Yes to Neta ji, Why Not Shastriji? Family Wants Death Demystified

On Lal Bahadur Shastri’s 50th death anniversary, should Modi declassify the secret files?

Updated
India
4 min read
The country’s second Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri died under mysterious circumstances in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on January 10, 1966. (Image altered by The Quint)

The official line is that he died of a heart attack. But when Lal Bahadur Shastri’s body was brought home, his wife Lalita Shastri noted that his face was unnaturally blue with white spots around the temple.

Yes to Neta ji, Why Not Shastriji? Family Wants Death Demystified

“It led my mother to believe that he did not die of natural reasons”, Congressman Anil Shastri tells The Quint. Two months after he sent a letter to Prime Minister Modi’s office to declassify the documents pertaining to his father’s death, he is still waiting for a response, or even an acknowledgement.

Vijay Ghat, a fitting memorial for the man whose decisive leadership won India the war against Pakistan in 1965. (Photo: Twitter/@dibang)
Vijay Ghat, a fitting memorial for the man whose decisive leadership won India the war against Pakistan in 1965. (Photo: Twitter/@dibang)

In 2009, journalist-author Anuj Dhar’s RTI request seeking the entire correspondence between the Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian and Soviet embassies, was denied.

Information, disclosure of which could prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.

Another RTI query filed in 2012 by Shastriji’s former media advisor, Kuldip Nayar, was also denied.

No Benefit of Doubt?

Apart from several conspiracy theories involving the KGB, the CIA and even an Indian shipping tycoon, the family has six main reasons to disbelieve, if not discredit the government’s official report.

1. Isolated

Lal Bahadur Shastri was made to stay 20 kilometres away from the Tashkent Hotel, where the rest of the Indian delegation had been put up. Away from the main city, he was isolated from the urgent medical care he required.

Yes to Neta ji, Why Not Shastriji? Family Wants Death Demystified

2. Disconnected

There was no telephone in Shastriji’s room. He had to walk a short distance to alert the doctor about his medical condition.

Yes to Neta ji, Why Not Shastriji? Family Wants Death Demystified

3. No Post Mortem

When the head of a state dies in a foreign country, the post mortem is conducted only if a special request is made. No one from the Indian government requested a medical examination even when Shastriji’s body was brought home.

Yes to Neta ji, Why Not Shastriji? Family Wants Death Demystified

4. The Missing Red Diary

Shastriji used to religiously maintain a red diary, which the family says was missing from his belongings handed back to them in India. They believe it could hold crucial information linked to his death.

5. Unnatural Marks

Lalita Shastri had noted that the deceased Prime Minister’s body was unnaturally blue with white spots around the temple. The family also reported cuts in Shastriji’s abdomen.

6. Witnesses Silenced?

There were two main witnesses who were in a position to ask the right questions, if not reveal the truth, about Shastriji’s death, but both could not share any information.

The first witness, Dr RN Chugh, was the junior doctor who was on call the night Shastriji passed away. Chugh was hit by a truck and killed on the spot as he was on his way to Parliament to testify before a Committee looking into Shashriji’s mysterious death.

The second witness was Shastriji’s personal secretary, Ram Nath, who was also present on the day he died. The family claims he visited Lalitha Shastri before the deposition and said, “Bahut din ka bojh tha, amma. Aaj sab bata denge (I have been carrying this burden too long. I will shed it today).”

As soon as he left 1, Motilal Nehru Marg to make his way to Parliament, Nath was hit by a moving vehicle. He lost his legs and his memory in that accident. According to the family, that both witnesses met with accidents that rendered them silent could not have been a coincidence.


Lal Bahadur Shastri’s son Anil Shastri, his grandson Adarsh Shastri and nephew Sidharth Nath Singh have urged the government to demystify the former PM’s death. (Photo altered by <b>The Quint</b>)
Lal Bahadur Shastri’s son Anil Shastri, his grandson Adarsh Shastri and nephew Sidharth Nath Singh have urged the government to demystify the former PM’s death. (Photo altered by The Quint)

On his 50th death anniversary, Lal Bahadur Shastri’s family that is now divided by political affiliations, stands united in their demand for his files to be declassified.

So What’s Stopping the Modi Government from Declassifying the Secret Files?

The matter may resound across party lines, but the government is yet to specify its stand on the matter. BJP National Secretary Sidharth Nath Singh told The Quint that the declassification of Netaji’s files is a positive indicator of Modi’s intent and he is hopeful that the same will soon happen with the Shastri papers as well.

As far as the family is concerned, we have been asking for the files to be declassified. it will be a step towards demystifying a part of our history.

Sidharth Nath Singh, BJP National Secretary to The Quint

But Anil Shastri believes the government’s pro-active approach to Netaji’s files is prompted by political expediency. That it would serve the BJP in West Bengal that goes to the polls later this year.

Maybe Mr Modi thinks he will get some extra votes if he declassifies Netaji’s files. But I don’t think he feels the same way about Shastriji. Last year was the first time an Indian PM did not pay respects to Shastriji at Vijay Ghat.

Anil Shastri, Congress Leader to The Quint
In 2015, Modi was criticised for not walking the 200 metre distance to Lal Bahadur Shastri’s memorial after he paid respect to Gandhi at Raj Ghat. Both leaders were born on October 2. (Photo: Twitter/@dibang)
In 2015, Modi was criticised for not walking the 200 metre distance to Lal Bahadur Shastri’s memorial after he paid respect to Gandhi at Raj Ghat. Both leaders were born on October 2. (Photo: Twitter/@dibang)

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