On the occasion of Lal Bahadur Shastri’s 114th birth anniversary, MyNation takes a look at the mysterious deaths of five Indian leaders.

Lal Bahadur Shastri

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Cause of death: Heart attack
Date of death: 11 January 1966
Place of death: Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Lal Bahadur Shastri was India’s first prime minister to die while in office. In 1966, Shastri and then Pakistan president Ayub Khan met in Russia, where they had gone to attend a summit organised by Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin. In the meeting, a declaration was signed between India and Pakistan that decided that the armies of the two nations would retrieve their positions and return to base, post the 1965 war.

Shastri died the day the declaration was signed under mysterious circumstances. Official reports say he died of multiple cardiac arrests, however, others suggest that he was poisoned since his body was found blue (suggesting poisoning) and was full of cuts. No post-mortem was done either in India or in Russia. There were three suspects: Indira Gandhi, the Russians, and the CIA; however, it still remains unclear as to who killed Shastri. 

Syama Prasad Mukherjee

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Cause of death: Heart attack
Date of death: 23 June 1953
Place of death: Srinagar

Syama Prasad Mukherjee serves as a cabinet minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s first Cabinet. After falling out with Nehru, Mukherjee quit the Indian National Congress and founded the right-wing nationalist political party Bharatiya Jana Sangh, a predecessor to the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1951.

It is widely argued that Mukherjee’s death is definitely political. He was against the Congress’s decision of providing independent status, emblem and a prime minister to Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. 

He was arrested as soon as he entered Kashmir valley to stage protests in 1953. Following his arrest, he was admitted to a hospital for about 90 days. He was given a penicillin shot, even though he was allergic to it.  No post-mortem was done after he died under mysterious circumstances. 

Sanjay Gandhi

Cause of death: Aviation accident
Date of death: 23 June 1980
Place of death: New Delhi

Three assassination attempts were made on Sanjay Gandhi, who was a prominent figure during the Emergency. Gandhi died from head wounds in an air crash on June 23, 1980, near Safdarjung Airport in New Delhi. He was flying a new aircraft of the Delhi Flying club, and while performing an aerobatic maneuver over his office, lost control and crashed. The only passenger in the plane, Captain Subhash Saxena, also died in the crash. WikiLeaks has revealed that three attempts were made on his life before he died in the plane crash.

Conspiracy theories suggest that Indira Gandhi might have been behind the plane crash that led to his death. The two had their fair share of differences and Indira was wary of his reckless handling of affairs without her consent.

Deendayal Upadhyaya

Cause of death: Assassination
Date of death: 11 February 1968
Place of death: Mughalsarai

Upadhyaya began his career in 1942 as a full-time worker of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. On February 11, 1968, his dead body was found at a railway track near Mughalsarai station in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Initially, a CBI investigation suggested that his death was the result of a theft on the train that had gone wrong. Two men were arrested who confessed to having pushed Upadhyaya out of the train. Later, they were both acquitted due to lack of evidence. 

Rumours were that Upadhyaya’s death was a murder and not an accident. Over 70 MPs demanded a commission of inquiry to uncover the truth. The Government of India agreed to this promptly and appointed Justice YV Chandrachud of Bombay High Court as the sole member of the commission. Justice Chandrachud reported his findings, "That Shri Upadhyaya was pushed out of the running train when he was standing near the door of the I Class compartment of the F.C.T. Bogie"; that he dashed against the traction pole and "died an instantaneous death"; and the injuries on his body were caused in a single transaction and were such as could not have been caused inside the compartment. Justice also held that the murder "was accompanied by an immediate theft, which shows that the two are part and parcel of the same transaction".

In 2017, Upadhyay's niece and several politicians demanded a fresh probe in his murder.

Rajiv Dixit

Cause of death: Heart attack
Date of death: 30 November 2010
Place of death: Bhilai

Social activist Rajiv Dixit’s death is perhaps the most controversial cover-up in the recent years. Dixit launched the Azadi Bachao Andolan in the early 1990s as a campaign to protect Indian industries.

He advocated decentralisation of taxes, advocated farmers’ rights, spoke about the devaluation of the Indian rupee, and said that soft drinks had a large number of pesticides in them, a claim that was proved to be true later. He died on November 30, 2010. His body was covered in patches of black and blue, and no post-mortem was conducted. The media did not cover a lot about his death. Some people believed that Ramdev might have been involved in his death because he did not say anything when it was evident that he did not die of a heart attack. His body was also taken to Patanjali instead of Sevagram, his home.