“Why Not Shastri ji!” – The Tashkent Files

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“Why Not Shastri Ji!”

‘The Tashkent Files’

My father belonged to a very affluent Agnihotri family of Lahore of pre-partition India. He was the great grandson of Shri Shiv Narayan Agnihotri, the founder of Dev Samaj. The family left everything behind and reached Kanpur. My father was ten years old at that time and had to sell balloons to help the family survive. left homeless, he grew up hating Congress. His list of patriots included the likes of Subhash Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekhar Azad and Sardar Patel. As a kid I heard about ‘Lal, Bal, Pal’ from him and my grandmother. On the contrary, my mother belonged to a well off but simple Kumaoni Upreti family from Almora and was a blind follower of Congress. Her share of stories were all about Mahatma Gandhi, JawaharLal Nehru, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit and Indira’s Vaner Sena. Sometimes she talked about Lal Bahadur Shastri and Atal Bihari Bajpai too. She had always led a comfortable life as the only thing that she was asked to do was ‘study hard for a government job’. Thus very early in my life I decided that Congress party was for those who lived or atleast wished to live comfortably and rest other parties were for the strugglers. Considering the present India in 2019, I don’t think I was wrong in arriving at that conclusion.

Shastri ji And A Rebel Me

As an adolescent, my mother once caught me reading a book about NathuRam Godse and his views about Mahatma Gandhi. Hell broke loose at my home when she found out that I had borrowed it from one of my father’s students. He was asked not to poison my mind with such books. I still remember her words,” As it is she tends to be a rebel…..” I was very angry because I felt that I had the right to know the truth as a thinking individual and taking away that book from me was violation of it. During elections, mom could never think of any party beyond Congress while dad voted for anyone but it. At the age of almost 53, I think my father could never forgive Indian National Congress for making them homeless thus rightly hated the party. Here was another revelation, “Congress party followers don’t dare to question.”

In 1977 as a class six student, I was asked to prepare a speech on ‘Significance of 2nd October’ for an inter-school declamation contest and my dad helped me prepare it. That was the first time I came to know that 2nd October was not only Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday but India’s second prime minister Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri ji’s too.

My grandmother introduced me to his life, ethics and his death in Tashkent. I was awestruck to know that his actual name was Lal Bahadur Srivastava but decided to drop his surname following his aversion for caste system. He added his degree from Kashi Vidyapeeth, ‘Shastri’ to his name. I remember her words, “If Shastri ji would not have been killed in Tashkent, this Nehru family would have finished and India would have been a different nation.” Finally my dad asked me if I would like to add Shastri ji’s name along with Mahatma Gandhi in my speech and I got so excited to have a better content to deliver that there was no reason to refuse.

The very next day, I very proudly walked inside the staff room and read out the paper in front of all the teachers. Waiting for appreciation to have thought about the real ‘Significance of 2nd October’ and creating such thoughtful content, I stood there smiling while the teachers looked at each other.

“No, Kanan this isn’t going to work. No need to include Lal Bahadur Shastri.”

“But why?”

“Because we celebrate Gandhi Jayanti….”

“Shastri jayanti kyu nahi…..” that one question still hangs in the suffocating air of that school and an equally suffocating little dark corner in my memories.

The recent movie, ‘The Tashkent Files’ by Vivek Agnihotri (Oh! How I wish him to be some long lost brother of mine..) and it’s one dialogue,”Yeh desh Shastri ji ka kyu nahi?” scraped my wounds caused by that discarded write up. The little dead rebel looking for answers suddenly rose up like a phoenix. My entry was rejected that day but many years later as a teacher I ensured that on 2nd October my students paid tribute to the ultimate, selfless prime minister of India, Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri ji too.

Thank you Vivek Agnihotri and Pallavi Joshi for making me feel proud of asking the question more than forty years back….

“Why not Shastri Ji?”

Wake up from your slumber dear Indians and exercise your right to know the truth. Be a curious Indian, the true Indian because you have the right to truth.

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