Around 18 years of their independence have completed and India-Pakistan indulged in a war for the second time. This time, India’s decisive power was in the safe hands of Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Ji. The second Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy showed that India can very well defend itself and can retaliate aggressively. India won the war but the border tensions wouldn’t settle.
Russia, being “United Soviet Socialist Republic” (USSR) or simply “Soviet Union”, was a big superpower back then. The cold war between USSR and USA was at its peak when Soviet Union decided to mediate between India and Pakistan to show the world that USSR wanted to bring peace.
Thus, Soviet Russia brings Indian Prime Minister Shastri Ji and Pakistani President Gen. Ayub Khan on one table in a global conference held at Tashkent, Uzbekistan (Part of Soviet Union back then). The Tashkent Declaration for ceasefire and holding the military back was signed by both Khan and Shastri Ji. Few hours after he signed this agreement, Shastri Ji died of a heart attack on the early morning of 11th January 1966.
This story is the official record of Government of India. There are many suspicions over this and they have been talked about, questioned at the government at that time as well. Looking at the facts of all the visible records, Shastri Ji’s death story seems like a big cover up.
Table of Contents
Who was Lal Bahadur Shastri?
Lal Bahadur Shastri was a freedom fighter in India’s Freedom Movement. A true follower of Gandhiji, Shastri Ji wore Khadi, lived a simple life and also convinced his wife to follow the same. After Jawaharlal Nehru’s death in 1964, he sworn in as India’s second Prime Minister.
India was heavily dependent on USA for food grains back then. Shastri Ji brought Green Revolution and White Revolution, the fruit of which is that our parents and us could happily and readily feed ourselves this long. He held India’s image very high and prominent during his tenure as a PM.
Those were very tough days. Indian military was under transformation, Indian citizens were facing absolute poverty and Pakistan was getting equipped with American weaponry to attack India. A two month war happened between India and Pakistan. Probably Pakistani president General Ayub Khan would have thought that the simple looking, low heighted person Shastri Ji was an ineffective leader. Turned out Shastri Ji was a dragon. “We will answer weapons with weapons” he said, and Indian military had literally reached Lahore Camp attacking the Pakistanis.
The Tashkent Summit
As stated above, Soviet Russia intervened. The Cold war between USA and USSR was a nasty power show off. Arms race, space race were aligned to the traditional border influencing strategies by both of the superpowers. Thus, USSR called for a global level summit in Tashkent in January 1966. Many countries and their Head of States were invited. World had their eyes on two pairs of enemies, the other being India and Pakistan.
Not going much into the Tashkent Declaration between India and Pakistan, one line to conclude would be that it was a compromise on both ends and an absolute victory for USSR. Shastri Ji had a history of not getting influenced by power as he condemned USA in Vietnam war, knowing fully well that USA will stop our food grain supply. Thus, if returned alive, Shastri Ji would definitely have taken a different stand and would have done everything that was right for India that time. By the American and Soviet news records of that age, it is pretty evident that Soviet President Premier Kosygin had to face a lot of difficulty in negotiating with both India and Pakistan. Till 9th of January 1966, the declaration was far from being agreed by Shastri Ji. On 10th January, when nobody expected, Shastri Ji signed the declaration. Probably Kosygin had bulldozed him or probably Shastri Ji tried to be diplomatic in order to win big. Convincing his companions, Foreign Minister Swaran Singh and Defence Minister Yashwantrao Chavan, Shastri Ji said that people of India will be happy to listen the decision I took. He was confident about his intention and further moves.
That Unfortunate Night
Few hours after the declaration, Shastri Ji returned to his Dacha (Villa) in Tashkent where his stay was arranged by the Soviet Government. Having had snacks at the party in the evening, he initially refused to have any dinner but then instructed his Personal Attendant Shri Ram Nath to make something for him. Ramnath instructed the same to Mohammad Jan, the cook of Indian Ambassador in Tashkent. He made the curry of spinach and potato. Ramnath served it to Shastri Ji at 10:20 PM. After that, Shastri Ji spoke with the Prime Minister Officials in Delhi on telephone and with his family as well. At about midnight, Shastri Ji went to his bedroom. Ramnath gave him milk as per his daily routine. Shastri Ji also asked for some water. Ramnath served him water out of the flask which was there in his bedroom. At 12:30 in the midnight, Shastri Ji asked Ramnath to leave before putting the lights off.
