Former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri – one of modern India’s icons whose enduring popularity cuts through all divides. What really happened in the wee hours of January 11 in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) in 1966 remains shrouded in mystery, largely thanks to the gratuitous state secrecy resorted to by our government.

Generations have gone by, but conspiracy theories about what caused Shastri’s death have not ceased. In some other country, the strange case of a prime minister’s death would have been inquired into by a high-powered team long ago and all relevant documents placed in the public domain.

After signing the Tashkent accord, around 4pm on January 10, prime minister Shastri reached the villa he was provided by his Russian hosts. Late in the evening, he had a light meal prepared by Jan Mohammad, the personal cook of TN Kaul, the Indian ambassador to Moscow.

There were other Russian butlers at his service in the same villa. At 11.30pm, Shastri had a glass of milk brought by the ambassador’s cook. When his personal staff took leave of him at that time, he was fine.

But around 1.25am on January 11, Shastri woke up, coughing severely. The room he was in had no phone or intercom. So he walked out to another room to tell his staff to inform his personal doctor RN Chugh. By the time Dr Chugh arrived, Shastri was dying. The symptoms were of a heart attack. There was not much Dr Chugh could do now. He began to cry. “Babuji, you did not give me enough time.” Shastri took Lord Ram’s name and he was gone.

What happened next had a ring of unusualness about it. Given here for your consideration are three reasons that make Shastri’s death suspicious:

1. The KGB suspected poisoning

At 4am, Ahmed Sattarov, the Russian butler attached to Shastri, was rudely woken up by an officer of the Ninth Directorate of the KGB (responsible for the safety of VIPs). In Sattarov’s own words, the KGB officer “said that they suspected the Indian prime minister had been poisoned”.

Sattarov was handcuffed and, along with three junior butlers, was rounded off to a location 30km away. Their harsh interrogation commenced in a dungeon. After some time, Jan Mohammad was brought in. In Sattarov’s words again: “We thought that it must have been that man who poisoned Shastri.”

Decades after the harrowing interrogation he was subjected to, Sattarov continued to reel under its impact. “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”.

2. Shastri’s near and dear ones see a needle of suspicion pointing towards an insider’s hand

When Shastri’s body was brought to Delhi, no one had any clue about what the KGB was suspecting. But seeing strange blue patches on Shastri’s body, his mother screamed that someone had poisoned her son. “Mere bitwa ko jahar de diya!” The old woman’s wail continues to haunt the Shastri family till date.

Shastri’s sons Anil and Sunil Shastri (one in Congress, another in BJP) and grandsons Sanjay and Siddharth Nath Singh have often spoken about their ongoing anguish and pain about what happened so long ago.

Shastri’s wife Lalita died thinking that her husband had been poisoned. Other family members and near and dear ones, like childhood friend TN Singh and close follower Jagdish Kodesia, were not able to make sense of the cut marks on Shastri’s stomach and back of the neck. The cut on his neck was pouring blood and the sheets, pillows and clothes used by him were all soaked in blood. A grandson of Shastri told me that he still has his nanaji’s blood-soaked cap.

Veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar, who was in Tashkent on that fateful day as Shastri’s advisor, opened up recently to state that his suspicions were aroused some time after the tragedy when a Member of Parliament raked up the charges of poisoning and TN Kaul, by then the foreign secretary, “rang me up to issue a statement” against it.

“He badgered me literally four-five times.”

Jan Mohammed was employed in the Rashtrapati Bhavan after the Tashkent tragedy.

Dr Chugh, his wife and two sons were run over by a truck in 1977. Only his daughter survived, but was crippled.

3. No post mortem was carried out on Shastri’s body

The only sure-shot way to find out whether or not Shastriji was poisoned was to carry out a post-mortem on his body. The family demanded it. But the demand was not accepted. Interim prime minister Gulzarilal Nanda was to later on feign ignorance about Shastri’s family approaching him with the demand.

Lal Bahadur Shastri was also known for his simplicity, patriotism, and honesty. India lost a great leader. He had given the talent and integrity to India. His death was still a mystery. Lal Bahadur Shastri had political associations is Indian National Congress. He had the political ideology such as nationalist, liberal, right-wing. Lal Bahadur Shastri is a Hinduism religion. He was always self-sustenance and self-reliance as the pillars to build a strong nation.

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