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Politicising Death: Remembering Former PM Lal Bahadur Shastri

The sudden death of India’s second Prime Minister (PM), Lal Bahadur Shastri, in Tashkent, immediately after signing the declaration with the then Pakistani President, Ayub Khan, on 10th January 1966, following the 1965 War, has been riddled with mystery and is a hot topic of debate for decades now.

Generations have passed by, but the debate about Shashtri’s death has not ceased to exist, all thanks to the secrecy propagated by our State. Some people agree to the official line that he died due to a heart attack under natural circumstances, but others assert that he fell victim to a conspiracy and was murdered, due to the anomalous ring to his death, and there are many reasons associated to it.

When Shastri’s body was brought to Delhi, his mother, upon seeing the strange blue patches on his body, wailed that someone had poisoned her son, and said, “Mere bete ko zeher dedia (My son has been poisoned).” His close relatives and childhood friends like T.N. Singh exclaimed that they could not make sense of the cut marks on Shastri’s stomach, and the back of his neck. Blood leaked out of the cut on his neck, and soaked the pillows and clothes used by him. What further adds on to the enigma revolving around his death was the fact that no postmortem was carried out.

Even the two witnesses – his helper, Ram Nath, and personal doctor, R.N. Chugh, had met with unnatural deaths just before they were to depose before the Parliamentary body. Some people believe that the Central Investigation Agency (CIA) may have had a role to play in this, and refer to the CIA agent Robert Crowley’s statement in an interview published in the book, Conversations with the Crow, confirming that Shastri’s death was the work of the CIA to prevent India from emerging as a reformed State, and also due the IndoRussian dominance of the region, since he had given the green light for nuclear tests, making the United States feel threatened.

However, majority of those who endorse the opinion of Shastri’s unnatural death support the conspiracy theory that his death was an inside job executed with the help of the Russian security agency Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti. They argue that the ruling party at that time, in order to make Indira Gandhi the PM, might have conspired for Shastri’s death, and that the USSR supported them as they were interested in making India a Soviet stooge while Shastri kept us non-aligned. We must realise that although Indira Gandhi became a very powerful PM later on, she was a political nobody in 1965 when the conspiracy to kill Shastri must have been hatched, nor could she have predicted with any degree of certainty that she would be elected.

Recently, this issue was racked up just before the Lok Sabha elections with the release of the movie Tashkent Files, by Vivek Agnihotri, which is based on the mystery shrouding Shastri’s death, allegedly supporting this view, and it was criticised for being politically biased. Critics exclaimed that the film was politically-motivated and that it exploited Shastri’s death to attack a certain political party, along with its secular and socialist ideologies, and institutions. Even the grandson of Lal Bahadur Shastri, who is a member of the Congress party, had sent a notice to the makers of the film, alleging that the film was an “attempt to create unwarranted and unnecessary controversy”. Politicising issues is something parties are constantly engaged in, for their own political agenda. However, politicising an ex-PM’s death and alleging another ex-PM’s involvement in it, without solid evidences is something that should not be acceptable, at least to the youth of the nation. The Government must instead make efforts at declassifying the documents, so as to maintain the democratic ideals of transparency and oneness with the people that the leaders once fought the colonisers for.

Feature Image Credits: India TV

Abhinandan Kaul

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