At around 1:20 AM on 11th January 1966, Shastri Ji came walking to the door of his Private Secretary J N Sahai and asked him to call doctor. Seeing him in distress, Sahai ran to Dr. Chugh. By the time Dr. Chugh reported to Shastri Ji, he fell on ground and was losing conscious. With the patient’s history of two previous heart atracks, Dr. Chugh started his remedial actions. He gave Shastri artificial respirations and two injections. The efforts didn’t succeed. At 1:32 AM, Shastri Ji went completely unconscious.
The Soviet Government’s doctor in charge, Dr. Evgenia Yeremenko entered the room at this very moment. Few minutes after, seven Soviet doctors followed. They tried every therapy that was needed in that hour. All the efforts failed and they declared Shastri Ji as dead.
The news spread like a bullet in every corner of Tashkent. Indian media, Soviet media and global media woke up in shock to listen to this news. The word reached India as well.
Bearing Shastri Ji’s coffin were Soviet President Premier Kosygin, Pakistani President Ayub Khan, Defence Minister Y B Chavan and Foreign Minister Swaran Singh. Thousands of people gathered around the streets of Tashkent to bid farewell to Shastri Ji. At around 2:30 in the afternoon, Shastri Ji’s deadbody reached Palam Airport, New Delhi. Lakhs of people were gathered on this utterly tragic event. Many world leaders expressed their grief over the sadly demise of Shastri Ji and many had even joined his funeral including Premier Kosygin himself.
Certainly Not a Natural Death
Though the official record state that Shastri Ji died of a heart attack, there are many prima facie suspicions that were observed and questioned that time. There is no satisfactory resolution to all these suspicions at all, they were rather strategically suppressed with the passage of time. Let’s take a look at them one by one.
1. The Thermos Flask
In an interview with Dharmyug on 4th October 1970, the renowned weekly in the 1960s, Mrs. Lalita Shastri, Shastri Ji’s wife, opened up many secrets. She told that Shastri Ji was repeatedly pointing towards the flask from which he was served water whilst getting unconscious. At first, Dr. Chugh thought he needed water but when offered, Shastri Ji did not take it. Now what must this mean? Did Shastri Ji realise that there was something poisonous in that flask or was it a natural gesticulating during a heart attack? Most important thing is, that Thermos flask was Shastri Ji’s personal asset and it was not returned with his dead body, neither was it found again even after thoroughly searching the dacha afterwards. The flask and his personal diary went missing right after Shastri’s death.
2. Decomposition of Dead Body
Though this is going to be another point but the reference is evident here that Soviet Government had offered post mortem of Shastri Ji’s dead body, which was apparently refused by Defence Minister Y B Chavan. The temperature when Shastri Ji died in Tashkent was 0-1 degree celsius, which is pretty cold. 12 hours past his death when the body reached Delhi, the temperature in Delhi was not anywhere more than 20 degree celsius. Plus, the body was embalmed i.e. a fluid was inserted in the body to preserve it for a while by Soviet Doctors. This means there was no ground that the body would decompose and change its colour within at least 24 hours of death.
Lalita Shastri explained in that interview that Shastri Ji’s dead body had turned blue, was badly bloated, so much so, that when the dead body was being bathed as per Hindu rituals, his vest had to be torn off. Blood was flowing from his neck. There was a surgical cut on his stomach as well. Now the question is, in which heart attack does the dead body turn blue? Embalming fluid is inserted only through the back, then how come there were surgical cuts on his stomach? What was the reason Shastri’s family was repeatedly kept afar from his dead body? These are not my questions, this is what Lalita Shastri said in that interview.
3. The Post Mortem
Even a common accidental or out-of-illness death is followed by a post mortem. Why was post mortem not done either in Tashkent or in New Delhi? A Prime Minister has died on a foreign soil, has any other suspicion even required to justify a post mortem? Why the post mortem offered by Soviet Government was rejected by our Defence Minister? The absence of post mortem is perhaps the biggest factor why this death hard to believe to be unnatural.
4. Two Medical Reports
Two “identical” medical reports of Shastri Ji’s death were made. One, English report for Indian government and another, Russian report for Soviet Government. It can be understood that similarity of Russian names for Calcium and Potassium (Kaltsi and Kali respectively) may have caused a translation mistake in the report, the fact that the Russian report was signed by 8 Soviet doctors and the Indian report was signed by 6 Soviet doctors still leave a room for suspicion. The two doctors who abstained from signing the report were Dr. Gordon and Dr. Yeremenko. Yes, the same Dr. Yeremenko who reached the scene of death before any Soviet doctor. Question is, did she understand the possible foul play and cover up of facts for which she abstained from signing Indian report? God knows what she was up to!
