Although He had a history of cardiac ailments; that day in Tashkent, Lal Bahadur Shastri looked absolutely fit and healthy. He returned to his villa after signing the agreement with General Ayub Khan at 4 pm and a public reception at 8 pm. Jan Mohammad, the personal cook of T.N. Kaul, the Indian Ambassador to Moscow had prepared a light meal for Lal Bahadur Shastri. Shastri Ji had his dinner and followed it with a glass of milk at about 11.30 pm. When his personal staff wished him good night, he was still his same smiling self. At about 1:25 am, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was awakened by a fit of severe coughing. His personal doctor R.N. Chugh was summoned. Dr. Chugh made frantic efforts to revive Shastri, but all in vain.
In a matter of 15 minutes, Lal Bahadur Shastri was no more.
There was no autopsy ordered. Everything was packed off and shut down in a jiffy. There was a surgical cut and some bluish patches on the Prime Minister’s body which fuelled the rumour souks. And since then many conspiracy theories regarding Shastri’s death have been doing rounds. Some accuse the Soviets, Some blame the Pakistanis, many consider Indira Gandhi the culprit while some consider it a CIA job.
But why will anyone kill Lal Bahadur Shastri? That too in a foreign country?
Before answering that let us consider the generic perspective:
Why would anyone kill anybody?
An act of revenge, an assumed service to the humankind or a country or may be to accomplish the purposes of people with vested interests. There has to be a motive when one decides to kill a fellow human being.
When would he/she kill?
At a time when the target is alone and there is no one to meddle pointlessly. One needs to have an opportunity to kill him.
And lastly how would he/she kill?
First of all figure out the target’s routine, trace him out and then Shoot the target, stab the target, crush him under an automobile or maybe poison him. Hence in order to kill somebody, one needs to have means to kill him.
If we analyze most of the conspiracy theories around Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death, they’ll fail on all or at least one of the parameters listed above.
Accused Number 1: The Soviets
Even if we assume that Lal Bahadur Shastri wasn’t as friendly to the Soviets as Nehru was, it still doesn’t give them enough reasons to kill Shastri. No body kills a foreign PM on their own soil. The conspiracy theory fails on the motive and opportunity grounds.
Accused Number 2: The Pakistanis
Pakistanis are completely clean on this on similar grounds. Shastri was in Tashkent to sign on a document that announced ceasefire on the ongoing India-Pakistan war which was causing Pakistan a great loss of men and money. Also even if Pakistanis wanted to kill Shastri as an act of revenge, the chances of Soviets siding with them was a big zero. India was a strategic partner of them ever since the cold war (considering Nehru’s NAM was more of No alignment with the US than Soviet). So the conspiracy theory which puts the blame on Pakistan fails on all three parameters.
Accused Number 2: Indira Gandhi
There can be two motives if we consider Indira Gandhi the culprit.
- The Ascension to the throne: Lal Bahadur Shastri wanted one person from the Gandhi Family to be in his cabinet and hence kept Indira Gandhi in. But he didn’t want Indira to grow in to his political competitor hence she was given a supposedly lighter portfolio. Shastri made her Information and Broadcasting Minister, but kept her at an arm’s length. Over 1964-65, the ideological rift between Indira and Shastri had grown and according to insider information Shastri was even contemplating pushing her out of the Cabinet. That would have thrown Indira Gandhi into the realms of political oblivion.
- A possible Subhash Chandra Bose angle: Jagdish Kodesia, former Delhi Congress chief and a close confidant of Shastri, appeared before the Khosla Commission (Constituted to probe into Netaji’s ‘death’) in March 1971 as a witness. During his on-oath statement, Kodesia stated that “Shastriji was one person who did not believe in Netaji’s death in a plane crash. In fact When he became Home Minister…he wanted to know the truth whether Subhas Chandra Bose was alive or not.” Kodesia had a strong feeling that “after he became the Prime Minister Shastri ji was ardently working on a fresh probe into Netaji’s disappearance. As the latest revelations have suggested that the probing into Netaji’s death was going to be a disconcerting event for the entire Gandhi clan, a development that would have cut the family from Indian politics forever.
Both of these are strong arguments that suggest that Indira Gandhi actually had some strong motives to kill Lal Bahadur Shastri. But having a motive is one thing and actually killing someone is another thing. Russians in all probability weren’t going to be a party to the crime. Also arranging an operation as covert as poisoning the Indian PM in a high profile summit requires some great skill sets and deep connections, Indira Gandhi a political nobody then, fails on these two grounds as well. But the motives do make her a strong ‘accused’.
Accused Number 2: The CIA
This is one conspiracy theory which scores perfectly on every parameter.
CIA has a definite agenda to eliminate nuclear threats from developing countries. Homi Jahangir Bhabha under the patronage of Lal Bahadur Shastri was working to develop nuclear weaponries for India. January 11, 1966 Lal Bahadur Shastri died in Tashkent under mysterious conditions. On January 24, 1966 Homi Jehangir Bhabha died in an “unfortunate plane crash”. The dots do connect here. Let us consider the means now, It is CIA after all, infamous for clandestine operations, has access to high class intelligence reports, sits on a pile of cash and has means to eliminate anybody anywhere. And lastly let us analyse the opportunities, What’s better than killing a foreign dignitary on the land of their bête noire Soviets? It fulfils their motives and puts their adversaries in all kinds of troubles.
And here is a candid confession of a CIA operative Robert T. Crowley also known as ‘The Crow’
Statement 1: His Name was Homi Bhabha. That one was dangerous, believe me. He had an unfortunate accident. He was flying to Vienna to stir up more trouble when his BOEING 707 had a bomb go off in the cargo hold and they all came down on a high mountain way up in the Alps. No real evidence and the world was much safer. We could have blown it up over Vienna but we decided the high mountains were much better for the bits and pieces to come down on. I think a possible death or two among mountain goats is much preferable than bringing down a huge plane right over a big city.
Statement 2: Well, I call it as it see it. At the time, it was our best shot. And we nailed Shastri as well. Another cow-loving rag head. Gregory, you say you don’t know about these people. Believe me, they were close to getting a bomb and so what if they nuked their deadly Paki enemies? So what? Too many people in both countries. Breed like rabbits and full of snake-worshiping twits. I don’t for the life of me see what the Brits wanted in India. But as mentioned earlier, having a motive (or even the means and opportunity) to kill someone is one thing and actually killing someone is another thing. And nothing can be proved unless this closely guarded secret by the Government of India comes out in the nation. It will possibly ruin our relations with a friendly country, but truth needs to come out in the open. But till the time the Indian Government comes up with an offical statement, we all have to assume that Shastriji died a perfectly normal death and that No one Killed Lal Bahadur Shastri.