News and Views on Tibet

Opinion: Was Lal Bahadur Shastri’s mysterious death linked to his move on Tibet?

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By Vijay Kranti

“There are many theories about the mysterious death of former Prime Minister of Bharat, Lal Bhadur Shastri. The recent biography of HH the Dalai Lama indicates that there may be a Chinese angle to the Shastri Ji’s death, which is still an unresolved puzzle”

New information, coming out of the latest biography of Dalai Lama, the exiled ruler and supreme spiritual leader of Tibet, indicates that the mysterious death of Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri at Tashkent in 1966 could also be related to some serious international developments and forces at play that has remained out of the popular public narrative. The book reveals that the Shastri government was going to recognise the Dalai Lama’s Dharamshala establishment as the ‘Tibetan Government in Exile’ soon after his return from Tashkent. But the entire process dropped through following the sudden and mysterious death of the Indian Prime Minister at Tashkent.

As against Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru’s openly pro-China inclinations during the 1959 and 1961 voting in the General Assembly of United Nations on the issue of Tibet, the author points out that the Indian government under Mr. Shastri’s stewardship strongly supported and voted in favour of the same resolution on Tibet when it was presented before the UN in 1965. According to the author Mr. Shastri was in regular touch with the Dalai Lama and used to write ‘long letters to His Holiness’ who too was a great admirer of Mr. Shastri.

Lal Bahadur Shastri’s mortal remains being given a state funeral (Photo/My Nation)

On an early day of January 1966, the Dalai Lama received a message from W.D. Shakabpa, his representative in New Delhi, which carried the news which he has been longing to hear since the day he had entered India in 1959 after his 17-day long daring escape from the guns of Chinese Army in Tibet. Shakabpa informed the Dalai Lama that “the Indian government was prepared to recognize the Tibetan government in exile and that he would receive a definite answer once the Prime Minister (Lal Bahadur Shastri) returned from Tashkent.” These details come from the latest biography of the Dalai Lama, written by his closest associate Tenzin Geyche Tethong, who worked with him for over 44 years in different capacities including 30 years as his Private Secretary. The book, titled “Dalai Lama, An Illustrated Biography” has been published by Roli Books and carries some rare and historic photographs too.

Shakabpa, was heading the ‘Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’ in New Delhi which functions as the de-facto ‘Embassy of Tibet’ in India. His main assignment in New Delhi was to function as the hot link between the government of India and the ‘Central Tibetan Administration’ (CTA) in Dharamshala. But unfortunately for Tibet and Dalai Lama, the claws of death snatched away Mr. Shastri before he could even start his journey back home from the Soviet city of Tashkent on 11th January 1966. Just a few hours before he died, he had signed the historic India-Pakistan truce which has come to be known as the ‘Tashkent Agreement’.

As per the limited information made available to the people of India by the successive governments in New Delhi since that fateful day, PM Shastri suffered a ‘heart attack’ minutes after he took his dinner and was preparing to sleep in his personal guest room and died before any meaningful medical support could reach him. He had signed the ‘Tashkent Agreement’ with his Pakistani counterpart Field Marshal Ayub Khan who was at that time the dictator President of Pakistan and the architect of military attack on India. Interestingly, despite serious imbalance of military hardware against India due to direct support of the USA in favour of Pakistan, Indian defence forces had turned the table on Pakistan and had snatched many strategic army posts along Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir borders.

This agreement was initiated under international pressure from both world power blocks, represented by the USA and USSR as well as the United Nations. The ‘Agreement’ practically forced Mr. Shastri to give up all the military gains made by the Indian defence forces at a very high price of lives and war machinery. As per the narratives, successively built up in India over the years by various Congress governments, Mr. Shastri died because of his worries about the public backlash on his return to India. The public fears about the fakeness of such narratives have failed to die for many reasons. One reason is that no postmortem was carried on the body of Mr. Shastri. Another is that no appeal for a thorough enquiry into the circumstances and factors which lead to his death was attended to by the political or administrative bosses of India.

The new information regarding the Shastri government’s plans to give official recognition to the Dalai Lama’s ‘government in exile’ gives an altogether new dimension to this issue and raises serious questions about the role of China in the sudden and mysterious death of PM Shastri. It is a well-known fact that until the India-China war of 1962, Pakistan, a close ally, rather a satellite of the US block in the cold war against USSR and communism, had perpetually stood on the wrong side of China. But soon after its war with India and worsening relations between India and China, Beijing found a new ally in Pakistan with a large enough anti-India meeting ground to develop this ‘friendship’ further.

