Lal Bahadur Shastri’s family appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday to clear the air on his death, about 50 years after India’s second PM died under suspicious circumstances in the former Soviet Union where he had signed a peace pact with Pakistan a few hours earlier.
The Congress leader’s relatives demanded old files pertaining to his death be declassified two days after Modi paid tribute to “the proud son of India” before a bust erected in Shastri’s memory in Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent.
According to official records, the 61-year-old Shastri died of a heart attack in Tashkent a day after he signed a peace agreement with Pakistani president Ayub Khan on January 10, 1966, some four months following the end of a second war between the two countries. However, his family members suspect he was murdered.
“My mother, who died in 1993, always believed that he was killed,” said the former PM’s younger son, Anil Shastri, a member of Congress. His elder son, BJP MP Sunil Shastri, echoed the views.
Anil Shastri told HT that his entire family visited the Tashkent hotel, where his father died, on the invitation of the then Soviet premier, Alexei Kosygin, who sent a special aircraft for them.
“There was negligence with regard to his place of stay. Why was he put up in a far-off hotel that was about 15 km from the main city?” he asked. “There was no phone or call bell in his room. He had to walk up to the doctor’s room.”
A key figure in the independence movement, Lal Bahadur Shastri took over as Prime Minister following Jawaharlal Nehru’s death in 1964.
Anil Shastri recalled the then Indian ambassador had told the family that a cook named Chand Mohammad had been appointed to cook vegetarian food for his father in Tashkent.
“When we went to Tashkent, my mother wanted to meet Chand Mohammad but Soviet authorities told us that he was not available,” Anil Shastri said. “Shastriji’s post-mortem was not done because in case of heads of state, it is done in the host country. The request for post-mortem should have gone from the government of India. Why was no such request made?”
Sunil Shastri told HT that his mother had demanded an inquiry into his father’s death when Gulzarilal Nanda and Indira Gandhi came to meet her on separate occasions while they occupied the PM’s chair.
“But, nothing was done. It’s not the first time that we are asking for this,” he said.
The UPA government rejected RTI applications to declassify the files on Shastri, arguing that this could adversely affect India’s foreign relations.
“Everywhere I go, people ask me how my father died. I have been asking for declassification of the files for years. I appeal to Prime Minister Modi now,” said Sunil Shastri.