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The Mysterious Death of the Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri

Ravi loves writing within the realm of relationships, history, and the bizarre—where boundaries are blurred and possibilities are immense.

The death of Lal Bahadur Shastri, the second Prime Minister of India, still raises questions today.

The death of Lal Bahadur Shastri, the second Prime Minister of India, still raises questions today.

“Jai Jawan Jai Kisan” (Hail the Soldier, Hail the Farmer)

The "man of peace," as he is respectfully remembered and who coined the above slogan, is rightly known as one of the best prime ministers of India. Despite his small size and kind demeanor, Shastri led India admirably under one of the most turbulent times of post-independence history.

"Shastri Ji," as he was fondly called, became the 2nd prime minister of India just 13 days after the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, the country's first Prime Minister, who died of a heart attack on May 27, 1964. Those were troubled times, with India still recovering from the defeat of the Indo-China war of 1962 and hostilities with Pakistan reaching an all-time high, soon to culminate into yet another Indo-Pak war in 1965.

It was at the onset of the 1965 Indo-Pak War that Shastri Ji mesmerized the nation with his "Jai Jawan Jai Kisan" ("Hail the soldier, Hail the farmer") speech that became the national anthem during India's 22-day war with Pakistan.

The Indo-Pak war of 1965 ended with the Tashkent agreement, in which Lal Bahadur Shastri traveled to Tashkent (now Uzbekistan) to sign a peace agreement with the Pakistan president General Ayub Khan to end the hostilities. The Soviet Union was the mediator of this historic agreement that was signed on January 10, 1966.

But one day later, Shastri was found dead in his room in Tashkent. The official reason was a heart attack, but the circumstances were highly suspicious. It was a death that has never been fully explained, even today.

A 2019 Hindi language thriller, The Tashkent Files – Who Killed Shastri? describes the mysterious circumstances surrounding the former prime minister. Written and directed by Vivek Agnihotri, the movie became a box office blockbuster receiving critical acclaim worldwide.

“Shastri Ji," as he was fondly called, became the 2nd prime minister of India just 13 days after the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, the country's first Prime Minister, who died of a heart attack on May 27, 1964.

“Shastri Ji," as he was fondly called, became the 2nd prime minister of India just 13 days after the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, the country's first Prime Minister, who died of a heart attack on May 27, 1964.

The Sequence of Events

The events unfold on January 10, 1966, on a cold evening in Tashkent.

At 4 PM, Shastri retired to his villa provided by his Russian hosts after an eventful morning in which he signed a historic peace agreement with his Pakistani counterpart General Ayub Khan. He slept for some time and later, around 7 PM, had a light meal prepared by Jan Mohammad, the personal chef of TN Kaul, the Indian ambassador to Moscow.

Around 11.30 PM, Shastri requested a glass of milk from one of many Russian butlers available at the villa at his disposal. Around the same time, his daughter Suman called from India. He was in a cheerful mood as he animatedly discussed the happenings of Tashkent with her. The conversation ended abruptly as the line got disconnected. Shastri's last words were,

“I’m going to have a glass of milk and sleep.”

Around 1.25 AM. on January 11, Shastri awoke in a fit of coughing spasms. Reeling in obvious discomfort, Shastri somehow reached the intercom and called his personal doctor, RN Chugh. Chugh arrived within 15 minutes, but it was too late by that time. At 1.45 AM, Shastri's daughter Suman managed to reconnect the phone call to the villa. She was told that her father was dead.

The cause of the death was concluded as a heart attack. The stress of the agreement and intense negotiations could have resulted in sudden cardiac arrest. However, Shastri's body had turned blue after death, and there were also certain unusual "cuts" on the body that could not be explained. Tashkent authorities even reported arresting a Russian cook who was later released after questioning for five hours.

Despite these suspicious circumstances, no post-mortem was ever done either in Tashkent or India.

The death of Lal Bahadur Shastri still raises countless conspiracy theories today. Whether Shastri died of a heart attack or was he poisoned continues to be discussed in hush-hush whispers in political and intelligence circles worldwide.

The death of Lal Bahadur Shastri still raises countless conspiracy theories today. Whether Shastri died of a heart attack or was he poisoned continues to be discussed in hush-hush whispers in political and intelligence circles worldwide.

Conspiracy Theories

The death of Lal Bahadur Shastri still raises countless conspiracy theories today. Whether Shastri died of a heart attack or was poisoned continues to be discussed in hush-hush whispers in political and intelligence circles worldwide.

According to one theory, the Soviets were more than just mediators in the Tashkent agreement. It was the peak of the cold war, and the US gradually expanded its geopolitical presence in Asia by having a solid ally in Pakistan. Some reports also suggested that American spy planes were stationed in Pakistan to keep tabs on Soviet nuclear facilities in Asia.

The Soviets were desperate to woo Pakistan and wanted the Tashkent agreement to be signed in favor of Pakistan so they could ask General Ayub Khan to return the favor at an appropriate time. Shastri, however, was proving to be a tough negotiator. With the negotiations going at a snail's pace, the KGB, the Soviet intelligence agency, might have decided to end Shastri for good.

Yet another theory points to China. In January 1966, the Dalai Lama received a message from W.D. Shakabpa, his representative in New Delhi, that "the Indian government was prepared to recognize the Tibetan government in exile and that he would receive a definite answer once the Prime Minister (Lal Bahadur Shastri) returned from Tashkent."

This news was a serious problem for China. With Sino-India relations at an all-time low since the Indo-China war, recognition of the Tibetan government should create internal rebellions within Tibet that would not be desirable to Mao's government of China. It is possible that Mao sent Chinese agents to Tashkent to liquidate Shastri. This would not only prevent the recognition of Tibet but also put all the suspicions on the Soviets.

Other theories talk about domestic coups. It has been reported that some Indian party leaders were unhappy with Shastri's policies and wanted to remove him. Some others say that Shastri became the prime minister during highly stressful times, which might have affected his health, resulting in a sudden cardiac arrest.

Interestingly, in a bizarre turn of events, the only two witnesses to Shastri's death, Dr. RN Chugh, his doctor, and his personal servant Ram Nath died of car accidents before they could testify in front of the Raj Narain committee created to investigate Shastri's death. Today, the Raj Narain inquiry committee records remain out of bounds for the general public.

As Saba Naqvi, a leading journalist, rightly says,

“One can only be left gasping at the strange twists and turns. It suggests a real historical whodunit, the answers to which may turn out to be as unbelievable and bizarre as the death of the prime minister itself.”

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Ravi Rajan