This was the time when China under the leadership of Mao was trying to reduce the influence of Comintern (Communist International), controlled by the Soviet Union. The Sino-Soviet relations were already taking the downward trend, while the Communist China was recalibrating its relations with the USA. It was perfectly suitable for the Beijing to sabotage the Tashkent Agreement, as it would kill many birds in one arrow. One single act of eliminating Shashtri Ji could stop India from recognising the Tibetan Government in Exile; and at the same time, it could create distrust between India and USSR. If the claim of Shastri Ji’s intention after returning from Tashkent is true, then China was the biggest beneficiary of his death.

For Pakistan too which has been under military dictatorship of General Ayub Khan since 1958 and the General’s government thrived on fears and popular hatred for India, China proved to be a suitable ally. So much so that the Pakistani government happily ceded the Shaksgam region of Pakistan Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (POJK) to China to help the latter for fortifying its borders with India and to construct the strategic Karakoram Highway through this region.

As a result of China’s attack on India in 1962 by using the occupied Tibetan territory as its launch pad, the ‘Hindi-Cheeni Bhai-Bhai’ spirit fast gave way to anti-China feelings in India. Even Pandit Nehru, who has been blindly supporting China on the issue of Tibetan occupation, lost his faith in Beijing. Until then it was Nehru who had stood in the way of America and her allies when they brought resolutions in favour of Tibet and against China in the UN in 1959 and 1961. But following China’s attack on an unprepared India and India’s military humiliation, the anti-China and pro-Tibet sentiments started gaining ground in India. So much so that in December 1965 when a resolution on Tibet was placed and discussed in the UN General Assembly, India’s representative Rafiq Zakaria not only blasted China with a high voltage speech but also voted in favour of the resolution. China taken note of the meeting between the Dalai Lama and PM Shastri too which took place in Calcutta in October 1966 and the special protection the New Delhi government provided to the Dalai Lama during the India-Pakistan war during and after the September war.

From a supportive and an obedient Nehru who would concede on almost every point before the Beijing leaders, Shastri was a complete contrast. He was emerging as a new challenge to the Chinese designs and dreams. The changing face of India and its leadership has been already on show before the Chinese and the worldwhen a resolute and determined Shastri led his poorly equipped defence forces to give a bleeding nose to General Ayub Khan and his armyand air force which were armed up to their teeth with the most modern American weapons. Shastri surely represented a qualitative as well as a quantitative change in New Delhi’s policy towards China, especially on Tibet.

It was therefore not surprising that Beijing leaders could also know what Dalai Lama’s representative could see coming up soon in New Delhi. However, the unfortunate part of the Shastri story is that the Indian establishment failed miserably in protecting its brilliant national leader. Still worse fact is that neither the Indian leadership nor the bureaucrats in the Home Ministry or the Ministry of External Affairs could develop enough wisdom or guts to go deeper to solve the mystery even decades after the unfortunate death of their Prime Minister in a foreign land. The only explanation could be the spell of the Meera Sinha Bhattacharjea Syndrome that a sizeable section among them remained afflicted with that keeps them more worried about the sensitivities of Beijing leaders than their own national interests.

(Views expressed are his own)

The author is a senior Indian journalist, photographer and a keen Tibet watcher for over four decades. During the first decade of 2000’s he visited Tibet many times on his self assigned learning and photo-expeditions.

