By Praveen Davar
India’s second Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, who succeeded Jawaharlal Nehru in June 1964, died in Tashkent soon after signing an agreement with President Ayub Khan of Pakistan, with Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin playing the mediatory role.
January 11 will mark the 50th death anniversary of Shastri whose demise still remains shrouded in mystery.
A few months ago, on September 26, 2015, in an interview to a TV channel, Anil Shastri, senior Congress leader and the elder surviving son of Lal Bahadur Shastri, demanded a thorough probe into the death of his illustrious father. Earlier, his younger brother Sunil wrote to union home minister to make public the files relating to the circumstances leading to the sudden death of their father.
The suspicion of Shastri dying an untural death would seem ridiculous. His family members only need to read the accounts of the Tashkent talks by the persons who had accompanied Shastri to the capital of Uzbekistasn. A day-to-day account of the Tashkent parlays and Shastri’s engagements has been recorded in great detail in books authored by C.P. Srivastava, the joint secretary to the prime minister and Shastri’s information advisor Kuldeep yar, as also Inder Malhotra and Prem Bhatia, who were among the eminent jourlists who were part of the Indian entourage to Tashkent.
Shastri died in Tashkent at 1.32 a.m. (2.02 a.m. IST). According to Srivastava, on January 10 Shastri seemed to be particularly pleased with everything that had happened. At 4 p.m. he had signed the Tashkent declaration with Ayub Khan.
Srivastava left Shastriji at 10.30 p.m. to attend a press conference which had been convened by the Indian delegation to explain the Tashkent declaration to Indian and foreign correspondents. After this, he had just returned to his room when a call came from the prime minister’s PA Jaganth Sahai, informing him that Shastri had been taken seriously ill. When he reached there, the prime minister was already dead.
In order to secure a first-hand version of what had happened in the prime minister’s villa after his departure at 10.30 p.m. and his passing way at 1.32 a.m. - three hours later - Srivastava had long and detailed conversation with Sahai and M.M.N. Sharma, members of his persol staff, who were both present and were attending on Shastri until the moment of his death.
According to Srivastava’s account, Sahai left Shastri’s room at about 11.30 p.m. and then Ram th, the persol attendant, brought some milk which the prime minister drank. Ram th stayed on in Shastri’s bedroom until half past midnight and left the room when the prime minister, who was already lying in bed, said that it was time for him to sleep.
Sahai and Sharma were about to retire when, suddenly at 1.20 a.m., the prime minister appeared at the door of their bedroom and asked: ‘Where is the doctor?’ Jaganth Sahai answered: ‘Babuji he is asleep right here. You may kindly return to your bedroom. I will bring the doctor immediately.’
Sharma and Kapur got up to accompany Shastri back to his room. They both held the prime minister’s arms but the prime minister walked back on his own. When about half way there, he began to cough and thereafter went on coughing incessantly. When they got to his bed, Sharma and Kapur asked the prime minister to lie down, which he did.
Dr. Chugh and Sahai came running in, the doctor carrying his medicine cases. He checked the prime minister’s pulse and gave him an injection. At the same time the doctor uttered the following words in deep anguish and despair: ‘Babuji, aap ne mujhe mouka hin diya.’ (Babuji, you did not give me a chance). Dr Chugh continued massaging his chest and gave him artificial respiration, but nothing proved to be of any avail.
Kuldip yar said he met Shastri for the last time on January 10 at the reception given by the Indian embassy in the prime minister’s honour. Shastri told him that the return journey would be early because Ayub Khan had invited him to have tea with him at Rawalpindi.
According to yar’s autobiography Shastri had asked him to ascertain the reaction of the Indian press to the Tashkent Declaration. At the press conference earlier, he had been ‘rudely’ questioned on why he had agreed to hand Hajipir and Tithwal back to Pakistan. In India, leading opposition stalwarts like Ram Manohar Lohia, A.B. Vajpayee and Acharya Kriplani had strongly condemned the agreement.
yar further states that Jagan th connected Shastri to his family at around 11 pm Tashkent time. Shashtri asked Kusum, his eldest and favourite daughter: ‘Tum ko kaisa laga? (How did you react to it?)’ She replied: 'Babuji, hamein achha hin laga (I did not like it’ . He asked about amma, as Lalita Shastri was referred to in the house. 'She too did not like it’, was Kusum’s reply. Shastri observed: ‘Agar gharwalon ko achha hin laga, to bahar wale kya kahengae? (If people in the family did not like it, what will outsiders say?
The telephone call, according to Jagan th, appeared to have upset Shastri. He began pacing up and down in his room. For one who had suffered two heart attacks earlier, the telephone conversation, the jourlists’ attitude, and the walk must have been a strain.
yar had asked Morarji Desai towards the end of October 1970 whether he really believed that Shastri did not die a tural death. Desai said: “That is all politics. I am sure there was no foul play. He died of a heart attack. I have checked with the doctor and his secretary, C.P. Srivastava, who accompanied him to Tashkent.”
This month, while celebrating the 50th anniversary of 1965 war, the country will recall the outstanding leadership of Shastri during the war and his slogan of Jai Jawan Jai Kisan. It is best to bury all such unnecessary controversies, forever.
That will be the best tribute to a true Gandhian who never thought ill of anybody. He won’t have us think ill of anybody. This is the legacy the Shastri family must preserve.
(Capt. Praveen Davar is member of tiol Commission for Minorities. The views expressed by him are persol. He can be contacted at email@example.com)