Who killed Lal Bahadur Shastri?

An exclusive excerpt from Vivek Agnihotri's latest book, Who killed Shastri, that investigates the mysterious death of independent India’s second prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, from all possible angles.

 |  9-minute read |   19-08-2020
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Who Killed Shastri?, the latest book by filmmaker and author Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri, is the first ever book to investigate the mysterious death of independent India’s second prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, from all possible angles.

Vivek Agnihotri along with his motley team of inexperienced assistants turned whistle-blowers investigate the mystery behind Shastri’s death and find themselves in a mirror-world where all and everybody is suspect. But they cannot remain distant, for the painful story of India touches their own lives as they discover how the country was put up for sale.

We present an excerpt from the chapter titled The Mitrokhin Archives: India For Sale.

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Who Killed Shastri? Hardcover. Rs 699 Excerpt courtesy: Bloomsbury India

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I had no idea that the answer to all my questions was hidden in the shoe of a six-feet-two-inch tall spy. if Mitrokhin, the ex-KGB director of archives, had not stolen secret KGB documents every day for 12 years, there would have been no Mitrokhin archives… and the climax of my film. it was kind of a guide to all the questions that had been raised so far.

Vasili Nikitich Mitrokhin began his career with the First Chief Directorate of the KGB (Foreign espionage) in undercover operations. When Mitrokhin became critical of Nikita Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, he was transferred from operations to the archives.

By the late 1960s, the KGB headquarters at the Lubyanka Building became increasingly overcrowded and the chairman of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, ordered the construction of a new building outside of Moscow in Yasenevo, which became the new headquarters of the First Chief directorate and all Foreign operations. Mitrokhin, who was by that time the head of the archives department, was tasked with cataloguing the documents and overseeing their orderly transfer to the new headquarters. the transfer of the massive archive eventually took over 12 years, from 1972 to 1984.

While cataloguing the documents, Mitrokhin secretly took his own copies and immensely detailed notes of the documents. after the dissolution of the USSR, he travelled to Latvia and walked into the US embassy in Riga. the CIA officers there did not consider him to be credible. Then, he went to the British embassy. One month later, with the representatives of Mi6, operations began to retrieve the 25,000 pages of files hidden in his house that covered operations dating as far back as the 1930s.

Mitrokhin then defected to the UK in 1992 and he took the archives with him. his defection was hailed as one of the great intelligence coups of the 20th century and his archival material was confirmed as genuine by the Cia and Mi5. When The Mitrokhin Archives was published in 1999, the book created a tsunami in Western intelligence circles because of the authoritativeness and detailed information copied from thousands of KGB files. in the UK and Italy, Mitrokhin inquiry commissions were set up.

according to Mitrokhin’s notes, ‘Soviet security organisations played key roles in establishing puppet communist governments in many countries. their strategy included mass political repressions and establishing subordinate secret police services at the occupied territories. The notes also elaborate how the KGB assassinated world leaders. the book’s thesis is that the Soviet Union decided that the third World was the arena in which it could win the Cold War by proxy.’

the chapters titled ‘the Special relationship with India’ details the scale of the KGB operations in India and the extent of the penetration. there have been tons of material including the ‘Cold War International History Project’ in Washington, which details the KGB penetration in India.

We sat around the book. Pallavi, Tripti, Docsaab and I. We sat like teenagers sit around voodoo … scared to go in to the world of unknown. What if the unknown reveals evil secrets?

‘You read,’ Tripti told Pallavi. ‘No, you read,’ Pallavi told Tripti. ‘let Docsaab read it,’ Tripti said.

‘Sir, you read. You also look like Mitrokhin,’ Docsaab said instantly.

‘Let all of us read it, turn by turn,’ I solved the puzzle. We read pages after pages from The Mitrokhin Archives II: The KGB and the World. It isn’t a spy novel, but it sure reads like one. Finally, we came to Chapters 17 and 18, ‘the Special relationship with India, Part 1: The Supremacy of the Indian National Congress’.

I made tons of notes. Some still haunt me.

1. India was a spymaster’s Disneyland.

2. India was the ‘model of KGB infiltration of a Third World government’ with ‘scores of sources throughout the Indian government, in intelligence, counter-intelligence, defence and foreign ministries, the police...’

3. the maximum operational effort by the KGB in a third world country during the Cold War was in India.

4. Largest number of KGB agents outside the Soviet Union were in India.

5. In 1978, the KGB was running over 30 agents in India, 10 of whom were Indian intelligence officers.

6. Suitcases of cash were sent to the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, for her party’s war chest and vast sums of money was funnelled in to the CPI.

7. In 1977, KGB files identified 21 non-communist politicians (four union ministers) whose election campaigns were subsidised by the KGB.

8. In 1959, CPI general-secretary Ajoy Ghosh agreed on a plan to found an import-export business for trade with the Soviet bloc. in little more than a decade, its annual profits grew to over Rs 3 million.

