Friday 29 December 2023

Did Shastri seek Netaji's release from Soviet internment? (Part 1)

Did Lal Bahadur Shastri seek Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's release from Soviet internment during his 1966 Tashkent visit? 

Part 2 » 

Did Lal Bahadur Shastri seek Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's release from Soviet internment during his 1966 Tashkent visit?

On 10 January 1966, the Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan having met at Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and having discussed the existing relations between India and Pakistan, signed an accord ending the 17-day Indo-Pakistani war of August–September 1965, declaring their firm resolve to restore normal and peaceful relations between their countries and to promote understanding and friendly relations between their peoples. 


 (The meeting in Tashkent)

After signing the agreement, Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then Prime Minister of India, died in the early hours of 11 January 1966 in Tashkent, and normalcy, peace, understanding and friendliness in the relations between India and Pakistan remained elusive.

The cause of death of Lal Bahadur Shastri was reported as "heart attack", which many among his family members, relatives, supporters and admirers, refused at that time, and have refused since, to believe. 

It is true enough that a person can die suddenly due to heart attack. Then why the disbelief, why the question arose whether it was a natural death at all and why the controversy rages on? 

Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri's last living photograph at Tashkent on 10 January 1966
PM Shastri's last living photo

The relevant excerpts of verbatim statement about the circumstances under which Late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri died, made by the then Minister of External Affairs Sardar Swaran Singh in the parliament on 16 February 1966 is as follows.¹

The late Prime Minister was accommodated in a villa specially provided for his use by the U.S.S.R. Government. With him in the villa were the following members of his personal staff:

(a) Dr. R. N. Chugh - Medical Officer
(b) Shri R. Kapur - Security Officer
(c) Shri J. N. Sahai - Private Secretary
(d) Shri M. M. N. Sharma - Personal Assistant
(e) Shri Ram Nath - Personal Attendant

This villa was about 250 yards from the Intourist Hotel where the other members of the Indian Delegation were lodged. The room adjoining the Prime Minister's suite was allotted to the Medical Officer and the Security Officer. Other members of the party occupied the remaining accommodation in the villa.

Apart from the two telephones for internal and international calls fitted in the Prime Minister's suite, there was also a third telephone with a buzzer which could be activated by simply lifting the receiver. This instrument was available for the Prime Minister's use to call any member of his personal staff or the doctor in case of need.

On the 10th January, 1966, the late Prime Minister returned to his villa a little after 10 P.M. after attending a Reception given by Mr. Kosygin, Chariman of the USSR Council of Ministers. He retired immediately to his suite and was served dinner there by Shri Ram Nath, his personal attendant, at about 10.30 P.M. A little later, the Prime Minister allowed himself to be photographed by two Indian newsreel cameramen from outside his window. Thereafter, he spoke on the telephone with Delhi to members of his family. At thirty minutes past midnight, the Prime Minister asked Shri Ram Nath to go and have his food. Shri Ram Nath then put out the lights and went to the adjonining room where he and other members of the staff were attending to the packing of their luggage. 

At about 1.20 A.M., while Prime Minister's personal staff were packing the baggage for the morning flight on 11th January, they saw the late Prime Minister at the door of their room. The Prime Minister paused a while and asked for the doctor. Shri Kapur and Shri Sharma hurried forward and escorted the Prime Minister to his room and Shri Sahai woke up Dr. Chugh who immediately rushed to the Prime Minister's room.

Dr. Chugh started examining the Prime Minister and while doing so, he asked Shri Sahai, Private Secretary to Prime Minister, to call local doctors also. This was done immediately through the Soviet Security Officer on duty. By 1.32 a.m. the Prime Minister had lost consciousness, the pulse had disappeared, the heart tone could no longer be heard, and breathing had stopped. Efforts by Dr. Chugh to revive the Prime Minister, through an intramuscular injection, artificial respiration and massage proved fruitless. The team of Soviet doctors who arrived on the scene within minutes at the personal bidding of Mr. Kosygin were also unable to revive him. In spite of excellent medical facilities, therefore, it was not possible to save the life of the late Prime Minister. 

Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri's body covered with Indian tricolour at Tashkent on 11 January 1966
PM Shastri's body covered with Indian tricolour

The medical report of Dr. Chugh and the Soviet medical team as per the copy placed by the then Minister of External Affairs Sardar Swaran Singh on the Table of the House on 16 February 1966 is as follows.¹ 

During all the days of his stay in Tashkent, as well as on the evening of 10th January, 1966, the Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri, felt well. He never complained about his health. On the evening of 10th January, 1966, the Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri, was healthy and cheerful while he was attending a reception given by the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of USSR, A. N. Kosygin. According to Dr. R. N. Chugh, the doctor attending on the Prime Minister, who used to be always present at his side and thus had attended the reception after return from the reception to his residence, Lal Bahadur Shastri was in normal health and was in a good mood and spoke over the telephone with his relatives in Delhi. He went to bed at about 12.30 midnight. On the 11th of January, at about 1.20 in the morning, Messrs. Sahai, Kapur and Sharma approached the Premier's doctor who was in the room next to him and told him that the Prime Minister was feeling unwell. Dr. R. N. Chugh at once approached the Prime Minister and found that the Prime Minister was sitting on his bed, coughing and was complaining of lack of breath. He was holding his chest with his hands and was looking pale. The doctor found the pulse to be very fast and weak. Blood pressure was not registered. The heart beats were hardly audible. With the help of the gentlemen mentioned above, the doctor put the Prime Minister in a reclining position, gave him intramuscular injection of Mepthentin Sulphate one m. 1 (15 milligrams) and 1 m. 1 of Micorena. Within the next 3 minutes, Prime Minister L. B. Shastri lost consciousness, the pulse disappeared breathing stopped and the heart beats could not be heared. Death occurred at 1.32 on this morning of 11th January, 1966. Doctor R. N. Chugh had already begun revival treatment by the methods of indirect massage of the heart and artificial respiration through the mouth by means of the air tube. The Soviet doctor E. G. Yeremenko who had come here immediately on a call from Dr. R. N. Chugh also took part in the treatment by revival procedures. She found Prime Minister L. B. Shastri dead when she arrived. The pulse had stopped, the heart was silent, there was no breath and no corneal reflexes. The revival treatment was continued further with the help of the antishock group of doctors which had arrived immediately on call. Indirect massage of the heart was done; in the left cavity under the heart at an interval of 15 minutes was twice introduced a mixture of Pottassium Cloride with Adrenalin and glucose. Artificial respiration by means of the machine with the help of "Intubation tube" was also attempted. However, these measures yielded no results. The following Professors also took part in the entire treatment:

U. A. Aripov.
Y. Y. Gordon
O. N. Pavlova
A. R. Rakhimjanov
M. S. Tursum-khojaeva
Z. E. Ummidova

Taking into account the fact that Prime Minister L B. Shastri had suffered even in the past from Infarktmiocarda and the fact that during the night from 10 to 11th of January, 1966 there was an acute attack of the same disease it can be considered that death occurred because of an acute attack of Infarktmiocarda.


(Dr. R. N. Chug, M.D., Doctor-
attendant on the Prime Minister.)

Tashkent, 11th January, 1966.


(Professor U. A Aripov, Deputy
Minister of Health of Uzbek
SSR, Doctor of Medicine.)


(Professor Y. Y. Gordan, 
Honoured Worker of Science, 
Doctor of Medicine.)


(Professor O. N. Pavlova,
Honoured Worker of Science,
Doctor of Medicine.)


(Professor A. R. Rakhimjanov, 
Doctor of Medicine.)


(Professor M. S. Tursun-khojaeva, 
Doctor of Medicine.)


