The unhappiness of Netaji’s family is justified
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]I[/dropcap]n 18 August 1945, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (b. 23 January 1897) walked out of the gates of history to become India’s most enduring mystery. In subsequent decades, India’s most charismatic freedom fighter, the only man to lead an organised armed struggle that still inspires the Indian Army, remained the theme of endless conspiracy theories and an official insistence that he had perished in an air crash at Formosa (Taiwan).
The reports of Shahnawaz Committee, Justice G.D. Khosla Commission and Justice Mukherjee Commission of Enquiry, that Netaji had died in a plane crash in 1945
In February 2005, the BBC reported that the External Affairs Ministry of Taiwan had informed Justice M.K. Mukherjee that Subhas Chandra Bose could not have died in a plane crash in their country as there was no plane crash at the old Matsuyama Airport, Taipei, Taiwan between 14 August and 20 September 1945, a span of five weeks.
This knocked the bottom out of claims by the then British Government in 1946, and later the Congress governments led by Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, and P.V. Narasimha Rao, that Subhas Bose had perished in an air crash in Taiwan.
The one-man Mukherjee Commission was appointed by the NDA Government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999, after sustained pressure from many quarters. This finding is the single great achievement of the Commission, which was not able to make further headway before the regime changed; its conclusions were rejected by the successor regime.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]I[/dropcap]t, therefore, boggles the mind that an official of the Union Home Ministry should conclude (31 May 2017), after considering the reports of Shahnawaz Committee, Justice G.D. Khosla Commission and Justice Mukherjee Commission of Enquiry, that Netaji had died in a plane crash in 1945. While this is the conclusion of the first two bodies, the Mukherjee Commission had placed the statement of the Taiwan authorities on record.
Since Netaji was never seen again, the circumstances of his disappearance need to be investigated and his remains brought back to the country with honour
Clearly, the officer has been negligent in responding to a query under the Right To Information Act. The unhappiness of Netaji’s family is justified. The present Government has declassified all Netaji files with India, but real answers lay with the Governments of Japan and Russia and this is where subsequent efforts must be directed.
It bears mentioning that prior to Justice Mukherjee, journalist Anuj Dhar had, via email, elicited the information regarding the missing air crash from Taipei Mayor and Minister of Transportation and Communication, Lin Ling-San. The only plane crash thereafter was a USC-47 Transporter plane carrying 26 persons, mostly former American prisoners-of-war released from camps in The Philippines. It crashed between September 20 and 23, on Mount Trident in Taitung, roughly 200 nautical miles away from Taipei.
Since Netaji was never seen again, the circumstances of his disappearance need to be investigated and his remains brought back to the country with honour.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he story of Netaji’s escape from Kolkata to Peshawar (NWFP, 17 January 1941) and on to Kabul to Germany is broadly known. When Dr Purabi Roy of Jadavpur University visited Moscow in 1994 and 1995 under an agreement between the Asiatic Society of Calcutta and the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences, Moscow, she discovered that Netaji had contacts with many Communists prior to independence, notably Virendranath Chattopadhyaya who worked for the League against Imperialism and for freedom in Berlin, law student A.C.N. Nambiar, M.N. Roy, and V.K. Krishna Menon. When Bose visited Berlin in 1933, Nambiar connected him with TASS representatives. This might explain why Netaji decided to visit Russia after the defeat of Germany and Japan in the Second World War.
Netaji arrived in Berlin on 2 April 1941, but could not make much headway in getting Germany to a military liberation of India. However, he managed to create a Free India Legion from 3000-odd Indian soldiers captured by General Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps, for a possible land invasion of India, a model he used later to revive the moribund Indian National Army of Rashbehari Bose when he moved to Japanese-controlled territory in Southeast Asia.
Japan captured Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 1942 and on 21 October 1943, Bose formed the Provisional Government of Free India here, renaming the islands as Shaheed and Swarajya.
Netaji was in Penang (Malaya) on 11 August when he learnt of Japan’s surrender. Long before others, he had anticipated an Anglo-American clash with the Soviet Union after the War and probably decided to escape to Soviet-held Manchuria and seek Stalin’s help in his quest for freedom. Though advised by the Japanese authorities to come to Tokyo, he announced on August 16 that he planned to proceed to Manchuria. On August 24, news of his death in an air crash at Taipei on August 18, 1945, reached India.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]his was clearly the greatest ‘fudge’ in history. Official Japanese records show that Bose and Lt Gen Shidei died at Formosa, around midnight, and Netaji’s body was flown to Tokyo by the Formosan Army. The British believed that Netaji was planning to go underground with the help of the Japanese authorities, as he reportedly had four iron boxes full of gold given by Indians in Rangoon, at the time of his disappearance.
Available evidence suggests that on 16 August 1945, Netaji left Singapore for Manchuria via Bangkok and Saigon. At Saigon, Bose was asked to switch planes and most likely did not take the boxes with him as there was only room for two Indian passengers despite the use of turret accommodation for two Japanese officers. His next destination remains a mystery. What is certain is that there was no plane crash at Taihoku.
There seems to be evidence about Netaji in Moscow. One Document No. 22, a statement by the then Soviet envoy to Teheran, states that the ambassador had delivered a letter from Nehru to Stalin in October 1946, wherein Nehru mentions Netaji’s stay in the USSR at that time. Another document records a meeting in Moscow in October 1946 between Stalin, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov and other high officials, wherein Netaji is referred to “in the present tense,” and as present in the USSR at that time (The Hindustan Times, 23 December 2000).
We know that a Bombay-based Soviet agent, V. Sayadiyants, delivered a secret letter from Nehru to Stalin – the contents of which remain unknown to this day. Stalin (died 1953) refused to meet the first Indian envoy to Moscow, Mrs Vijaylakshmi Pandit, sister of Jawaharlal Nehru but did meet the second envoy, Dr S. Radhakrishnan, once. The legendary India-Russia friendship began only after his death.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]M[/dropcap]ost people accept that Netaji was en route to the Soviet Union via Manchuria. Some news reports at the time of NDA-I stated that Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan saw Subhas Bose in a prison (possibly Lubyanka) near Moscow in 1949. He later became Vice President and then President of India.
The richest sources of information in Russia include the Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID); Archive of the Chief Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff (GRU), and the Archive of the President of the Russian Federation (APRF). The President’s archives contain material related to the Comintern, Stalin and Bukharin, and can only be accessed by Government-to-Government cooperation.
Another trail leads to Japan. Since the plane crash never happened, the Japanese victims too did not die, though they seem to have escaped arrest by the American occupation forces. So where did Lt Gen Shidei, who was to negotiate Netaji’s transfer to the Soviet authorities in Manchuria, go after the War? Was he also arrested by the Soviets? Japan should be urged to reveal the truth about its own citizens.
Only Prime Minister Narendra Modi can engage with Japan and Russia on the fate of Netaji. Bose’s disappearance has troubled India’s soul for over seven decades. Both Netaji and his country deserve honourable closure.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.