While paying our respects to the Father of our Nation, let us dedicate our Anthem today to another great Indian national who was also born today- Lal Bahadur Shastri. Shastri Ji was the second Prime Minister of India in Office from 9 June 1964 to 11 January 1966. Prior to this post he also held the offices of Minister of External Affairs, the Minister of Home Affairs and the Minister of Railways.
Shastri Ji’s poitical career was most acknowledged during his regime as the Prime Minister, wherein he led India in the Indo-Pak war of 1965. He used to visit the soldier camps during the war and interact personally to boost the morale of the men who guarded the nation. The slogan “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan” which is still used as a successful phrase in several nationalistic agendas was given by him during the same time. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, while commemorating him after 47 years of his demise, stated:
“The slogan reverberates even today through the length and breadth of the country. Underlying this is the inner-most sentiment, ‘Jai Hind’. ”
The war ended when the United Nations intervened mandating a ceasefire regulation on 23 September 1965. Following this, leaders of both conflicted nation were invited to Tashkent in former USSR (present Uzbekistan) to sign the ‘Tashkent Declaration’ which was basically a peace agreement. It was during this tour that Shastri Ji met with his death, the very next day after signing the agreement. His death took place under severely controversial circumstances, assisted by the inability of our government to explain the loss of the national hero, which gave rise to several alleged conspiracy theories. The web of allegations surrounding his death have till date not been unscrambled, and no single source has been able to offer certainty about their respective theories.
On the eve of January 10, he was at the villa at which his stay had been scheduled by the Russian hosts. Later that night he had a meal prepared by the personal cook of the Indian ambassador to Moscow. At 11:30 pm the same cook, Jan Mohammad, brought him a glass of milk. That was the last time he was seen alive in a proper condition. Around 1:25 that morning he started coughing miserably and somehow managed to convey to his staff to inform his personal doctor RN Chugh.
By the time the doctor arrived Shastri Ji started presenting symptoms of heart attack. As much as the doctor tried, he could not help him. With his last words dedicated to Lord Ram, the Prime Minister took his final breath. Soon after his death a chain of events followed which gave rise to suspicion.
At 4 am that morning, KGB officers woke up Ahmed Sattarov, the Russian butler attached to Shastri. The officer stated that KGB suspected that the PM was poisoned. Ahmed and three other junior butlers were rounded off for interrogation where they were later joined by Jan Mohammed. At the time, he was considered as the prime suspect in the murder.
These suspicions of the KGB resurfaced out in the world decades later after Shastri’s death. The initial speculation into this controversy started when his body was first brought back to the country. His family noticed strange blue patches on his body which were inconsistent with the original theory of a heart attack. Caught up in emotion, Shastri Ji’s mother went as far as to suggest that someone had poisoned her son, considering that the KGB’s suspicions hadn’t been made public.
Besides the blue patches there were unaccounted cut marks on his stomach and back of the neck. Shastri Ji’s family claims that the cut on his neck was bleeding, and also the sheets, pillows and clothes used by him were all soaked in blood. Once again this was inconsistent with the originally declared cause of death. Kodesia, a former Delhi Congress chief even began to think at one point that his death was somehow linked to the Netaji mystery.
Another suspected cause of possible murder was India’s strengthening stance on the nuclear programme. This was owing to the fact that almost two weeks after Shastri Ji’s death, Homi Jehangir Bhabha, who is known as the ‘Father of Indian Nuclear Programme’, died in a suspicious plane crash near Mont Blanc. Under the regime of Shastri’s government India was making drastic progress in the field of atomic physics and developing a strong defence framework. These factors led to the rise of theories that it was an assassination carried out by the CIA.
An American journalist, Gregory Douglas, interviewed Robert Crawley, a former CIA operative for four years and published a transcript of recorded phone calls. The book ‘Conversations with the Crow’ states that Bhabha’s assassination was carried out by the CIA so as to avoid consolidation of nuclear strength in the region with the Soviets. These transcripts further suggested the involvement of the CIA in Shastri’s death given that it was under his authority that India was making these significant developments.
The last reason which led to suspicion was the fact that no post-mortem was carried out on his body. Even after the family specifically demanded it, it was not accepted by the government. The interim Prime Minister later even feigned ignorance about the family ever approaching him.
It has been 63 years since the country mourned the loss of a great leader. Lal Bahadur Shastri’s leadership and motivation was instrumental in securing India its victory in the war of 1965. Our influential stand on nuclear power and atomic physics was a very significant contribution of the man to the future generations. It is hoped that those who still question the truth every moment, may someday finally have the answers to the conspiracies that surround his sudden demise.
Written by Tejas Mishra
Picture Credits- Google Images