(Professor Z. E. Ummidova,
Honoured Worker of Science,
Doctor of Medicine,
Corresponding-member of the
Acadamy of Medical Sciences of

Close-up photograph of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in eternal sleep at Tashkent on 11 January 1966
Close-up photo of PM Shastri in eternal sleep

The verbatim discussion about the death of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri following the tabling of the above-mentioned medical report in the parliament on 16 February 1966 is as follows.¹

SHRI ATAL BIHARI VAJPAYEE (Uttar Pradesh): According to the Press reports, the last thing that Shastriji took before going to sleep was a glass of milk. I wonder why no mention has been made of this fact in the statement. It was reported from Tashkent by Indian correspondents that the last thing that Shastriji took was a glass of milk. I should like to know who was the person who offered that glass of milk.

SARDAR SWARAN SINGH: I cannot say that because the service was always done by Shri Ram Nath, the attendant. I do not know whether he took milk as the last thing and I do not know who administered it. It has nothing to do with the present statement.

SHRl ATAL BIHARI VAJPAYEE: It might have something to do. Let the Minister find out whether a glass of milk was offered to Shastriji before he went to sleep. I want that information; I do not want any deduction from that information. But the hon. Minister must be in a position to deny or confirm it.

SARDAR SWARAN SINGH: I cannot deny or confirm it because I do not have any information as to what was the last thing that he took and who gave it to him. If the hon. Member is interested, I will try to find out:

SHRI DAHYABHAI V. PATEL (Gujarat): May I know whether oxygen was available and it was administered, because in such a case, normally oxygen is a thing that gives great relief to patients of heart? Was oxygen administered? Could he tell us? Or was it not available and was not administered?

SARDAR SWARAN SlNGH: I have been informed that Dr. Chugh had arrangements for oxygen and the Health Minister has confirmed that he had all the arrangements for oxygen and everything was done which was required to be done. Even in the report it is mentioned that through the tube something was projected.

SHRI ATAL BIHARI VAJPAYEE: Madam, we are in a dilemma. Here, again, the Press reports contradict ...

SARDAR SWARAN SINGH: I appeal to the hon. Members to view this in the whole background. Now, I am not a medical man myself. I have placed all the material, that is there, before this House. Let there be no controversy over this. If there is any doubt in the mind of any hon. Member, I will be very glad if he could communicate that, because it is not an issue over which I can really join issue and debate. Well, you are a very great admirer of Shri Shastriji and also I am a humble colleague, and you do not realise what impact that has created in our minds because it was not in our hands that we lost him. It is not given really to put questions in that tone. That I do not like. If there is any particular doubt in the mind of any hon. Member, well, I will be the first person really to make all possible enquiries. But do not put me on the defensive in a matter like this because I do not want to join issue.

SHRI ATAL BIHARI VAJPAYEE: On a point of personal explanation, if my tone has hurt the hon. Minister, I am sorry. I did not mean it.


SHRI ARJUN ARORA (Uttar Pradesh): Your speech in Hindi is very madhur.

SHRI ATAL BIHARI VAJPAYEE: It is not the question; we do not want to raise a controversy. But if facts do not tally with the facts that have been reported in the Press, we are bound to ask questions. Now, the hon. Minister has stated that oxygen was available and it was administered to Shastriji. But according to the Press reports, only oral respiration was given, oxygen was not given because it was not available.

SARDAR SWARAN SINGH: I cannot really throw any further light. If the hon. Member is interested further, I will ask Dr. Chugh to go to him and explain exactly what had taken place. I am not an expert.

THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN: He only wants to know whether oxygen was available there.

SARDAR SWARAN SlNGH: I cannot say anything more than what is contained in Dr. Chugh's statement.

SHRI DAHYABHAI V. PATEL: The enquiries that the Members of this House make are not with a view to making any other criticism. We want information; we want to know the Truth. And our respect and regard for Shastriji is perhaps as much, and we appreciate the feelings of the hon. Minister also. He was put in a sad predicament that he was in that condition. But this is not a matter of controversy. We just want to have information and if the hon. Minister has not got that information just now, will he kindly furnish it to the House later?

