- Posted January 11, 2014 by
New Delhi, India
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Impact Your World
India Mourns The Mysterious Death of one of its Greatest PM "Lal Bahadur Shastri"
On 11 January in 1966 Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri died in Tashkent, then part of Soviet Union. Till date a number of people including Shastriji's sons and grandchildren carry a deep suspicion that his death was not natural. One of them even links the tragic event to the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Subhas Chandra Bose.
The controversy erupted right from the start. When Shastriji's body was brought to Delhi, it had turned blue [see attached LIFE magazine picture showing his devastated wife Lalita next to his body]. The Prime Minister's aged mother bewailed, "Mere bitwa ko jahar de diya!" "My son has been poisoned!"
A demand for a proper inquiry into the former PM's death was raised but was turned down. Russian doctors explained the blue patches on the body but the only sure shot way to rule out a foul play was through an autopsy, which was not carried out.
The tragedy lived on in public memory. Late Rai Singh Yadav, a former Director of the erstwhile Information Service of India of the Ministry of External Affairs told me that "a glass of milk was brought for Shastri by personal servant of Indian Ambassador TN Kaul" (Jan Mohammad) who "was never questioned or interrogated by any one in the Soviet Union or in India despite his being the prime suspect".
The story from the Russian side is a bit different. According to the Russian butler attached to Shastri, Ahmed Sattarov, at about 4am, a few hours after the PM died, the KGB woke him up and his nightmare began.
"They handcuffed me.... They brought us to a small town called Bulmen...locked us in the basement of a three-story mansion, and stationed a guard. After a while, they brought the Indian chef who had cooked the Indian dishes for the banquet. We thought that it must have been that man who poisoned Shastri. We were so nervous that the hair on the temple of one of my colleagues turned gray before our eyes, and ever since I stutter," read Sattarov's account posted on "Russia and India Report" last year only.
This account and other information on record completely trash a conspiracy theory contained in a still secret Prime Minister's Office record denied to me under the Right to Information Act. Our government in those days believed, or liked to believe, that the American intelligence agency CIA was behind the "rumours" that Shastri had been poisoned.
The information provided by the Ministry of External Affairs to me under the RTI act was inadequate and raised more questions than it answered. My hunch is that the documents concerning the Tashkent tragedy, including the reports sent by the Russian side, are in the archive of R&AW.
Wherever they may be, they must be disclosed to the Indian public. Three members of Shastriji's family are in politics. Eldest surviving son Anil Shastri is in Congress. Though he is in faour of declassification, he is not very vociferous in demanding it.
Sunil Shastri has been very much vocal and recently shifted to BJP from Congress. Anil and Sunil's nephew (son of Shastriji's daughter) Siddharth Nath Singh is a prominent BJP leader. He has been supportive of my stand about declassification in such matters of utmost national importance.
Come to think of it, in this election year, the BJP, in its own interest as well of the nation's, must summon the courage to promise to open these Pandora's boxes when it is power again to let the people of India see some historical greats in a new light. The AAP, which raised the Robert Vadra issue after BJP's inability to do so, will be rendering more national service if it takes up the Shastriji and Netaji matter in the name of transparency and justice.
When it was last in power, the BJP failed to attack its main opponent where it hurts the most because of the cordial relations senior BJP leaders enjoyed with their political adversaries at personal levels. It would explain the dichotomy of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani believing that Jawaharlal Nehru had something to do with their mentor Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee's sudden death and yet their doing nothing worthwhile to dig out the truth when they were in power. The Subhas Bose matter was also put on the backburner after initial thrust.
The advice given by redoubtable Sir Humphrey Appleby to a dithering Jim Hacker in one "Yes Minister" episode holds good for the BJP's prime ministerial candidate: "There's one other quality Prime Ministers need. The killer instinct."