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Beyond the Lines

There are many questions which have wisely been buried in tomb & very few people are alive who have the authority to bring it back, out of the grave. Kuldip Nayar is one of them. Here are the excerpts from his book Beyond The Lines which is yet to release. The excerpts have already created enough buzz and controversy in media. While Shastri's son Anil Shastri, a special invitee to the Congress Working Committee has contradicted the Nayar's words about Late Shastri. This seems to be very funny and obvious to me. Why funny? Well, if you will correlate the incidents you can catch the footprints. Whatever Nayar has echoed about Shastri in 'Beyond the Lines' has almost already been written in his previous book Between the Lines. That old book has in fact given an entire chapter out of five (don't remember exactly, one was Hindi as principal language, then Shastri's death, Indo-China don't remember) That time, Anil didn't say anything as the people of that time were clearly aware of the incidents - just passed or he was not forced to do so. In his interview whatever reference Anil has given have in fact no credibility.

A further question, 
why did he do that? Why would he prefer to support Indira over his father?  

First of all, Lal bahadur Shastri's life has been an open book, it's hard to write anything wrong about him, except his death. He doesn't need anyone else to defend. Nayar, the then Information officer has portrayed the incidents this time differently. But the content more or less echoes the same thing. The book is yet to release I wonder, why few are getting so nervous. One more incident he has brought into light is the Murder of First Railway minister...a mystery for people while for few, Just another oblation. Lalit Narayan Mishra was a veteran Gandhian leader, who just could not be kept silent. After his assassination, his wife and his younger brother Mr Jaganath Mishra were having the feeling of conspiracy but soon as Jagannath Mishra got the CM chair of the state (Bihar). He became silent and more than 35 yrs. have gone, the murder case is yet to hear in the courts. These were not only two examples ...who will solve the cases of Sindhiya, Y.S. Rajshekhar Reddy (Can you believe what happened to him?), ......and Kasab (is there a lack of evidence, then I'm afraid you will hardly find any evidence in any case)?

Nayar, a veteran journalist knows his limits (after the longest service to Indian media). He has left the content unconcluded. Here are the excerpts from his book Beyond the Lines.      


Was he poisoned?

That night I had a premonition that Shastri was dying. I dreamt about him dying. I got up abruptly to a knock on my door. A lady in the corridor told me: “Your prime minister is dying.” I hurriedly dressed and drove with an Indian official to Shastri’s dacha which was some distance away.

I saw (Soviet premier Alexei) Kosygin standing in the verandah. He raised his hands to indicate that Shastri was no more. Behind the verandah was the dining room where a team of doctors was sitting at an oblong table, cross-examining Dr R.N. Chugh who had accompanied Shastri.

Next to it was Shastri’s room. It was extraordinarily large. On the huge bed, his body looked like a dot on a drawing board. His slippers were neatly placed on the carpeted floor. He had not used them. In a corner of the room, however, on a dressing table, there was an overturned thermos flask. It appeared that Shastri had struggled to open it. There was no buzzer in his room, the point on which the government lied when attacked in Parliament on its failure to save Shastri’s life.

Our official photographer and I spread the national flag, which had been neatly folded up near the dressing table, over the body, and placed some flowers to pay homage to him. I then went to meet Shastri’s assistants. It was a few yards away and one had to walk through an open verandah to reach it. Shastri’s personal secretary, Jagan Nath Sahai, told me that Shastri had knocked on their door at around midnight and wanted water. Two stenographers and Jagan Nath helped him walk back to his room. This was fatal, Dr Chugh said.

After sending the flash on Shastri’s death, I went back to his assistants’ room to learn the details about his death. Bits and pieces of information gathered together indicated that Shastri, after attending the farewell reception, reached his dacha around 10 pm. Shastri told (his personal servant) Ram Nath to bring him his food which came from Ambassador (T.N.) Kaul’s house, prepared by his cook, Jan Mohammed. He ate very little: a dish of spinach and potatoes and a curry.

Ram Nath gave Shastri milk, which he used to drink before retiring at night. The prime minister once again began pacing up and down and later asked for water, which Ram Nath gave from the thermos flask on the dressing table. (He told me that he had closed the flask.) It was a little before midnight when Shastri told Ram Nath to retire to his room and get some sleep because he had to get up early to leave for Kabul. Ram Nath offered to sleep on the floor in Shastri’s room but Shastri told him to go to his own room upstairs. The assistants were packing the luggage at 1.20 am (Tashkent time), Jagan Nath recalled, when they suddenly saw Shastri at the door. With great difficulty, Shastri asked: “Where is doctor sahib?” It was in the sitting room that a racking cough convulsed Shastri, and his personal assistants helped him to bed. Jagan Nath gave him water and remarked: “Babuji, now you will be all right.” Shastri only touched his chest and then became unconscious. (When Lalita Shastri was told by Jagan Nath in Delhi that he had given him water, she said: “You are a very lucky person because you gave him his last cup of water.”)


Gen Ayub was genuinely grieved by Shastri’s death. He came to Shastri’s dacha at 4 am and said, looking towards me: “Here is a man of peace who gave his life for amity between India and Pakistan.” Later, Ayub told the Pakistani journalists that Shastri was one person with whom he had hit it off well; “Pakistan and India might have solved their differences had he lived,” he said. Aziz Ahmad, Pakistan’s foreign secretary, rang up Bhutto to inform him about Shastri’s death. Bhutto was half asleep and heard only the word “died”, and apparently asked, “Which of the two bastards?”

