There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Lal Bahadur Shastri did not die of natural causes. He was in very good health just a short time before his death. He had no major history of heart disease. His body had turned blue suggesting some kind of poisoning.
Other reasons to suspect unnatural death: the absence of a post-mortem, suspicions of his family members, lack of serious investigations after his death, unnatural deaths of witnesses who were going to depose before the parliamentary body, and the refusal of Indian government to release documents relating to his death.
However, all of the above evidence does not tell us who killed Shastri. The common suspicion is often directed towards Indira Gandhi because she benefited from Shastri’s death. However, we must realize that although Indira Gandhi became a very powerful PM later on, she was a political nobody in 1965 when the conspiracy to kill Shastri must have been hatched. She was not even a senior level cabinet minister. Nor could she have predicted with any degree of certainty that she would become the next PM and would be able to avoid being caught for her criminal conspiracy (of killing Shastri).
To convict someone of a crime, you need to establish three things: motive, means (ability to commit the crime), and opportunity.
Indira Gandhi had a weak motive, weak means, and weak opportunity (unless you assume that Russians were a party to the crime). The same can be said of any other Indian political leader who may have benefited from Shastri’s death.
The Russians had no reason to kill Shastri. They were an ally of India. They did have the means and the opportunity, but lacked the motive.
I was a child when Shastri died, but I vividly remember that day on January 11, 1966 when All India Radio announced Shastri’s death. From that day until a few years ago, I had been unable to solve this whodunnit, until I came across this interview by a CIA “director of plans” named Robert Crowley. In this interview, Crowley tells a journalist Gregory Douglas that it was the CIA which killed both Shastri and Dr. Homi Bhabha in January 1966. Crowley also told the journalist to publish this interview only after his death.
Of course, one cannot simply take Crowley’s claims at their face value. So let us look at some other evidence/reasons that support his claims:
1. There are good reasons to believe that these two deaths (Shastri and Bhabha) were not due to acts of God.
2. The proximity of these two unnatural deaths (just two weeks apart) adds credibility to CIA’s claims. Also, both these deaths occurred outside India which would have made it easier for CIA.
3. I have never come across any alternative explanations of these two deaths that is half as convincing. The official explanations (heart attack for Shastri, and pilot error for Bhabha’s plane crash) are not based on any hard evidence. They are just convenient speculations designed to stop further investigations.
4. There is no good reason/motive for Robert Crowley to fabricate these fancy claims.
5. CIA used to routinely assassinate unfriendly foreign leaders in 1960s. CIA’s several (unsuccessful) attempts on Fidel Castro’s life during 1960-1965 are well documented. In the cold war calculus of those days, Shastri was deemed unfriendly to US. Shastri had defeated a US ally (Pakistan) and had refused to shut down India’s nuclear program.
6. CIA always had a definite agenda to eliminate nuclear threats from developing countries.
7. CIA and/or Mossad are believed to have killed several Iranian nuclear scientists in more recent times.
8. Shastri’s being in the USSR provided a unique opportunity to CIA to poison him. CIA could have easily used a Russian double agent to do the dirty job.
Thus CIA had the means, the motive, and the opportunity. Moreover, CIA has even confessed to the crime, albeit not officially. Therefore, my estimate of the probability of Crowley’s claims being true is very high. As we approach the 50th anniversary of Shastri’s death, it is possible that CIA will declassify some documents that may shed more light on these assassinations.
Note that after Indira Gandhi became PM, she probably figured out that it was the CIA (or a foreign power) that killed Shastri. But she certainly did not want to make Shastri into a martyr. In fact, the Gandhi dynasty has tried to virtually delete Shastri’s name from India’s history. So it is quite possible that Indira effectively stopped the investigations into his death for these reasons.
Two more arguments against Indira Gandhi being involved:
1. Indian politics was very strongly male-dominated in 1965 (and it still is). As of 1965, India had no history of powerful women politicians in the ruling Congress party (or in any other major party). Thus it is extremely unlikely that, Indira Gandhi, a woman, would have had the vision or ambition to become the next PM of India by hatching a conspiracy to kill Shastri.
2. Nehru, her father and political mentor, was a gentleman–as far as things like political assassinations go. (Perhaps he was too much of a gentleman–he even trusted the Chinese in 1962!) Thus Indira had had no training in the art of political assassination. Of course, after being elected the PM in 1966 (and winning the Indo-Pak war in 1971), she became a much bolder politician as illustrated by her declaration of Emergency in 1975.
Incidentally, it is likely that the assassination of Shastri was not authorized by the US President (Johnson). The CIA was the most powerful rogue agency in the world in the 1960s. In fact, many Americans believe that CIA was also behind the assassination of president John Kennedy in November 1963.