SHRI M. P. BHARGAVA (Uttar Pradesh): May I know from the hon. Minister whether it is a fact that the Russian Government wanted the late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri to stay with all the other Indian delegates in the same building where they had provided all arrangements for heart specialists to be there all the twenty-four hours? And in fact, they had equipped a room where all facilities were to be given to the late Prime Minister. I would like to know if this is a fact.

Also I would like to know under what circumstances the Prime Minister was shifted from that building to the villa where he actually stayed.

SARDAR SWARAN SINGH: Madam, the villa in which the Prime Minister stayed had originally been earmarked for him. It is wrong to say that he was allotted any suite in the other place. From the very beginning, all the arrangements including the kitchen, the cook and the servants—everything—had already been made and it was a nice gesture because it was a villa self-contained and all of us, the other members of the delegation, were in a separate place—it is more or less like a hotel —and it is absolutely incorrect to say that he was first allotted one place and then shifted to another.

DR. M. M. S. SIDDHU: I would like the hon. Minister to tell us whether it was a fact that Lal Bahadur Shastri was looking well and he was cheerful, whether he was previously examined clinically as well as by electro-cardiogram and whether blood pressure and other things were taken before the 10th. I mean, I want to know whether all the time that he was staying there, there was a daily check-up or not, and if it was done, then the report may be laid before the House.

The second point is whether in the sequence of events as it has been narrated in the medical report, oxygenation or intubation has been done earlier. Well, Shastriji was clinically dead when the Soviet doctors had come and after that oxygen by intubation was stated. Earlier, Dr. Chugh administered the medicine, the injection. There is no reference to oxygen having been immediately given to him while he was sitting and he was made to lie. Therefore, on these two points I would like him to get the information collected. It is possible that the things might have been done and they are not there in the report.

SARDAR SWARAN SINGH: Madam, the hon. Member himself is a medical doctor and I cannot really meet all his arguments or suggestions. All that I can do is that I will arrange a meeting between him and Dr. Chugh and it is better that he questions him, asks any question. I am not a doctor. So, I cannot really answer all these medical questions. I do not know the distinction between the two.

I would again appeal that in a matter like this, at this stage, in raising things of that nature, I am not quite sure as to what is the particular thing before our minds. And if I may very humble point out a controversy of such a type at this stage, when the thing is over—a very tragic event—is not good. If all those Members are interested in either crossexamining the doctor or in getting any further evidence, if they so desire, instead of my saying that I do not know or that it is a medical thing or like that, I can arrange a meeting; they can put any number of questions to the doctor concerned. There is nothing to hide.

THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN: I think the Minister has given a fair explanation.


SHRI R. S. KHANDEKAR (Madhya Pradesh): From the statement it appears that the late Prime Minister was alone in his room. May I know what arrangements were made for his servant or for the doctors to be near him, because it appears that they were in the adjoining room? Why was not the servant there nearby when his help could have been secured and the doctors could have been called? What was the difficulty?

THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN: That is very clearly put.

SARDAR SWARAN SINGH: In a matter like this, I would submit that we are dealing with the wishes of the Prime Minister of the country, and what arrangement could I make or anyone else make? He is the best judge. The doctor is there in the same building. His attendant is there. There is a buzzer in the room; as soon as he lifts it, there is a buzzing sound in the room of his attendant, in the room of the doctor and in the room of his assistants. All of them will come rushing to him. It is for him whether he uses that buzzer or does not use it. Who am I to say that he should have his attendant by his side or somebody else? It is for him to decide; he would decide for himself whether his attendant sleeps there or in the adjoining room or like that. I cannot answer all these things.

श्री रांमसहाय (मध्य प्रदेश): मेरा एक प्रश्न है वह यह है कि मैं यह जानना चाहता हूं कि वह अपने बिस्तर से उठ कर दरवाजे पर पहुंचे तो क्या इसके बारे में जानकारी मिल सकी कि जब उन के पास तीन तीन टेलीफोन थे तो फिर दरवाजे पर जाने का क्या कारण था? 

