Hours after signing the Tashkent Pact with Pakistani President Mohammed Ayub Khan in 1966, the then Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri passed away. The date was January 11 and he was 61. But his sudden demise itself became a question the answers to which might lie in some classified files on the former PM with the Centre. Now Shastri’s son Anil Shastri has requested the Centre to declassify files related to his father’s death in Tashkent.
Anil Shastri told ANI that he strongly believes in the theory that his father’s death in Uzbekistan’s capital, then a part of the former Soviet Union, was unnatural.
He pointed to what Shastri researchers and former journalists have quoted: that his body had turned blue. Anil, himself a member of the Congress, has appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to clear the air around the circumstances of Shastri’s demise by declassifying files. The UPA government had rejected two RTI applications demanding information on Shastri’s death on the ground that it would hamper foreign relations. Former PM Manmohan Singh, too, had thrice rejected requests for declassification of Shastri-related files by the late PM’s family. Zee News informs us
that Anil has also alleged that the then Indian embassy in Russia was careless in its handling of Shastri’s death.
He said that his father’s hotel room in Tashkent did not even had a bell or a telephone and an important diary was also missing from the room.
Shastri was India’s second Prime Minister. He was universally hailed for his integrity.
A year after the Indo-Pak war, Shastri had signed the Tashkent Pact – a peace agreement – between India and Pakistan.
PM Narendra Modi laying a wreath before Shastri’s bust in Tashkent. Zee News
After his death, his wife Lalita Shastri had demanded an enquiry alleging he was poisoned. It was officially declared that Shastri had died of cardiac arrest. Reports, however, indicate that no post-mortem was done on his body
Anil has also questioned as to why the Indian administration didn’t request the former Soviet Union to conduct port-mortem on his father’s body.
The MEA in 2014 had said that the only document from the erstwhile Soviet Government is “the report of the Joint Medical Investigation conducted by a team comprising Dr R.N. Chugh, Doctor in-Attendance to the PM and some Russian doctors”. In his monumental autobiography, ‘Beyond The Lines’, Kuldip Nayar, Shastri’s media advisor from 1960 to 1964, recalls in graphic detail
events from the day Shastri died. He writes:
“Next to it was Shastri’s room. It was extraordinarily large. On the huge bed, his body looked like a dot on a drawing board. His slippers were neatly placed on the carpeted floor. He had not used them. In a corner of the room, however, on a dressing table, there was an overturned thermos flask. It appeared that Shastri had struggled to open it. There was no buzzer in his room, the point on which the government lied when attacked in Parliament on its failure to save Shastri’s life.”
He also writes about what Ayub Khan’s reaction to Shastri’s death.
“Gen Ayub was genuinely grieved by Shastri’s death. He came to Shastri’s dacha at 4 am and said, looking towards me: ‘Here is a man of peace who gave his life for amity between India and Pakistan.’ Ayub told the Pakistani journalists that Shastri was one person with whom he had hit it off well; ‘Pakistan and India might have solved their differences had he lived’, he said.”
The coming October 2 will be Shastri’s 111th birth anniversary.