. Nehru died without naming a political heir and dissension and factionalism had become a part of Congress. Major contenders of PM post were Morarji Desai – a honest sound administrator, but unpopular for being self-righteous, inflexible and even right winger; and Lal Bahdur Shastri – a mild, tactful, likeable and personally incorruptible. The succession happened under a group formed in 1963 collectively known as Syndicate headed by K Kamraj the then party president, S K Patil, Neelam Sanjeev Reddy etc. They didn’t wanted Desai to be PM for his apparent unpopularity and after internal discussions, Desai gracefully backed out and Shastri was made PM within one week of Nehru’s death.
Shastri showed less interest in party activities and even provided greater autonomy to cabinet. He, however, had a slack attitude regarding various problems like language issue, Punjabi suba demand and Goa merger which took a bad shape over time and he was even accused of indecisiveness. Indian economy was also stagnated at that time and there was severe food insecurity due to draught in 1965. The US also suspended food aid in wake of Pakistan war. One positive development was initiation of Green Revolution. With time, Shastri also got hand of administration and India was one of the first countries to criticize the US bombing of North Vietnam. He also setup his own secretariat and named it as PMO which emerged as parallel cabinet during Indira Gandhi’s time.
However, the real moment of reckoning for Shastri came during war with Pakistan in August 1965.
Pakistan took it as a sign of Indian weakness and under-preparedness and launched an all out infiltration in Kashmir. Shastri took a bold step and ordered army to even cross LoC and seal the various passes and occupy strategic peaks like Uri, Kargil, Haji Pir etc. Unlike 1962, entire country was standing united behind Indian army and leadership. China made threatening noises and declared India as aggressor, though Soviet sympathized with India and restrained China from taking any adverse steps.
Western powers also condemned this undeclared war and cut supplies to both the countries. War was inconclusive with both sides having notions of victory. However, result was that infiltration bid of Pakistan had been foiled. India’s lost pride in Chinese war also regained to great extent. Kashmiris also didn’t sided with Pakistani forces and it proved a test of Indian secularism in which it came with flying colours. A ceasefire was declared and under mediation of Soviet leadership, Shastri met General Ayub Khan, the Pakistani president to sign Tashkent Declaration.