[Shri Ramsahay (Madhya Pradesh): I have a question, that is, I want to know that as he got up from his bed and reached the door, so could any information be obtained that when he had three telephones what was the reason for him to go to the door?]

सरदार स्वर्ण सिंह: यह में कैसे कह सकता हूं। दोनों में से एक कर सकते थे, उठ कर भी जा सकते थे, बजर भी उठा सकते थे।  उनहोंने बजर नहीं उठाया, उठ कर चले गए। शायद उन के मन में यह हो कि मैं क्यों किसी को तकलीफ दूं, जा कर कह दूं।  

[Sardar Swaran Singh: How can I say this. Could have done one of the two, could have got up and gone, could have also lifted the buzzer. He did not lift the buzzer, got up and went. Maybe he had in his mind that why should I cause trouble to anyone, let me go and tell them.]

THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN: A statement has been given and the Minister had said that those who want to consult the doctor may ask him questions; he is willing. Therefore, I do not think it will help us to go into the matter further. Next statement.

The key takeaways from the discussion about the death of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri following the tabling of the medical report in the parliament on 16 February 1966 are as follows.

  • Atal Bihari Vajpayee's questions that whether Lal Bahadur Shastri took a glass of milk before going to sleep and if so then who was the person who offered that glass of milk, show that he was not convinced that Shastriji's died a natural death. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the great Indian politician, statesman and poet, who later served three terms as the Prime Minister of India, was certainly not one to ask arbitrary questions on this highly sensitive issue. 
  • Dahyabhai V. Patel's questions about the availability and administration of oxygen to Lal Bahadur Shastri show the doubts in his mind over the circumstances leading to Shastriji's death. Dahyabhai V. Patel was the son of Sardar Vallabhbhai J. Patel and he had later authored a book titled "Was Shastri Murdered?" published by Society for Parliamentary Studies in 1970. 
  • Dr. M. M. S. Siddhu's questions, asked strictly from a medical point of view, that whether a daily health check-up was performed on Lal Bahadur Shastri before the 10th of January 1966 and if so then the reports thereof to be laid before the House, and whether oxygen was administered to Shastriji while he was clinically alive, had only added to the discomfiture of the then Minister of External Affairs Sardar Swaran Singh. Dr. M. M. S. Siddhu apart from being a parliamentarian was a medical practitioner by profession who had completed his education in medicine from the King George Medical College, Lucknow. He was a recipient of Dr. B.C. Roy National Award in 1982, he was associated with the Tuberculosis Association of India and the Indian Medical Association, he was elected as the President of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 1978 and re-elected in 1980 and he also remained as the Vice-President of the Indian Medical Association. 
  • Ram Sahai's logical question that when three telephones including a buzzer was present in Lal Bahadur Shastri's room then why instead of using them, Shastriji had to walk all the way up to the door of the room of his personal staff to seek help, as the resulting stress may have only worsened his health condition, found no clear answer. Ram Sahai was a Member of Constituent Assembly, 1947-50; was the Speaker, Madhya Bharat Legislative Assembly, 1948-52; was the General Secretary, Madhya Bharat P.C.C., 1954-55; Member of Rajya Sabha from 3-4-1956 to 2-4-1962, 3-4-1962 to 2-4-1968 and 3-4-1968 to 2-4-1974; Vice-Chairman, Rajya Sabha, 1961 and 1970-71. The question asked by the veteran parliamentarian shows his doubts about the correctness of the statement regarding the presence of the buzzer in Shastriji's room. 
  • Sardar Swaran Singh, the then Minister of External Affairs, immediately went on the defensive when questions were raised by his fellow parliamentarians on the most important national issue of the circumstances under which Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri died. His inability to deny or confirm facts, his refusal to join issue and debate, his expression of dislike for the tone of questions asked, his inability to provide satisfactory answers, show his tendency to evade any controversy on the matter with disregard to the fact that Shastriji's tragic death was being viewed with suspicion by his family members, the politicians, the press and the general public. 