5. Grave Mistakes in Accommodation
Before a Prime Minister goes and stays anywhere, a team of security experts examine the location in and out. All the necessary arrangements are made sure at the site. With the medical history of two heart attacks, it was important that Shastri’s Bedroom had an emergency oxygen supply, an emergency ring/alarm bell and an emergency telephone service. Initially, Shastri’s stay was decided to be at Intourist Hotel and all arrangements were made in that way. Nobody knows what was the reason his accommodation was changed at 11th hour from Intourist hotel to a 250 yards away villa. Further, there was no oxygen in his bedroom. There was an emergency telephone but that was in the study room, instead of being in bedroom. These sudden changes in his accommodation are acute, yet very subtle. These are very serious protocol breakdowns for a Prime Minister and apparently no one even questioned it then and there.
6. A Forged Letter
A Mumbai based weekly called “Blitz” ran an article paying condolences to Shastri Ji on 19th January 1966 in which the editor Russi Karanjia had mentioned of a letter that Shastri Ji had officially sent him before he went to Tashkent. The letter was dated 2nd January 1966. Shastri Ji had supposedly mentioned in the letter that he was positive about his forthcoming Tashkent Journey and was prone to the Tashkent declaration, while in reality, Premier Kosygin himself stated that it was difficult to bring Shastri on table for the said declaration. Two obvious things here are, the letter was forged as allegations had been made in Rajya Sabha in this regard and the corresponding government had made every escape to this question instead of providing a copy or a serial number of such letter; and the other thing is that Editor Karanjia must have made this forgery in a certain assurance, otherwise Prime Minister’s Office would have had him on fire if Shastri were returned alive for this forgery. Significant information here is, that the Blitz Weekly was a Pro-Soviet Union media. The forgery was very much questioned in Rajya Sabha and in media as well. In fact, this forgery was one of the greatest driving factors that lead the Shastri’s death issue on public ground.
People who Raised Voice
A democratic India would definitely not sit silent on a gravely suspicious death of its second Prime Minister. Rajyasabha, the Upper House of Parliament was shaken top to bottom by some of the opposition leaders of that time and even some of the ruling party leaders over this issue. Those include Members of Rajya sabha such as Shastri’s childhood friend T N Singh, Lokenath Mishra, M K Mohra, Raj Narain and Mahabir Prasad Bhargava. In the Lower House ‘Loksabha’ as well, veteran leaders like Dr. Ram Subhag Singh, Prakash Vir Shastri, Dharam Yash Dev, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani had held the government on serious charges. One of the prominent MPs who raised a question and also wrote a book called “Was Shastri Murdered?” was a person named Dayabhai V Patel, Dayabhai Vallabh Bhai Patel, son of Sardar Patel. His book was later banned in India, and is still hard to find.
After 6 major observations as described above, Shastri Ji’s death mystery starts unfolding step by step. Now the question is, if he was murdered, who must have done this, and why?
1. The CIA
As India in 1960’s to 1980’s was much of a Soviet Union group country, the American Intelligence Agency CIA is the foremost suspect. Going by the records that CIA had declassified pertaining to that era, CIA never saw Shastri as a threat. Plus, CIA had produced a 14 page special report on Shastri Ji, titled “Shastri’s first year as India’s Prime Minister” in June 1965, which had in short applauded Shastri of being a good leader and had also predicted that Shastri was going to be India’s PM for a very long period. Very much certainly, CIA never saw Shastri as a threat and thus, stands negligible in any conspiracy theory of Shastri’s death.
