit India movement. He told me many stories about Nehru since he knew him well.

During 1940s my father was studying for his Ph.D. in Allahabad University and came to know Nehru. So anytime Pandit ji needed a book from the University library a chit was sent to my father giving the book’s details. My father would check it out from the library and take it to Anand Bhawan where it would be given to one of Nehru’s assistants or servants.

My father told me that once nobody came to the door to take the book so he was ushered in by Vijaylakshmi Pandit (Nehru’s sister) to Nehru’s study and told to put the book on his table.

For youngsters like my father (he was about 23-24 years of age at the time of this episode) Nehru and Gandhi ji were like gods. So when he went to his study table and saw an ashtray full of cigarette butts he was shocked. Nehru was very particular about his image so he never smoked or drank in public.

Later on my father told me of another incident. After his release from the Lucknow jail in 1946 my father wrote a book “Havalaat” about his experiences of being interned in a solitary confinement cell.

He wanted to gift the book to the Prime Minister. So he went to Teen Murti House, the Prime Minister’s residence in Delhi. It was 15th August and Nehru was getting ready to go to the Red Fort. I think this was either in 1948 or 49. Rafi Ahmed Kidwai who was then the Agriculture minister in Central Government was standing in the portico and waiting to accompany Nehru to Red Fort. My father knew Rafi saheb very well since he was his protégé. So he requested Kidwai ji to give the book to Pandit Nehru. Rafi saheb said that he should give the book to Nehru himself. By this time Pandit Nehru came out of the house and though he was in hurry to go, still he greeted my father, read the jacket of the book and as per his custom, wrote his name and date on the first page of the book. He then told his peon to put the book in his bedroom for his bedtime reading. That was the quality of Nehru as a literary person and a great book lover!

A similar story was told to me by my father’s friend Ratan Lal Joshi. Joshi ji was the editor of Hindi newspaper Hindustan in 60s and 70s and a very close confidant of Indira Gandhi. Joshi ji told me that Nehru used to invite intellectuals to Teen Murti house in the evening for tea and the intellectually stimulating conversation was his way of relaxing.

The second and the last time I saw Pandit Nehru was in the Parliament in 1961. My father’s friend Sunder Lal, a dynamic young Congress MP took me and my family to see the Parliament. Sunder Lal was an important member of the congress party and was the youngest MP elected in India’s first election in 1951. He remained an MP till 1986 – the year he died and only lost an election in 1977 when Indira Gandhi was also defeated. I was only 11 years old, so had no interest in hearing the speakers. But saw Pandit Nehru from the visitors’ gallery. He was listening to a speech of Morarji Desai (Finance Minister of India at that time) and after 15-20 minutes left the Lok Sabha. Most MPs also left the parliament after him.

Shri. Sunder Lal was a bachelor and considered me as his son. We used to discuss lots of issues about India and he told me many anecdotes of Pandit Nehru.

It was generally said that Pandit Nehru chose Lal Bahadur Shastri as his successor. But according to Sunder Lal he was almost like a personal servant of Nehru rather than his successor.

Quite a number of times when Nehru was in Kashmir for holiday and wanted some book or items of clothing, he would call Indira Gandhi in Delhi and tell her to send them. Almost invariably Lal Bahadur Shastri brought them in a small suitcase to Srinagar.

Similarly once somebody suggested to Nehru that they should discuss certain issues regarding party matter with Shastri. Nehru shot back saying that Shastri does not know anything about them. Nehru had a very low opinion of Shastri.

Sunder Lal ji also told me that people considered Indira Gandhi as a mute doll (goongi gudiya) but she was sharp and managed Nehru’s household both in Teen Murti house and in Srinagar quite well.

It was a general practice that Nehru invited intellectuals for lunch. Indira Gandhi would call the lunch guests beforehand and briefed them that under no circumstances any controversial topic should be discussed because Nehru would lose his temper and this would increase his blood pressure. With his heart problems his temper was a major cause of concern to Indira Gandhi.

Sunder Lal ji told me of an occasion during the lunch when Nehru started becoming angry with a guest. So Indira Gandhi immediately rose and offered the guest a plate of choicest dish and changed the subject!

According to Sunder Lal it was Govind Ballabh Pant the Home Minister who persuaded Nehru to bring Indira Gandhi into active politics so she could help Nehru. He would constantly remind Nehru that she has learnt so many political lessons by observing her father and also being with Gandhi ji and so would be a natural choice to become a Congress Working Committee member. Though Nehru outwardly showed that it was unethical but was never forceful enough to oppose it and so he was the one who really started the dynastic process. Naturally Indira Gandhi took it to its logical conclusion and till today we are still suffering the Nehru-Gandhi family!

The grooming of Indira Gandhi was so perfect that she started talking and giving speeches just like her father. My father told me about an incident in early 1950s when he had invited Nehru to give a speech in Faizabad during an election rally. Nehru could not come so he told my father that Indira Gandhi will come on his behalf. She spoke just like Nehru with similar style and also using the words and ideas that he used. My father said that had her voice not been that of a woman he would have thought that Nehru himself was speaking!

Even with all these shortcomings I think he was a great prime minister who had certain vision for India. Naturally he was a prisoner of his time so that the vision was colored by those times and events. Now in hindsight some consider it flawed. Nevertheless he had a vision for the country, was a great patriot and was honest. Such qualities unfortunately have not been seen in prime ministers of recent past.

My father also told me about the gutsy behavior of Indira Gandhi during that meeting. It was getting dark when the meeting ended and as Indira Gandhi was coming down the dais after her address, some young boys misbehaved with her. She simply used her elbows very effectively in pushing them and hitting them! My father and other congress workers then rushed and made a cordon to escort her out of the venue.

Nehru never liked to give speeches about local issues. His mind would always be involved in world affairs. My father told me of an incident in Etah (U.P.) where Nehru came to give a speech during the first General election in 1951. Etah was one of the poorest and most backward areas of U.P. and yet Nehru never talked about what his government will do to help this poor district but talked only about U.N. and India’s role in non-alignment movement (NAM)! People trusted him because he was the chosen heir of Gandhi ji and though his talk on U.N. or NAM did not change anything for them yet they voted overwhelmingly for the congress party.

Similarly Sunder Lal ji also told me that he requested Nehru to give a speech at one of the rural venues in his MP constituency. Nehru shot back saying that he does not like being involved in mohalla and bylane politics! Yet it was these same poor, humble people who provided large number of MPs to the congress party in elections!

This article is a part of two article series ‘My take on Jawaharlal Nehru’ by Anil Rajvanshi. The author is the Director and Hon. Secretary Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI). He could be reached at  [email protected])

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of NewsGram.