You are here: Home » News-ANI » National
Business Standard

"Come down your Prime Minister is Dead"- A first hand account of the night PM Shastri Died

ANI  |  New Delhi [India] 

[India] At a time when has very nearly forgotten that most humble that has had since independence, a man who was tough, a man who could have changed this country and guided it to its destiny, a man who died soon after signing an Accord in in January of 1966 - Lal Bahadur Shastri, each year I mourn quietly and remember that fateful night when the telephone rang in my hotel room at the dead of night and the caller at the other announced " Your is Dead". Please come down as soon as you can. I was stunned - could not believe - the words that came out of my mouth, "they killed him". Who were they and why did I say that, I have wondered ever since.

There were no special planes those days like One these days for Prime Ministers. Shastriji and his entourage, both official and like me, flew on the commercial flight that was diverted to to cover what was supposed to be historic talks between and mediated by the then The Cold War between the West and the was then at its peak.

Following the terrible defeat that had suffered at China's hands in its border war in 1962, it had been a dream for Gen. of to wrest Jammu and Kashmir, which he thought he could easily do with the still equipped with World War 2 weaponry and his forces armed to the teeth with the latest American weapons. Little did he realise that Nehru before his death had done his best to re-equip the defence forces and keep at bay diplomatically while he did so.

With Nehru's passing away in May 1964, Ayub did not think much of dimunutive Shastriji. He began his adventre in the Raan of Kutch and seeing success in an area devoid of any earlier military confrontation, he then began his Operation Gibraltar in hoping to wrest that state quickly.

Ayub's adventure failed when he found a man of in India's Lal who ordered his army to attack mainland For the first time in its history post independence, crossed its borders to attack another nation.

Soon, we were deep inside I covered that war on the outskirts of Sialkot in and then reached the outside when a cease-fire was called. In the meanwhile, the had wrested the strategic Haji Pir Pass in Kashmir, which I climbed with the as it advanced. had suffered a humliating defeat. Ayub's Presidency was now under threat.

Hoping to wean away from the United States, the Soviet Union, a friend of intervened and made agree to negotiate a settlement with Thus came about the talks, something that the and his Defence were not very keen on at that time. But South Block's mandarins succeeded in convincing them, and agreed to have talks in

It was freezing cold in the month of January in Tashkent, temperatures were well below zero. It was being said that was not good for Shastriji's health, yet he was there with his Defence and Foreign and a whole lot of senior civil and military officials. The talks proceeded as expected. refusing to cede any territory in However we could clearly see the pressure that the was putting on to relent.

Those days journalists did not face a kind of restrictive access that is faced by them these days. Men like me had complete access to the 'Dacha' of the and could see what was going on. As the talks stalled, I distinctly remember Soviet Foreign arriving at Shashtriji's 'dacha'. We were all of course outside in the lawns with both Ministers

and also there. Kosygin made a beeline for Swarn Singh and took him aside. I heard Kosygin distinctly asking Swarn Singh to get the agreement signed. In his suave and in a polite way, Swarn Singh replied some words to the effect "how can I impose my opinion on him, he decides." Kosygin left after a while - disappointed.

A day later, we knew that the talks had failed. Shastriji was willing to vacate mainland Pakistani areas that had captured, but was not willing to vacate any territory of retaken by was an integral part of wanted the strategic Haji Pir back along with other areas lost by it. The was firmly against Haji Pir being ceded as it is the route from where infiltration takes place into

With Shastriji unwilling to concede and pressure mounting on him, the Indian delegation announced that it was going back. On 10th January, we all went out for shopping as talks had been abandoned and the next day we were scheduled to fly out. Suddenly hordes of Soviet information officials came rushing to the market areas to announce that an accord was to be signed and asked all of us to get back to the venue. None of us could believe what had happened in the intervening period. What were the pressures worked on

The Accord was concluded - had ceded the Haji Pir Pass along with all other territories it had captured. A victory was now turned into status quo ante.

At the evening reception held by the Soviets, this and N. S. Thapa of the walked upto Shastriji to request him if we could come to the dacha later on to get some shots of him at work. It was around ten at night, or maybe a little later, that we reached and the famous silhouette shots of him pacing up and down inside his Dacha were filmed apart from few others. Shastri looked very tired and lost.

Coming back to the hotel and then receiving that call in the dead of night seems so long away. Next day, as we stood in the open and in freezing temperatures waiting for the body to arrive, the ministers had worked out special flights to take the body and the delegation back.

To constant enquiry as to what happened and who was there when he died sadly one heard that even the of Shastriji was not around in the Dacha, nor was his doctor and that India's second had died of a in the arms of a outside his room! Why?

What were the pressures put on the of that claimed his life? Was it the Soviet Union's ploy to win away from the in its Cold War that killed Shastriji? Who were the mandarins at the who carried out the Soviet Union's wishes to pressure the to sign?

The mystery remains because no one has seen till today any archive papers of Indian delegations's inner talks at Have those documents been destroyed. No one tells. The mystery continues.

The of this article is the of ANI, Mr

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, January 11 2018. 18:46 IST