Lal Bahadur Shastri’s Death: Natural or Nefarious?

On 11th January in the year 1966, Lal Bahadur Shastri, the third Prime Minister of India, died during his visit to Tashkent, USSR. He had suffered a fatal heart attack, and doctors were unable to save him.

And that’s the whole story. At least, the official one.

Unofficially, however, a different tale unravels.

Who was he?

Lal Bahadur Shastri was the third prime minster of India. Praised for his honesty and moral righteousness, Shastri was, and continues to be, a beloved national figure. Ruling in office from 1964 till his death, he was famous for leading India through the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. Shastri formally ended the war by signing the Tashkent Agreement. A day after signing this agreement, Shastri passed away.

The Events

According to reports by Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar, Shastri had returned from signing the agreement to the guest house he was living in. After eating a sparse meal, he had a worrying discussion with his family on the telephone regarding the Tashkent Agreement and began to pace fervently. Having suffered two heart attacks previously, the strain proved too great. Shastri requested for doctors, and after a vicious fit of coughing, fell unconscious. He died shortly.

The Suspicion

Several pieces of evidence confirm that Shastri died of natural causes. The food presented to Shastri, and even the water, was taste-tested by two Russian intelligence agents, and both historian Ramchandra Guha and biographer Katherine Frank wrote his death off as a heart failure. However, such evidence is vastly overshadowed by the inconsistencies prevalent in the case. The dubious circumstances regarding his demise are so numerous and convicting that one can’t help but question: What really happened?

It was, and is, widely believed that Shastri was poisoned, and his murder planned. His family members corroborated this notion, lending credence to the theory. Doubt was first cast when Shastri’s family was not readily allowed to see the body. When the body was eventually seen, family members were horrified by the deep blue colour of the body and the unusual swelling. Cut marks present on the stomach and the back of the neck were also noticed. Even more confusing, the Indian government refused to carry out an autopsy, and to this day has not declassified the documents relating to Shastri’s death.

The Indian Govt. proceeded to build excuses for such claims – the colouring was caused by embalming fluid, the cuts were made to help the embalming process, and conducting a post-mortem would affect international relations. Experts say that such excuses were flimsy at best, absolute lies at worst.

Dr. Soumya Chakraborty, anatomist and embalming expert, stated that “poisoning cannot be ruled out”, further adding “Bluish discolouration means reduced haemoglobin which further indicates either poisoning or asphyxial death.” Dr. Sayan Biswas, MD in forensic medicine & toxicology, agrees. He claims that it should have been mandatory for India to perform an autopsy.

Furthermore, tragic incidents involving eyewitnesses to the event also rouse suspicion. Shastri’ servant Ram Nath and personal physician Dr. RN Chugh were both scheduled to appear in front of the Parliament. However, just before meeting the parliamentary body, Dr. RN Chugh and his family were hit by a truck and killed, and Ram Nath was similarly hit by a car, crushing his legs and taking his memory. Were these horrific accidents just that? Accidents? Or was there some other force at play?

Theory 1: The CIA

American journalist Gregory Douglas recorded telephone conversations with former CIA operative Robert Crowley, in which Crowley alleged that the CIA actively planned Shastri’s death. He claimed that India ending its war with Pakistan through the Tashkent agreement threatened America. India was emerging as a reformed state, and Shastri was determined to continue the country’s nuclear weapons tests. The CIA desperately wanted to prevent Indian and Russian dominance in the nuclear front. It is also worth noting that Crowley blamed the CIA for the death of Homi J. Bhabha, another Indian scientist advocating for Indian nuclear progression.

Theory 2: Forces inside India

While Crowley’s statements may be variable in their validity, the evidence for internal groups being behind Shastri’s death becomes readily apparent.

First off, referring back to Dr. Biswas’s testimony, he elaborates on how inadequate the amount of embalming fluid use to preserve the body was, supporting accusations that the embalming was done to hide classic signs of poisoning. As for the lacerations on Shastri’s body, he offers a possible explanation – the hole in the posterior part of the neck was made so that cerebrospinal fluid might have been drawn from Shastri’s corpse. This procedure is performed in the course of forensic investigations to identify the presence of drugs or poisons in dead bodies.

Thus, it could be inferred that India might have already conducted some tests to prove whether Shastri was poisoned before sending his body back home. Adding to all this is the fact that Shastri’s death was heavily classified, and the intricate details remain as such even till today.

Could this mean that the Indian Government knew that Shastri was poisoned, but intentionally ignored this fact? If so, this would mean that groups inside India, possibly government officials, wanted Shastri gone. Were they unhappy with the conditions of the Tashkent Agreement? Or did they want to create a vacuum of power that the next prime minister might assume? If any of these suspicions turn true, the implications for the Indian Government are dire indeed.


The death of Lal Bahadur Shastri will always remain one of India’s greatest mysteries. The murky details of the event might be pondered over for centuries to come.

Was he really poisoned?

Who was responsible for his murder?

Was it the CIA, or someone closer to home?

Why was the Indian Government so reluctant to publicize the details?

What are they hiding?

Who are they hiding?

Sadly, it seems that, until the Indian Government decides to declassify its documents to the public and the rest of the world, the famed Lal Bahadur conspiracy theory will remain just that. A theory.

-By Prateek Potdar


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