When I returned from Tashkent, Lalita Shastri asked me why Shastri’s body had turned blue. I replied: “I am told that when bodies are embalmed, they turn blue.” She then inquired about “certain cuts” on Shastri’s body. I did not know about those because I had not seen the body. Even so, her remark that no post-mortem had been conducted either at Tashkent or Delhi startled me. It was indeed unusual. Apparently, she and others in the family suspected foul play. A few days later, I heard that Lalita Shastri was angry with the two personal assistants who had accompanied Shastri because they had refused to sign a statement which alleged that Shastri did not die a natural death.

As days passed, the Shastri family became increasingly convinced that he had been poisoned. In 1970, on October 2 (Shastri’s birthday), Lalita Shastri asked for a probe into her husband’s death. The family seemed to be upset that Jan Mohammed, T.N. Kaul’s cook at the time, had cooked the food, not Ram Nath, his own personal servant. This was strange as the same Jan Mohammed had prepared food for Shastri when he visited Moscow in 1965.

Following newspaper reports, the old guard Congress party supported the demand for a probe into Shastri’s death. I asked Morarji Desai towards the end of October 1970 whether he really believed that Shastri did not die a natural death. Desai said: “That is all politics. I am sure there was no foul play. He died of a heart attack. I have checked with the doctor and his secretary, C.P. Srivastava, who accompanied him to Tashkent.”


Jawaharlal Nehru-Edwina Mountbatten

‘Theirs was spiritual love’

My interest in finding out about Lady Mountbatten’s influence on Nehru did not slacken with time. I picked up the thread when I was India’s high commissioner in London in 1990. I learnt that Air India flights would carry Nehru’s daily letter, which the high commission dutifully delivered to Lady Mountbatten and daily collected her reply and forwarded it to Nehru. Nehru took officials to task whenever her letter was delayed.

During my stint in the UK, I met her grandson, Lord Romsey, who headed the Nehru Trust, which Mountbatten had constituted in London to arrange an annual lecture in Nehru’s memory. As high commissioner, I was an ex-officio member of the trust. Lord Romsey and I met many times in that connection. After meeting him a few times, I thought I had developed a sufficient equation to talk to him about his grandmother. He did not seem to mind.

I once broached the subject of Nehru’s letters with him. I said: “Nehru wrote beautifully.” His reply was that his grandmother too wrote beautifully. I told him I would love to see at least one of her letters. I had seen Nehru’s writings but not hers. He said that Rajiv Gandhi and he had exchanged copies of his grandmother’s and Nehru’s letters. There were two sets, one with him and the other with the Gandhi family. I realised then that it would be difficult to obtain access to them.

Nonetheless, I bluntly asked him one day whether his grandmother and Nehru had been in love. First, he laughed and then wondered how he could describe their relationship. He paused for a while and said: “Theirs was ‘spiritual love’.” Then he changed the subject. I let the matter rest there. Lord Romsey subsequently said: “They fell in love; a kind of chivalrous love which was understood in the olden days. Nowadays when you talk of love, you think of sex. Theirs was more a soul-to-soul kind of relation. Nehru was an honourable man and he would never have seduced a friend’s wife.”

Back in Delhi, I tried to get access to the letters. I went to the Nehru Memorial Library and asked for the correspondence between Jawaharlal Nehru and Lady Mountbatten. The librarian looked surprised. “You have to get permission from Mrs Sonia Gandhi,” he said and closed the topic. I wrote a letter to Sonia Gandhi stating that I was working on a book on the Mountbattens and would like to see Nehru’s papers. She did not reply but Natwar Singh, then the state minister for external affairs, said that I could go to the library and consult the letters. I could hardly believe it. When the librarian placed before me a bundle of papers in a secluded room, I thought my efforts had borne fruit. I spent many hours sifting through the pile, but they proved to be Nehru’s letters and notes to Krishna Menon, who got him to change many policies on foreign affairs. My mission, however, was different.

I approached the librarian who said that my permission was for the ‘C’ grade papers. For this, I would have to obtain Sonia Gandhi’s specific instructions. I wrote to her again. Once again Natwar Singh was the channel of communication. He told me the papers could not be made available to me.

There was no explanation. All he said was that they were her property and she alone could decide. I think Nehru’s letters are the nation’s property and should be made available to the public because they throw light on matters meaningful to our history. But this does not seem to be the general policy. The Government of India has not yet made public the papers relating to the transfer of power by the British to India while the UK has.


Lalit Narayan Mishra

Death Foretold

She (Indira Gandhi) realised her credibility was low; she said at a meeting to condole the death of L.N. Mishra (the rail minister killed in a bomb attack in Samastipur), “Even if I were to be killed, they would say that I myself had got it done.” Mishra was a dear friend. He rang me up at midnight before going to Samastipur that he had handed his resignation to her personally. He sadly remarked that he’d be killed at Samastipur and put down the phone. It proved to be true. He was murdered at Samastipur the following day. The murder mystery has not been resolved to this day.

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  1. first of all.. hats off 4 pointing out all the details... politics has evern been a mystry and the deaths of the leaders or the people occupying the posts has never been brought to light... i wonder wat takes them years and decades to solve the case!!

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