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Shastri wanted to set up an inquiry commission to probe Netaji mystery
NAVTAN KUMAR  New Delhi | 11th Jul 2015

Lal Bahadur Shastri, when he was Prime Minister, wanted to set up an inquiry commission into the disappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose as he was not happy with the findings of the Shahnawaz Committee, which declared him as having died in an air-crash in Taiwan in August 1945.

A former chief of the Delhi unit of the Congress, Jagdish Kodesia, disclosed this to the G.D. Khosla Commission, which was inquiring into the Netaji mystery, on 1 March 1971 as witness. "One thing is there that Shastri definitely wanted that there should be another inquiry Commission. If he would have lived longer, he must have seen to that ....," Kodesia, who is no longer alive, told the Commission.

This disclosure is part of the files that were declassified recently and came to be infamously known as the "Nehru snooping files", as they showed that Jawaharlal Nehru had ordered the snooping of Bose family members.

Some Shastri family members are even wondering whether his "mysterious" death had anything to do with what he had come to know about the Netaji case as Prime Minister, and during his visit to Tashkent — something that he was about to disclose. Shastri died in Tashkent during his visit there.

Although there is no evidence to link Shastri's death with the Netaji mystery, the fact emerging from some of the files along with the Nehru snooping files, suggests that Shastri did not believe in the plane crash theory and wanted the truth to come out.

The mystery has further deepened with Shastri's relatives expressing their suspicion that his death was not natural. This is quite contrary to the official version so far that the former Primer Minister died of cardiac arrest. In fact, Shastri's relatives will now approach Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding that the secret files related to Shastri's death be declassified. Shastri died in Tashkent (Russia) on 11 January 1966, soon after signing the Tashkent Pact with Pakistan.

Shastri's son Sunil Shastri told this newspaper that he was not sure whether "Babuji" (Shastri) had met Netaji in Tashkent during his visit there. "But there is a possibility that he wanted to tell the people of India something about Netaji on his return. He was aware of Netaji and we cannot rule out that it had some link with Babuji's mysterious death," he said.

Quoting his mother Lalita Shastri, Sunil Shastri said, "Babuji made a phone call to her from Tashkent. Amma said people are not happy about the Tashkent Pact because he had made concessions to Pakistan. To this, Babuji told her 'Don't worry. Let me land. When I speak to the people of India, they will be very happy.' I am not confident whether it was about his meeting with Netaji. But personally, I feel he must have got some idea about him and wanted to tell the people about him. He died soon after that." Sunil Shastri was 15-16 years of age at the time.

Similar was the narration of Subhas Chandra Bose's grandnephew Chandra Kumar Bose, who said there was "definitely some mystery" surrounding Shastri's death, which had something to do with Netaji. Quoting his father Amiya Nath Bose, who heard a similar version from a Congress leader, Bose said: "Shastriji called up home from Tashkent saying that he met someone of repute in (the then) Soviet Union. He said the people of India would be happy to meet him. He is so big a man that after meeting him they would forget everything. It is ironic that Shastri died 40 minutes later."

Amiya Nath Bose was an independent MP and knew Shastri very well.

Chandra Bose, quoting his father, said, "Shastriji would always tell him (Amiya Bose) that he would find out the truth about Netaji. As a citizen of India, I would like a thorough judicial investigation into Lal Bahadur Shastri's death. Why should the government suppress the facts related to the death of a Prime Minister?"

As for the testimony by Jagdish Kodesia, several times during his on-oath deposition, Kodesia stated that "Shastriji was one person" who did not believe in Netaji's death in the plane crash. According to Kodesia, Shastri's suspicion had been aroused due to the "obvious reason that the commission (Shah Nawaz Committee) did not visit the place of the accident (Taipei) itself".

"When he (Shastri) became Home Minister ... he wanted to know the truth whether Subhas Bose was alive or not. In the whole Cabinet he was the only man who was very much interested." Kodesia said that he enjoyed close personal relations with the Home Minister and then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.

Kodesia felt that "after he became the Prime Minister ... (Shastri) was emphatically working that there should be a fresh probe into Netaji's disappearance." "When he became Home Minister...he wanted to know the truth whether Subhas Bose was alive or not. One thing is there that Shastri definitely wanted that there should be another inquiry Commission. If he would have lived longer, he must have seen to that..."

Kodesia, it is to be noted, spent a lifetime in the corridors of power — during which he rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty. "All my knowledge is based on my political connection with the high-ups and high leaders of the country, and working as special representative of the All India Congress Committee from 1954 to 1969," he told the Commission.

Speaking to this newspaper, Shastri's grandson (nati) Siddharth Nath Singh said, "Shastriji ke itihas ke aakhiri panne ka sach saamne aana chahiye (the truth of the last page of Shastriji's history should come out). His death was not natural. The government should demystify the mystery surrounding the death of Shastriji."

Singh wondered why no post mortem was conducted in Tashkent after Shastri's death. It is to be noted that the only record of his death available with the Indian embassy in Moscow, was the report of the joint medical investigation conducted by Shastri's personal doctor R.N. Chugh and some Soviet doctors. According to an RTI reply, no post mortem was conducted in India either.

There is a large section, including Shastri's relatives, which believes that the needle of suspicion in Shastri's death points towards Indians. It is to be noted that R.N. Chugh, his wife and two sons were run over by two trucks, from two sides, in 1977. Only his daughter survived, but as a cripple. Shastri's personal attendant Ramnath was hit by a DTC bus, following which he lost his leg and memory.

Activist Anuj Dhar, who has penned India's Biggest Cover-up, had filed an RTI application concerning the sole secret (classified) PMO record about Shastri. In July 2009, the Prime Minister's Office said it had one document relating to Shastri's death, but refused to declassify it, citing exemption from disclosure on the plea that it could harm foreign relations, cause disruption in the country and cause breach of parliamentary privileges.

According to Dhar, "I later learnt that this record cited an intelligence report blaming the CIA for spreading the 'canard' that Shastri's death was not natural." Dismissing the version as a preposterous conspiracy theory, Dhar said, "I don't know what's with some people in India that they see an American hand in everything: Shastri's death, Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, 26/11, the JP movement, the Anna movement. Even the Bose mystery was not spared once. The culture of secrecy has entered in our DNA. It will take some time before we can shake it off."

Sunil Shastri said, "We will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting him to declassify the secret files so that the truth comes out. Babuji was a man of steel and so it was not a heart attack. Had he been nervous about the failure of the Tashkent Pact, it would have happened before its signing. There was no reason for him to be tense after everything was done and he was supposed to leave for Kabul the next day to meet the Frontier Gandhi. When his body returned to India, his chest was blue. There were patches and cut marks on his belly. It was said that something was applied to check decomposition. But temperatures in Russia at the time, as well as in India (January) were very cold."

Shastri had gone to the then Soviet Union for an India-Pakistan summit. He woke up because of a severe bout of coughing on the night of 11 January. Dr Chugh came to help him. A staffer brought some water, which Shastri drank. Soon after, he became unconscious and attempts to revive him proved futile. The Russian cook was arrested on suspicion of poisoning Shastri, but was later absolved of the charge.

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