By Prem Prakash (ANI)
New Delhi [India], Sep 25 (ANI): India's Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri died suddenly in Tashkent some fifty two years soon after signing an accord with Pakistan's President Gen. Ayub Khan. The agreement was not expected to be signed on that fateful day. India was not willing to concede status quo following its victory in the 1965 war against Pakistan. India was refusing to return parts of Kashmir like the Haji Pir Pass it liberated from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
All of us, journalists from India were taken aback, when suddenly we were told to rush back to the Conference venue as the Agreement was to be signed. India had agreed to restore status quo. This was something that we could not believe, because we were told that the Indian delegation was travelling back the next day. The talks had thus failed.
When Gen. Ayub started his adventure into Kashmir under his Operation Gibraltar, he did not expect a person whom he dismissed as the 'diminutive Prime Minister' to react the way he did. For the First time in its History, Indian forces crossed the international border to attack another nation. And the forces stopped outside Lahore. When the cease fire came, Ichhogil canal in Pakistan became the cease fire line.
In Kashmir as well, Indian forces repelled Pakistani infiltration and later attack by its regular forces. In a pincer move, India liberated strategic Haji Pir Pass. This author climbed to the Pass with India's advancing forces. India's army did not at all wish to surrender back this pass to Pakistan at Tashkent talks. It is largely through this Pass that Pakistan infiltrates terrorists into Kashmir.
Cold war between the then Soviet Union and the United States was at its peak. Pakistan was an ally of the United States in that war against the Soviet Union. Peshawar was the city where the United States had its secret air base. It was from here that they were flying their U2 aircraft over the Soviet Union to spy on that country and see what could be going on in Central Asia where the Soviets always tested their nuclear weapons.
At that point of time the Soviet Union did not have powerful enough missiles to shoot down the high flying U2 planes. To the Soviet Union the capture of Pakistani territory by India seemed to be a God sent opportunity to mediate between the two countries, but primarily hoping to wean Pakistan away from the United States. India was a friend of the Soviet Union and with some gentle prodding by the Soviet foreign office along with some in the Indian establishment 'sympathetic' to the Soviet cause...talks between India and Pakistan took place.
Shastri ji was a heart patient. Tashkent in the month of January is freezing cold, usually temperatures plunging below freezing. Such a location was certainly not suited for the Indian Prime Minister. Why and who agreed to Tashkent as a venue for talks is perhaps mystery number one in the whole tragic episode.
Those days journalists did not face the kind of security restrictions and access problems they face these days. This author and few other were virtually parked inside the dacha (cottage) where Prime Minister Shastri was staying. Thus most of the Indian media delegation were eye witness to historic proceedings.
On one occasion Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko suddenly arrived there when the talks had been virtually abandoned.Holding the Indian Foreign Minister Swaran Singh by hand he was heard appealing to him to get his PM to agree to the proposals and sign the agreement. Swaran Singh, master negotiator that he was, politely told him that the PM made up his own mind. And that the Agreement had to be fair.
Thus on January 10th it was made clear that the maximum India could do was to vacate the mainland of Pakistan and not any area liberated from PoK. The talks were abandoned and we were to fly back on January 11th. We all went out to the market to do some last minute shopping, when suddenly hordes of Soviet officials rushed there to round us up saying that the Accord between India and Pakistan was going to be signed and we should rush back. This came as a shock to us all as to what could have happened in the intervening period.
Tashkent Accord was signed. India had agreed to return all the territories captured by it including the strategic Haji Pir Pass. That evening after the Reception this author and N.S. Thapa of the Films Division went to Shastri ji's
Dacha where we did some filming of Shastri ji including those historic silhouette shots of him pacing up and down.
Back in the hotel, we went to sleep ready for the journey back home next day, but were woken up at dead of night when a voice at the other end of the telephone announced that " Your Prime Minister is dead, please come down". It was unbelievable. I was shocked to find out later that neither Shastri ji's doctor nor his security officer were around when he died? Only a Soviet Guard was present outside his room.
There was no response from any one as to what happened other than that he suffered a massive heart attack.What were the pressures put on the Prime Minister that took his life. Till today the documents pertaining to those talks have not been disclosed despite a rule that all classified documents should be sent to national archives after thirty years.
Adding to the mystery, a few months later Shastri ji's doctor was killed in a strange accident with a truck in New Delhi. Nothing of note about this was said as well.
A recent Times Of India report informs that the PMO and MHA will now decide whether classified documents related to Shastri ji's death will be released. It is important that these documents are released. One hopes that a decision would be made to make these documents public and finally and bring a closure to this mystery. Will this be done? India deserves to know.
The author of this article is the Chairman of ANI, Mr Prem Prakash. (ANI)