11th January 1966 began as a cold overcast day in Jaipur. For me, it was going to be like any other cold day of January in those days. Soon, a pitter patter rain started hitting the window panes, and the cold conditions consolidated. Mild surface winds added to the chill.
I was in my first year in Rajasthan College, Jaipur. And gearing up for exams around the corner.
Just then, the news filtered in via a phone call that Indian Prime Minister Shastri had died in the wee hours of the night at Tashkent. Shastri was in Tashkent to attend a summit with Pakistan to settle the issues arising out of Indo-Pak conflict of September 1965 under the aegis of USSR Premier Kosygin.
Those days, landline telephones and word of mouth were the only means of spreading the news far and wide. Once the news spread, largely via telephonic talks, our home (B-87 Ganesh Marg, Bapu Nagar, Jaipur) started filling up to discuss the aftermath. Mostly friends of Bhai Sahib (eldest brother P C Mathur) from the Rajasthan University started trickling in.
Veeru dada [Virendra Narain ji] was the first one. Gesticulating and agitated as usual. Then came Subodh Sahib [Subodh Bhushan Gupta, who also ran a printing press], shaking his head.
Ramesh Arora, a batch mate of Bhai Sahib at Masters, strode straight into the drawing room and immediately joined the discussion. Soon after, Kaushik Sahib, a researcher at South Asia Centre slipped in quietly. He was always a good listener. And Chandramauli in his tennis gear and a couple of racquets in hand. And several others.
Such gatherings were common at our home - people came to talk about issues on their mind, not just for social visits.
The discussion naturally gravitated towards the Tashkent declaration. It was generally felt that perhaps the award was favourably inclined towards Pakistan. As expected, opposing views clashed over tons of tea.
I was, by and large, a silent participant.
Who made the tea? Mummy? Of course. In our house, tea was an essential ingredient, conducive for lively discussions and watching cricket matches.
Finally, after everyone was exhausted of saying the same things over and over, it was time to move over to a new venue. And renew the discussion. Later in the day, I found most of them in the NRSC [Non Resident Students Centre], a popular water hole which served tea and snacks. Discussing Shastri and Tashkent all over again.
Of course, the mystery of Shastri's sudden death was never fully resolved. He was a popular PM particularly for his slogan Jai Jawan Jai KIsan during the Indo-Pak conflict of 1965. People liked him because he lived simply and frugally.
Years later, in 2003, I met Shastri's son Sunil at Ahmedabad at a private dinner trying to organise support for Keshubhai Patel. It was a wasted effort. Alas, both the sons, Sunil and Anil, could not live up to the stature of their father.
After Nehru's death in 1964, Pakistan may have felt that the new PM Shastri would not be able to command the same kind of influence and authority. And hence India would not be able to stand up to superior Pak defence equipment purchased largely from America.
Pakistan's forces had already tested the strength of Indian forces in the Rann of Kutch in April 1965. They did not encounter much resistance from the Indian forces.
This may have emboldened the ruling class in launching Operation Gibraltar, designed to infiltrate its troops in Jammu and Kashmir. In retaliation, India attacked Western Pakistan. Of course, some heroic deeds by Indian defence forces blocked Pakistan from getting any significant gains. The conflict ended under the UN mandated cease-fire.
For the first time after Independence, North Indians felt the wartime conditions. The 1962 Sino-Indian conflict did not touch them directly.
The fear of air strike was ever present. Many a times the sirens went off over Jaipur. We all ran for cover till the all clear signal was sounded.
I had undergone civil defence training after the Sino-Indian conflict in 1962. It came in handy in 1965. There were rumours of a few bombs being dropped over Jodhpur but I believe they were largely wartime rumours.
The biggest challenge for us during the 1965 conflict was the use of lights at night. The citizens by and large obeyed the nighttime curfew conditions and the light restrictions.
Still, vigilante squads of college students and other social workers roamed the streets just to ensure that the lights in the houses were so well covered that the dim lights could not be noticed even at street levels. This vigilante action did produce some minor disagreements but most citizens were happy to comply.
Nevertheless, life pretty much continued quite normally during daytime. Classes were held regularly. Markets were open. Movies were screened during the daytime.
After the conflict was over, I presented a paper on the 1965 war at the request of Professor of Public Administration Shree Kuldip Mathur, who also happened to be a fellow Xavierite and a colleague of Bhai Sahib.
Of course, there was fear, anxiety and worry in the minds of the common man but the regular All India Radio news bulletins were very comforting to all of us. We were hopeful that Indian forces would be able to stand up to the marauders. They did.
We all felt that India had come off better in the battle. That's why the Tashkent award was such a disappointment. But Shastri's sudden death took away the focus from the Tashkent Declaration itself.
[My family did have an indirect connection with PM Shastri. Just a few weeks earlier, my younger brother Subodh and his Xavier Standard X classmates had visited him in New Delhi to present him with the funds they had collected for the National Defence Fund. On the day that Shastri died, Subodh had gone to attend school.]
Today, hardly anyone remembers Shastri. Even the Congress party has no value for one of their foremost leaders. This year they did not hold any functions at all to commemorate his life and work.
© Subhash Mathur 2018
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