India’s former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had many feats to his credit, but he will always be remembered as the PM who resurrected a nation’s broken self-confidence after the defeat against China in 1962 and led it to victory in the 1965 war against Pakistan. His famous slogan of Jai Jawan Jai Kisan infused new energy into the soldiers during the war with Pakistan.
In 1965, when he was the Prime Minister of India, Shastriji bought a Fiat car with a loan of Rs. 5,000 from Punjab National Bank. When his loan was approved early, Shastriji enquired at the bank whether the common man too had the same privilege of quick loan sanction, and was reassured by the bank staff that it is so.
However, Shastriji died at Tashkent in 1966 before he could repay the loan. The bank wrote to his widow, Lalita Shastri, for repayment of the loan that her husband owed. The lady promised to pay back in instalments from her family pension. She later repaid every pie of the Rs. 5,000 loan. The Fiat car still stands at his home, a gentle reminder of the times when such honest politicians lived and led the country.
Shastriji was the epitome of simple living and high thinking eulogised in Indian culture. His children knew that the name and fame that their father earned was a hard-earned one and that each one of them has to struggle hard themselves to get their share of name and fame.
Shastriji was the prime minister when his son got admission in St. Stephen’s college, Delhi. When Shastriji filled the admission form, in the column about himself he wrote, ‘Government Servant.’
During his Prime Ministership, Shastriji’s son once stood in line with other unemployed youth to register for a job at the Employment Exchange. The clerk enquired as to what was his father. The son replied proudly, “Prime Minister of India.”
According to a report in The Economic Times, Shastriji, who was known for his austere lifestyle, applied for a loan from the bank as he wanted to buy a 1964 model Fiat car, which cost around Rs. 12,000, but the family bank account had only Rs. 7,000.
Zee News reported that, when Shastriji was granted the loan in less than two hours, he summoned the bank officer who sanctioned the loan and advised him to be equally prompt in meeting the requirement of other customers.
Lal Bahadur Shastri: Lessons in Leadership, co-written by Shastriji’s son Anil, also mentions the story. “Although the government offered to waive off the loan, my mother decided not to accept the offer and repaid the amount from her monthly pension. This loan was repaid in three to four years after Shastriji’s death,” Anil wrote.
According to the book, the car is one of the star attractions at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial in Delhi.