9. Krishna Menon, as defence minister, was persuaded to buy Soviet MiGs and not British lightnings. his election campaigns in 1962 and 1967 were funded by the KGB.

10. By 1973, the KGB had 10 Indian newspapers on its payroll plus a press agency. during 1972 the KGB claimed to have planted 3,789 articles in Indian newspapers—probably more than in any other country in the non-communist world. according to its files, the number fell to 2,760 in 1973 but rose to 4,486 in 1974 and 5,510 in 1975. in some major NATO countries, despite active-measures campaigns, the KGB was able to plant little more than 1 per cent of the articles which it placed in the Indian press.

11. Promode Dasgupta, the communist stalwart, was identified by the KGB as an Intelligence Bureau (IB) informant in the Indian communist movement.

12. Nine of the Congress (R) candidates at the elections were KGB agents. Files noted by Mitrokhin also identify by name 21 of the non-communist politicians (four of them ministers) whose election campaigns were subsidised by the KGB. the Soviet media called for ‘unity of action of all the democratic forces and particularly the ruling Indian National Congress and the Communist Party of India. repeated pressure was put on the CPI leadership by both New Delhi main residency and Moscow to ensure its support for Mrs Gandhi.

13. Four Union ministers (in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet) and over two dozen MPs were on the KGB payroll.

14. Indira Gandhi’s principal fundraiser, L.N. Mishra, also accepted Soviet money. in fact, claims about Mrs Gandhi accepting money were also made by former US ambassador to India Daniel Moynihan.

15. N. Mishra was later assassinated in a bomb blast in Samstipur. the mystery of his death is still unsolved.

16. An Indian diplomat, codenamed PROKHOR, in the embassy in Moscow was recruited via the classic honey trap, compromised by a female KGB agent with the delicious code name of NEVEROVA. PROKHOR provided the agency with the embassy codebook and other material and was paid Rs 4,000 a month. two other diplomats were also compromised. I remembered T.N. Kaul.

17. Defence Minister Krishna Menon, openly anti-US, was backed by the KGB on the assumption that he would succeed Nehru, a prospect that ended with the Chinese invasion in 1962.

18. KGB funded an ‘extremely influential’ minister codenamed ABAD. the KGB was also helped by India’s decision, started in Menon’s time, of getting almost all its arms requirements from Moscow, which began arriving by the early ‘70s, as then Delhi’s KGB resident head Shebarshin noted in the files, ‘in an endless stream’.

19. KGB had recruited one of India’s most influential journalists, codenamed NOK. his anti-US articles were considered a major coup in the Lubyanka. however, they had other ways of stoking anti-US sentiments. in 1969, according to The Mitrokhin Archives, Andropov informed the Politburo in Moscow that they could ‘organise a demonstration of up to 20,000 Muslims in front of the US embassy in Delhi and that it would cost Rs 5,000. I request consideration.’ Leonid Brezhnev wrote, ‘agreed on Andropov’s request.’

20. KGB was able to influence Mrs Gandhi’s anti-US policy.

21. KGB was keen to alter Sanjay Gandhi’s open distrust of socialism. they recruited a close friend of his code named PURI.

INDIA WAS FOR SALE. INDIA WAS FOR SALE.

INDIA WAS FOR SALE.

I scribbled fanatically.

Former KGB major-general, Oleg Kalugin, had also said, ‘It seemed like the entire country was for sale.’

Yuri’s words echoed in my mind, ‘It appeared as if India was for sale.’

‘Was Indira Gandhi really a puppet? did she sell India? is there an ‘ecosystem’ of elites, politicians, yesteryear zamindars, beneficiaries of Congress’s corrupt government, media, intellectuals, artists, narrator-builders, influencers who have conspired against India? Who has sold India’s sovereignty? her freedom. the sweat of freedom fighters. their diaries,’ my mind buzzed with questions.

After we finished reading The Mitrokhin Archives, every one of us went to the different corners of our small studio. We didn’t know what to say. We didn’t know how to look at each other. We were flabbergasted. We were ashamed. We were broken. We were numb.

There was a vacuum inside me.

There was nothing. and in that nothingness, the soul spoke.

I picked up a few loose sheets of paper and started writing… in one flow. Without a pause. Without a thought. as if some divine force was dictating and I was just the medium. I didn’t know how long I wrote but it felt like a moment.

Miracles happen in a moment. divine happens in a moment.

I was not outside the landscape anymore. I was the landscape. I was inside the scene. it was my story. I had found my voice. Myself. My purpose.

I gave the sheets to Pallavi. ‘Here is the climax of the film.’

Also Read: 4 reasons Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death was suspicious

Writer

Vivek Agnihotri Vivek Agnihotri @vivekagnihotri

The writer is a filmmaker, author and public speaker.

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