Harihar Nath Shastri was born on 26 October 1904 at Wazirapur in present-day Uttar Pradesh. He studied at the Edward Memorial Institute and went on to pursue higher education at Benaras Hindu University and Kashi Vidyapith.
Shastri enjoyed playing chess for recreation. His other hobbies included playing bridge and travelling.
Role in Indian Independence Movement
Shastri joined the Indian independence movement at a young age. He enrolled as a member of the Indian National Congress in 1928. He was imprisoned 7 times for his involvement in Indian freedom movement.
Shastri held a number of important political and administrative positions. He was a member of the Municipal Committee, Kanpur (1934-40) and the Kanpur Improvement Trust (1938-51). He was elected to U.P. Legislative Council (1937-44) and U.P. Legislative Assembly (1946-50).
Shastri is well renowned for his contribution to the labour movement in Uttar Pradesh focusing on the textile industry in Kanpur. He was the President of the All-India Trade Union Congress (1933-35) and the Indian National Trade Union (1947-49). He brought together the labour movement and the Indian national movement in Uttar Pradesh. He linked the upliftment of workers with the end of colonial rule. He believed that ‘swaraj’ without the emancipation of workers was not complete ‘swaraj’.
Shastri’s socialist politics was unique because his approach to labour issues was more radical than his contemporaries. He disagreed with socialists like B. Shiva Rao who believed that labour movements should adopt constitutional means to put forward their grievances. Shastri instead felt that unconstitutional acts of industrialists cannot be countered by constitutional agitations by the workers. Despite his radical views, Shastri was considered a ‘moderate’ by British officials, as opposed to the ‘communists’ in the 1930s who were termed as ‘agitators’.
He edited a weekly magazine called Mazdoor through which he aimed to politically mobilise labourers and spread awareness of labour issues..
Shastri lived in the Mazdoor Basti at Gwaltoli. Although he belonged to the middle class, he was able to transcend class differences with labourers by living with them.
Contribution to Constitution Making
Shastri was elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1946 from the United Provinces on a Congress party ticket. He did not participate in the Assembly debates.
- The Indian labour representative at the International Labour Conference (1948, 1951 and 1952),
- A member of the Governing Body of the International Labour Organisation,
- Vice-President of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, and
- The Indian workers’ representative in the first Asian Regional Conference at Ceylon (1950).
Shastri was elected as the first member of Parliament from Kanpur to the Lok Sabha in 1952.
- Lost Worlds: Indian Labour and Its Forgotten Histories, by Chitra Joshi (Permanent Black, 2003)
- Factional Politics in an Indian State: The Congress Party in Uttar Pradesh, by Paul Brass (iUniverse, 2008)