The New York Times reports Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri's death on 11 January 1966
The New York Times reports PM Shastri's death

The verbatim discussion about an enquiry into death of Late Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri in the parliament on 03 May 1966 is as follows.²

SHRI G. MURAHARI: Will the Minister of EXTERNAL AFFAIRS be pleased to state whether Government propose to set up an enquiry into the circumstances leading to the death of the late Prime Minister Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri?


The verbatim discussion about Late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri's stay at Tashkent in the parliament on 11 August 1967 is as follows.³

SHRI M. P. BHARGAVA: Will the Minister of HOME AFFAIRS be pleased to state: (a) whether it is a fact that Shri G. C. Dutta Security Officer who was sent to make arrangements for the late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri's stay at Tashkent in January, 1966 had then sent a telegram to the Government of India from Tashkent disapproving of the arrangements made for the late Prime Minister's stay at Tashkent; and (b) if so, what steps were taken on the receipt of the telegram?


The key takeaways from the discussions about an enquiry into death of Late Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri and his stay at Tashkent in the parliament on 03 May 1966 and 11 August 1967 respectively are as follows.

  • G. Murahari's question that whether the government would set up an enquiry into the circumstances leading to the death of the late Prime Minister Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri, shows that he was not satisfied with the government's narrative about Shastriji's death. Godey Murahari was Member, Congress, 1941—47, jailed in 1943 in connection with the 'Quit India' movement; later separated from Congress with the Socialist Party; General Secretary, All India Socialist Party 1958-59; Member, Rajya Sabha, 3-4-1962 to 2-4-1968, 3-4-1968 to 2-4-1974 and 3-4-1974 to 20-3-1977; Deputy Chairman, Rajya Sabha, 13-4-1972 to 2-4-1974 and 26-4-1974 to 20-3-1977; Chairman, Committee of Privileges, Rajya Sabha, 1972-74 and 1974-77; Deputy Speaker, Lok Sabha 01-4-1977 to 22-8-1979. The question asked by the veteran politician was actually the people's voice demanding an enquiry into Shastriji's death which the then Indira Gandhi led Congress Government was not willing to entertain. 
  • M. P. Bhargava's question about the telegram sent by Security Officer G. C. Dutta disapproving of the arrangements made for the late Prime Minister's stay at Tashkent, suggest that he may have received certain input from some source. Mahabir Prasad Bhargava was Permanent Secretary, A.I.C.C., July, 1949 to January, 1957; Member, Rajya Sabha, 13-12-1956 to 2-4-1958, 3-4-1958 to 2-4-1964 and 3-4-1964 to 2-4-1970; Vice-Chairman, Rajya Sabha, 1960-61 and 1962-63. Vidya Charan Shukla, the then Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs, replied to the question of the veteran parliamentarian with a terse denial. 
  • The meeting between Dr. R. N. Chugh and the members of the parliament for the doctor's cross-examination by the latter, as suggested in the House on 16 February 1966, by Sardar Swaran Singh, the then Minister of External Affairs, was not arranged. 

Part 2 »

| Part 1 | Part 2 (Coming Soon) | 

  1. Rajya Sabha Official Debates, Session Number: 055, Debate Date: 16-Feb-1966, Debate Title: STATEMENT RE THE CIRCUMSTANCES UNDER WHICH LATE PRIME MTNISTER LAL BAHADUR SHASTRI DIED, Page Numbers: 300-312 
  2. Rajya Sabha Official Debates, Session Number: 056, Debate Date: 3-May-1966, Debate Title: ENQUIRY INTO DEATH OF LATE SHRI LAL BAHADUR SHASTRI, Page Number: 38 
  3. Rajya Sabha Official Debates, Session Number: 061, Debate Date: 11-Aug-1967, Debate Title: LATE PRIME MINISTER LAL BAHADUR'S STAY AT TASHKENT, Page Numbers: 3500-3501 

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