‘What Killed Shastri?’ His Sons Ask Before Tashkent Files’ Release

The Quint spoke to the former prime minister’s sons ahead of the release of Vivek Agnihotri’s ‘The Tashkent Files’.

4 min read

“The possibility of a heart attack and murder have equal chances,” says the son of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and senior Congress leader Anil Shastri ahead of the release of Vivek Agnihotri’s The Tashkent Files.

The film is based on the mystery shrouding the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri who was in Tashkent to sign a peace agreement with the then-Pakistan president Ayub Khan.

Hours after signing the agreement, Shastri purportedly died of a heart attack. However, over the years, the family members have expressed suspicion about the events leading up to his death.


Speaking to The Quint, Anil Shastri, who was 17 years old at the time of his father’s death, said that there was “gross negligence” on the part of the ministry taking care of Shastri in Tashkent.

The Quint spoke to the former prime minister’s sons ahead of the release of Vivek Agnihotri’s ‘The Tashkent Files’.
Former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri breathed his last on the intervening night of 10-11 January in 1966 in Tashkent.
(Photo Courtesy: Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial)

He goes on to say that Shastri was kept in a dacha (villa) away from the rest of the delegation and there was no bell or buzzer in his room – a point which has been mentioned by veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar in his writings. Nayar says that the government lied on this point in the Parliament when it was attacked over its inability to save Shastri’s life.

Anil Shastri also said that the prime minister was left in the hands of a junior doctor and there was no aide for him in the villa.

Anil Shastri’s brother and senior BJP leader Sunil Shastri too raises similar questions and maintains that he believes Shastri’s death was indeed “mysterious”.

What Happened That Night: Questions Raised by the Family

Shastri is believed to have signed the Tashkent agreement a few months after the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, at around 4 pm on 10 January in 1966. After which he reached the villa that was provided to him by his Soviet hosts.

The Tashkent agreement was aimed at restoring a normal and peaceful relationship between the two neighbouring countries. Former Prime Minister Shastri and Pakistani President Khan agreed that “both sides will exert all efforts to create good neighbour relations” in accordance with the United Nations Charter.

The Quint spoke to the former prime minister’s sons ahead of the release of Vivek Agnihotri’s ‘The Tashkent Files’.
Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri with Pakistani President Ayub Khan and Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin.
(Photo Courtesy: Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial)

Kuldip Nayar, who was a part of the press convoy travelling with the prime minister, also writes that Shastri asked his personal servant Ram Nath to bring him food which came from Ambassador TN Kaul’s house. Later, Shastri had a glass of milk after which his personal staff took leave and he retired to bed.

It is believed that, around midnight, Shastri had trouble and he walked up to the room of his personal assistant, with great difficulty, and asked for his doctor RN Chugh. But by the time Dr Chugh arrived, Shastri was dying and there wasn’t much even the doctor could do.

Raising suspicion, Anil Shastri says when Shastri’s body arrived, his face had turned blue and had white spots.

“Shastrijis face had turned blue and it had white marks on it. We were told this happens in case of poisoning or snake bite.”
Anil Shastri, Lal Bahadur Shastri’s son

He further says that that in response to an RTI filed in connection with Shastri’s death in 2009, the PMO said that making the document public could “harm foreign relations”. He also questions why a post-mortem was never conducted.

“The prime minister died in a foreign land, India should have made a request to the host country to conduct a post-mortem. Why was the request not made?”
Anil Shastri, Lal Bahadur Shastri’s son

Nayar, in his account on Shastri, recounts how members of the Shastri family were convinced over the years that the former prime minister was poisoned.

Was There a Bose Connection?

The trailer of the film also suggests that Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death could have been related to him knowing the whereabouts of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

However, Anil Shastri told The Quint that he doesn’t believe the theory. He says that he believes the man in the photograph (which went viral a few years back) is someone who bears resemblance with Bose but is not Bose himself.

Anil Shastri also says Bose was much older than Shatsri, but looks younger in the photograph.

Sunil Shastri doesn’t address the question directly but says that the mystery surrounding Shastri’s death should be solved.

“The one who died that night was not an ordinary man, he was the prime minister of India.”
Sunil Shastri, Lal Bahadur Shastri’s Son

On being questioned about whether the family was approached by the filmmakers, both the brothers replied in the affirmative but reserved their comments stating they would be in a position to comment after the film is released.

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