Everyone has a hero, I have two: Gen. ‘Timmy’ Thimayya and former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. In August 1965, I was in a meeting and the agenda was to assess our strategy against the intrusion by infiltrators into Jammu and Kashmir. I was asked to give an account of activities near the International Border (IB) in the Punjab sector. After my briefing, General ‘Muchu’ Choudhuri, the then Army Chief, made a forceful exposition of our future strategy. Shastri was present at the meeting. However, some participants at the meeting opposed the course of action he proposed. “The plan is unacceptable to us. What will the international community think of us? We’ll never be able to live this down,” said an officer of External Affairs Ministry.
While the discussion was going on, Shastri asked me to point out the incursions across the IB. After hearing it again, he said: “I have taken all the factors into account and I am convinced that the Army Chief’s plan is the best. Go ahead General, the whole country is behind the armed forces”. I was in awe and admiration for the politician who had the guts to take such a bold decision, a true test of leadership.
Soon after the ceasefire, I was asked to escort Shastri to the border areas. First, we flew to an airbase where he was told about the daring exploits of the pilots and bombing raids and then to the ‘graveyard’ of the enemy’s tanks. From there, we moved to the Barki sector where some of the fiercest fighting had taken place. The PM then insisted on going to Ichogil Canal, which was very near to the enemy lines. We formed a security ring around him but he gave us the slip and stood watching enemy bunkers. In fact, we could see enemy weapons being pointed at us. On the flight back to Delhi, I mentioned how worried we were about his security. With a puckish smile, he said: “General, I am also a soldier of the country”.
Some months later, he died in Tashkent. For me, it was a personal loss. At the funeral, I walked beside the gun carriage. There was a lump in my throat when I heard the Last Post. Shastri was a leader who dared to take a bold decision in the national interest during a time of crisis. Is there a lesson we can learn from this?