Late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri during his ill-fated Tashkent visit in 1966 lent a coat gifted to him by his then Soviet Union counterpart Alexei Kosygin to one of his accompanying staff members, prompting his host to dub him a 'super Communist'. This is among several anecdotes about India's second Prime Minister that find mention in a book "Lal Bahadur Shastri: Lessons in Leadership", co-authored by his son Anil Shastri and writer Pavan Choudary.
When Shastri left or Tashkent on January 3, 1966 for his meeting with Pakistan President Gen Ayub Khan, it was very cold and he was only carrying his usual khadi woollen coat, the book says. Kosygin realised that the coat Shastri wore was not warm enough to ward off the snowy winter winds of central Asia and wanted to present him a Russian overcoat but was not sure how to do so, it says.
"Finally at a function, he presented a Russian coat as a gift to the Prime Minister hoping that he would wear it in Tashkent. Next morning, Kosygin noticed that Shastriji was still wearing the khadi coat which he had brought from Delhi.
Hesitantly, he asked the Prime Minister whether he liked the overcoat which he gave to him," the authors say. "Shastriji replied in the affirmative and said, 'It is really warm and very comfortable for me. However, I have lent it to one of my staff members who was not carrying a good woollen coat to wear in this severe winter. I will surely use your gift during my future trips to cold countries'," they wrote.
Kosygin narrated this incident during his welcome address at a cultural programme organised in honour of Shastri and Khan. He remarked, "We are Communists but Prime Minister Shastri is a super Communist." The book, published by Wisdom Village Publications, carries tidbits encapsulating Shastri's childhood, growing up years and political life. Each anecdote is narrated by his son Anil.
In a chapter titled 'Simple Living, High Thinking', the authors mention how Shastri's sons, studying at St. Columba's School in New Delhi, complained to their father, who was then the Home Minister, that children of government officials were coming by cars while they used to go to school by a tonga (horse carriage).
Shastri told them that they would get this facility of drop by a car only as long as he was the Home Minister and it would "perhaps be worse" to switch back to the tonga. The children realised the significance of their father's philosophy and decided to stick with the horse carriage. Anil Shastri also recalls how punctual his father was and once left him at the airport after he failed to reach on time to accompany him on an outstation visit in a special plane.
The book contains accounts of how Shastri handled issues of governance and politics and dealt with crises like the 1965 war with Pakistan. In another chapter, Anil recalls on how his father dealt with the resignation of then Finance Minister T T Krishnamachari, popularly known as TTK.
"I remember that my father spoke to the then Congress president Kamraj over the telephone who was in Chennai and informed him that he had accepted TTK's resignation and appointed Sachindra Choudhury the new Finance Minister. My brother-in-law Kaushal Kumar, was also there in the room and wondered whether the Congress president would be upset with Shastriji for not having consulted before taking such a decision," he writes.
Shastri said to him softly but firmly, "Who should or should not be in his Cabinet was the prerogative of the Prime Minister and he would not want this prerogative to be diluted in any way. Pt. Nehru gave power and authority to the office of Prime Minister which I will ensure does not get eroded."