2. The KGB
The Soviet Intelligence Agency. KGB was perhaps the most dangerous spy agency of the world. Corresponding records suggest that KGB was an entire government in disguise. So much so, that even Soviet Presidents were used to be unaware of KGB’s plans. Assassinating major global politicians was a sports to KGB spies. Most of the most dangerous poisons would attack you and no one would even doubt how did you die. Looking at the circumstances that Shastri was not ready to sign the Tashkent Declaration that benefited greatly to the USSR and the forged letter conspiracy mentioned above, KGB was a suspect for sure. What takes KGB out of this list is what brings many Indian politicians in the prime suspects. When “A Statement of Facts” issued by then Home Minister Y B Chavan had debunked almost every allegation that read Shastri’s death was unnatural, and strategically suppressed almost all the suspicions by 1970’s, a very interesting news from a Russian Tabloid “Komsomolskaya Pravda” turned the tables upside down in 1998. The story was about a Russian Butler Ahmed Sattarov who helped Mohammad Jan in preparing the food of Shastri Ji on that unfortunate night. The story was also translated in English by British Daily “Telegraph” which read that Sattarov and Mohammad Jan were taken into custody on the charges of poisoning Shastri Ji on 11/01/1966 at 4:00 AM. Though the cooks might later have turned out to be innocent but it raises 2 very important questions:
- Was the Government of India, especially Foreign Minister and Defence minister unaware of the fact that cook of their ambassador was arrested by Soviet Police on charges of poisoning their own Prime Minister?
- If Russians could at least arrest and interrogate on the suspicion of a foul play in Shastri’s death, what made Indian government so confident that they didn’t even consider doing a post mortem of Shastri Ji?
The suo moto investigation by the Russians is enough to conclude that Russians were not involved in the death of Shastri Ji, especially when they had invited Shastri to their homeland and Shastri had agreed to their terms. If KGB had to kill him, they would have chosen any other manner but to kill him in their own nation, risking their country’s prestige.
3. Someone in India
As the CIA report clearly read that Shastri was not going to be off chair anytime sooner, political environment back then was definitely not in favour of a grassroots leader. Many were in line after Nehru’s demise to replace him as a Prime Minister but the wise party command of K Kamaraj chose Shastri Ji out of nowhere. Was someone in the waiting list of Prime Minister not happy with Shastri holding the Chair? Was someone not happy to see a grassroots leader being immensely popular? What was the reason that Y B Chavan was accompanying him in Tashkent, saw whatever happened to him and suspected no foul play, rather escaped every suspicion in Rajya Sabha? What was the reason ambassador T N Kaul pressurized journalist Kuldeep Nayar to stick to the official stand? What was the reason that before Shastri Ji’s unfortunate death, Indira Gandhi had rather negatively predisposed relations with him? If Shastri Ji was poisoned, the answer must be anywhere between these questions.
Towards the Conclusion
From mysterious death of Shyama Prasad Muckerjee to suspicious death of Lal Bahadur Shastri Ji, early years of post independent India had many dark secrets where the country had lost many gems. Despite having some clearly visible evidences, we can only conclude that Shastri Ji’s death certainly had a foul play in it, but who was the culprit, is indeed a matter of investigation, which is mostly unlikely.
Some even ask what is the point in digging out lost mysteries. Simple answer is, History Repeats Itself. Had the lessons learnt in time, two of India’s great prime ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi wouldn’t have been brutally assassinated. Foreign powers would hate to see India rise and some nasty powers in India would hate to be outperformed by a commoner, be it a grassroot mass leader or a businessman trying to grow bigger. It is our duty as an Indian citizens to learn from these mistakes and be well aware of the internal enemies. Tributes to one of the few selfless leaders on his 56th Death Anniversary. Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Hind!
Dnyanesh Make “The DPM”
Our Survey of the Opinions
Before writing the blogs, I asked on our instagram page about the opinions our readers had regarding Shastri Ji’s death. Some of them are:
CA Anup Rathi says,
“Some say it’s natural death, some say it’s a murder. I personally feel there is some foul play as the cook who made dinner for Shastri Ji went missing, that there was no enquiry after his death. Whatever the truth was, it went along with Shastri Ji. We must revisit the truth.”
Vitthal Bang says,
“From the very fact that he died on a foreign soil, I can certainly say that it’s a well planned murder.”
Akshay Naikade says,
“The topic is a buffer zone between truth and framed truth. Official record of Government of India says it’s a heart attack but some prominent evidences of poisoning were also noticed.”
- “Your Prime Minister is Dead” by Investigate Journalist Anuj Dhar
- “Mitrokhin Archives” by KGB Archivist Vasili Mitrokhin
- Shri Anuj Dhar’s Lecture in Dayanand Auditorium, Latur in 2019
- “Lal Bahadur Shastri – A Quintessential Gandhian” by L P Singh
- “Lal Bahadur Shastri – A Life of Truth in Politics” by C P Shrivastava
- “Was Shastri Murdered” by Dayabhai V Patel
- The Movie “The Tashkent Files” by Vivek R Agnihotri