2 Responses

  1. Indian PM Lal Bahadur Shastri was murdered! After signing the Tashkent Accord on January 10th 1966, he returned to his villa.
    Late that evening, he had a light meal prepared by Jan Mohammad, the personnel cook of TN Kaul, the Indian ambassador to Moscow. At 11.30pm Shastri had a glass of milk brought by the ambassador TN Kabul’s cook Jan Mohammad. Until then he was fine.
    However, at 1:25am, Shastri woke up, coughing severely. The room he was in had no phone. He had to rush to inform his staff to tell Dr RN Chugh who was his personnel physician about the grave situation. By the time Dr Chugh had arrived The Indian PM LB Shastri was dying! The symptoms were heart attack. Dr Chugh could do nothing.
    The Russian KGB suspected poisoning and even the Russian cook Sattarov suspected it was Jan Mohammad who was the culprit. The light meal and the milk were all served by Jan Mohammad who was ambassador TN Kaul’s personnel cook.
    What transpired is TN Kaul, who was the Indian ambassador to Moscow had been transferred from China recently where he was instrumental in bartering Tibetan sovereignty to the Chinese communists during the India-China talks in Beijing. The reason why he was transferred to Moscow was, he was caught up in a honey trap with a Chinese woman who had been in all likelihood hired by the Chinese communist party. Honey trap or sexual bribery is one of China’s classic trap to win favours either by the victim’s choice or through black mail by threatening the victim to expose his sexual dalliances. There are thousands of such women sent out to target influential men with the aim of ensnaring the individuals to share information, personality, leadership skills and so forth to build a profile. They latch on to men of influence and make them find themselves in compromising positions. Once, they are compromised they are asked to cooperate or else their actions will be disclosed and they will be divorced, lose their Government clearance and their job.
    TN Kaul wanted to marry the Chinese woman even though he was a married man with children.
    What happened is TN Kaul was absolutely smitten by his Chinese mistress. She would have been a Chinese State Security hired women whose job was to bring down anyone that threatened China’s interest. Often the honey trappers are themselves hostage of the Chinese security apparatus. Their families are threatened if they don’t perform their duties as assigned to them. TN Kaul’s mistress forced him to do the dirty job of poisoning the Indian PM or else she will not marry him. For China, recognising the Tibetan Government by India would undo all its dream of conquering Tibet and plundering the massive natural resources that would make China rich and powerful. They couldn’t countenance any one coming in the way of such a coveted grand design by any one including the PM of India. Being fully aware of the high stakes involved, there was no other way out of the looming disaster except to liquidate Lal Bahadur Shastri. Kaul being already compromised had no choice other than ask his cook Jan Mohammad to poison the Indian PM to get rid of him as per the instruction of his Chinese lady love.
    When Shastri s body was brought back to Delhi, even though, nobody knew what the KGB assessment was concerning his death, Shastri’s loved ones were under no illusion that this was poisoning. His mother wailed “Mere bitwa ko jahar de Diya”!!! (My son has been poisoned). Shastri’s body had blue patches just like that of the 10th Panchen Lama who died mysteriously during a visit to Tashi Lhunpo in 1989. I have heard from an ex-political prisoner that the Panchen Lama himself admitted that he had been poisoned to one of his close associates. He died under mysterious circumstances after he pointed out to the Chinese that China had taken much more from Tibet than it had ever given to Tibet.
    There have been many such murders of high Tibetan officials and Lamas who had rubbed the wrong way against the Chinese communists. In recent times Tulku Tenzin Delek was also murdered by poisoning as claimed by his niece Nyima Lhamo who is in exile campaigning for justice for his murder.
    What adds credence to LB Shastri’s murder by an insider is the words of late veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar’s confession. A member of the Indian parliament raised the issue in the house about suspicion of poisoning of the PM. TN Kaul by then was the foreign secretary rang the late Kuldip Nayar and told him to issue a statement against it. He says,”He badgered me literally four-five times”. Most astonishingly, no post mortem was conducted even though that is the best way to find out the cause of the sudden death. Besides, Shastri’s childhood friend TN Singh and Jagdesh Kodesia were at a loss as to what to make of of the cut marks on Shastri’s stomach and back of the neck! The cut on the neck was pouring blood and the sheets, pillows and clothes used by him were all soaked in blood!

  2. Shastri was very practical, decisive, determined, honest, courageous and rational leader that India ever had till today. If anyone of Indian Prime Minister followed his policy about Tibet, China wouldn’t dare to cross its limit on Indo-Tibet border. It will always be cautious while dealing with India. Since Congress and BJP Prime Ministers both earlier visited China and surrendered Tibet voluntarily to gain recognition of Skissim and Arunachal, in return China gave nothing.
    Its true that I have heard personally from Shakhapa, the same story when he delivered political lecture way back in the early 80’s as I was then high school student. Since then, I never forget late Prime Minister Shastri Ji who seemed the first and the last to recognise Tibet with genuine support. The death conspiracy of Shastri Ji is the dealth conspiracy of Tibet issue ” an occupied nation”. The alternative left in hand is ‘The Middle Way Policy’.

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