Late Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri’s tenure of one and half years as India’s Prime Minister was sandwiched between the tumultuous reigns of Late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Late Smt. India Gandhi. His very short tenure could not establish his governance credentials beyond all doubts, but his no-nonsense, honest and firm leadership did provide a glimpse of what India lost in his unfortunate death in Tashkent in 1965. Indians were not the only people deprived. Tibetans lost a valuable friend as well.
I am indebted to Shri Claude Arpi and his path-breaking book “Born in Sin: The Panchsheel Agreement” for the information related to Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri’s stance on the important question of Tibet. He took a markedly tougher stance on Chinese occupation of Tibet, when compared to his illustrious but failed predecessor. Shri Shastri’s government voted in favor of the “Resolution for Self-determination of Tibet” in the UN in 1965.
Following is what the Indian representative in the UN had to say: “The naked truth – which all of us must face – is that the Chinese Government is determined to obliterate the Tibetan people, but surely no people can remain for long suppressed. I have faith in the world community. I believe it will be able to help restore the Tibetans all the freedom which we have enshrined, with such dedication, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights………The Dalai Lama has been living in India for some years now, and is carrying on his religious humanitarian activities without any restriction from us. We shall continue to give the Dalai Lama and his simple and peace loving people these facilities and all our hospitality. It is for these reasons that we support, fully and wholeheartedly, the cause of the people of Tibet.”
Not only is this brave stance rare in some of the other Indian Prime Ministers, but apparently, Late Shri Shastri had thought further.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama had told Shri Claude Arpi that one day during the 1965 India-Pakistan war, Shakabpa, the Tibetan representative in Delhi had met HH Dalai Lama. Shakabpa had informed HH Dalai Lama that he met the Indian Prime Minister, and Shri Shastri has decided to recognize the Tibetan Government-in-exile! Apparently, this was to be done after Shri Shastri returned from Tashkent. Alas, he never returned alive.
Rest in peace, Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri. Neither the Indian nor the Tibetan people can be crushed by the Chinese Communist imperialism. Indomitable human spirit can not be crushed by state-sponsored terrorism.