Is Lal Bahadur Shastri’s Death In Tashkent a Murder Mystery?

Was the Indian PM murdered? Why was no post-mortem carried out? Shastri’s death has baffled Indians over the years.

Updated02 Oct 2017, 03:23 AM IST
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4 min read

(The following story has been republished from The Quint’s archives to mark Lal Bahadur Shashtri's birth anniversary. It was originally published on 11 January 2017.)

11 January 1966

The day India lost its beloved Prime Minister who had stood strong for the nation in the face of aggression, and allowed the Army a free hand to hit back hard at Pakistan's misadventures in Kashmir.

Was Lal Bahadur Shastri murdered? Officially, Shastri died of a heart attack in a dacha in Tashkent, hours after he signed a peace agreement with the Pakistani president Ayub Khan.

The Pakistani president and the Indian prime minister were in Tashkent to sign a peace accord – only four months after the end of the second war between the two neighbours.

Surviving members of the Shastri family and veteran journalist Kuldip Nayyar shocked the world in 2009 by openly claiming that Shastri was possibly poisoned.

The 1965 War & the Tashkent Accord

Shastri was not a diminutive figure when it came to politics. He fearlessly refused to withdraw from sections that the Indian Army had made inroads during the 1965 war that Pakistan had heaped upon India. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=Lal%20Bahadur%20Shastri&amp;src=typd">Twitter</a>)
Shastri was not a diminutive figure when it came to politics. He fearlessly refused to withdraw from sections that the Indian Army had made inroads during the 1965 war that Pakistan had heaped upon India. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter)
Asal Uttar’ means befitting reply and Indian Army, tasked to defend that sleepy town in Punjab during the 1965 war, was eager to give Pakistan such a reply knowing little that they would take on the mighty Patton tanks in a battle that would be remembered in military history.

Asal Uttar was a battle where foot soldiers took on the Pattons that – America had so famously bragged – could not be destroyed by anything in the world.

It was in this battle that CQMH Abdul Hamid brought laurels to his unit, destroying seven Pattons.

Also in the battle was a now famous participant – a young Pakistani Lieutenant of artillery in the 16 (SP) Field Regiment, 1st Armoured Division Artillery – Pervez Musharraf – who went on to become the Army Chief of Staff and later the President of Pakistan.

Over 22 days when India went forth to teach Pakistan a lesson for its nefarious incursions and activities in Kashmir, five major battles were fought by the Indian Army. The battles fought at Haji Pir, Asal Uttar, Barki, Dogri and Phillora are iconic for the bravery quotient and also the freehand that the then PM Lal Bahadur Shastri and Defence Minister Yashwantrao B Chavan gave the army chief.
Then defence minister YB Chavan visits the war front. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter)
Then defence minister YB Chavan visits the war front. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter)
The then PM Lal Bahadur Shastri made sure he reached out to the men of the fronts. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter)
The then PM Lal Bahadur Shastri made sure he reached out to the men of the fronts. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

The Tashkent Accord

Pakistani President Ayub Khan made a lunge for the United Nations.

After great efforts from the Russians and the Americans, Shastri relented and agreed to stop the war.

Russian premier Alexei Kosygin played host and oversaw the signing of the peace accord between Ayub Khan and LB Shastri.

There was a lot of unhappiness over the fact that hard-won territories had to be returned and the sacrifice of the Indian soldiers had been in vain. It is believed that India lost in Tashkent what it had gained during the war. The Indian Army suffered 11,479 casualties in the 1965 war (including ceasefire violations) with 2,862 killed and 8,617 wounded. According to Indian records 5800 Pakistanis were killed. Source: (Book) 1965, Stories from The Second Indo-Pak War

Shastri was an unhappy man that night. He retired to his room and told his daughter Suman on phone that he planned to have a glass of milk and retire for the night.

“Your Prime Minister is Dying!”

In his book Beyond The Lines, journalist Kuldip Nayyar recounts how he was rudely woken up by a Russian lady who said to him: “Your Prime Minister is dying.”

I saw Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin standing in the verandah. He raised his hand to say Shastri was no more. 
From Kuldip Nayyar’s book Beyond The Lines

The PM’s body was flown to India.

Shastri’s wife Lalita Shastri noted his body was blue with patches of white and that there were cut marks on his stomach. (Photo Courtesy: LIFE magazine cover)
Shastri’s wife Lalita Shastri noted his body was blue with patches of white and that there were cut marks on his stomach. (Photo Courtesy: LIFE magazine cover)

The bluish tinge and white patches on Shastri’s body were strange and had perturbed his family. There had been no post-mortem and yet there were cut marks on his abdomen, as though his stomach had been washed from the insides.

As days passed by, the Shastri family became increasingly convinced that he had been poisoned. On 2 October 1970, (Shastri’s birthday) Lalita Shastri asked for a probe into her husband’s death.
Shockingly, when a commission was established to carry out the enquiry, Shastri’s personal physician Dr RN Chugh and personal attendant Ram Nath, who were with him on the Tashkent trip, died in accidents on separate days, rather mysteriously. The mishaps occurred on days they were to depose before the commission.

BJP leader Sidharth Nath Singh, who is Lal Bahadur Shastri's grandson, told BBC: “Knowing the truth is important for our family. The truth has never been out.”

Singh is not the only one who wants to know.

Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam

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Published: 11 Jan 2017, 02:54 AM IST
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