Subhash Chopra considers the evidence that should lay to rest ‘irrational’ doubts surrounding Netaji Bose’s demise in a plane crash in 1945.
Professor Anita Pfaff, the Germany-based economist and only child of one of the front-line leaders of the Indian freedom movement, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, is to request Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to initiate a DNA test on her father’s remains, preserved at Tokyo’s Renkoji temple for over 70 years.
Such a scientific examination could dramatically end the controversy about how Bose met his end once and for all.
Elected president of the Indian National Congress in 1938 and 1939, head of the Provisional Government of Free India and supreme commander of the Indian National Army between 1943 and 1945, Bose died as a result of a plane crash at Taipei on August 18 1945. Two Indian government investigations—by the Shah Nawaz Khan Inquiry Committee in 1956 and the Justice G D Khosla Inquiry Commission in 1974—confirmed this. However, a section of Bose’s extended family and his fanatical followers still refuse to accept the truth.
In an interview with the Hindustan Times, published on January 23, Pfaff said the air tragedy which caused her father’s demise was the ‘most likely thing to have happened’. She added she hadn’t ‘seen any evidence which is more convincing’, and described theories about her father living anonymously as ‘Gumnami Baba’ in Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh as ‘rather asinine’ and ‘an insult’ to Bose.
She suggested the Indian and Japanese governments should work together to facilitate a DNA test.
A day after the paper ran the story, the Modi government declassified 100 Indian government files relating to Bose. One such file reveals that Ashis Ray, an Indian foreign correspondent who was then CNN’s South Asia bureau chief, wrote to India’s then prime minister, P V Narasimha Rao, on September 5 1995 to say ‘my continuing research on the subject convinces me that the best way forward is to do a DNA test, which may provide conclusive and incontrovertible scientific evidence as to whether the ashes at Renkoji temple are Netaji’s or not’.
He continued: ‘All we need is a blood sample from a relative and bone particles from the ashes or a tooth (which is likely to exist in the urn on the basis of a claim made by Netaji’s ADC, Colonel Habibur Rehman) to carry out the test.’
Ray concluded by suggesting to Rao: ‘A direction from you on the matter can set the ball rolling.’
Twenty years later on December 7 2015, Ray held a press conference in London to launch a website – www.bosefiles.info. The purpose of this was ‘to chronicle the truth about what happened to Subhas Chandra Bose, based on 25 years of investigation and research into this subject’.
Every week thereafter the site has posted documents from various sources, including copies of various British probes, Russian and Indian government files, a first-hand investigation by an Indian journalist, Harin Shah, in 1946 and interviews with Naeemur Rehman, son of Habibur Rehman.
No file that the Modi government declassified has even remotely contradicted any of the evidence collated and presented by Ray’s site. In fact, Modi’s disclosure has reinforced the position of bosefiles.info by revealing that every Indian administration from Nehru’s to Manmohan Singh’s, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s, accepted that Bose perished consequent to the plane crash.
Of the plane’s 14 passengers and crew, seven lived to recount their harrowing experience. bosefiles.info has cited first-hand accounts of six of the survivors—five Japanese military officers and Colonel Rehman.
The crash occurred in the afternoon and Bose passed away at a nearby hospital the same night. The site has provided testimonies of five people who either treated his third-degree burns and other injuries or were by his bedside when he breathed his last—two Japanese doctors, one Taiwanese nurse, one Japanese interpreter and Col. Rehman.
Ray’s site has also produced evidence from two Taiwanese officials, one of whom personally handled Bose’s body at the crematorium, and Col. Rehman in respect of the last rites.
Finally, the site has highlighted the descriptions under oath of Col. Rehman, who carried the urn containing Bose’s remains from Taipei to Tokyo, and others on how these came to rest at Renkoji temple.
In her conversation with HT, Pfaff described the controversy over Bose’s death as an ‘undignified discussion which has been going on over decades’. She added: ‘I think rational people would at least accept the outcome of that (a DNA test), whichever way it were to go.’
Sarat Bose, Subhas’ elder brother and mentor, came to know about the crash in an Indian newspaper five days after it happened. A legendary barrister in India and himself one of the leaders of the Indian National Congress, he wrote in his diary:’Divine Mother, how many sacrifices have we to offer at your altar!’ This indicated anguish but not disbelief.
After his return to India, Col. Rehman called on Sarat in Kolkata. Sarat’s emotional attachment to Subhas was such that he was quite vulnerable to any inkling of the event being untrue. Given his state of agony and health—he was suffering from diabetes and heart disease—his immediate family were also eager to offer him consolation in the circumstances.
Rehman produced a wristwatch, which he claimed Subhas had been wearing at the time of the crash. This apparently did not match the one the family knew he wore, which created scepticism. At the end of the conversation, it would appear, Sarat either felt or was persuaded to conclude the ‘accident’ was eyewash and Subhas had instructed Rehman to spread this story while he escaped somewhere beyond Anglo-American clutches.
It is indeed true that Bose was planning to slip away to the Soviet Union. The next stop after Taipei en route to its final destination of Tokyo was Dairen in China, near the Soviet border. Here Lieutenant General Tsunamasa Shidei, who was on the flight with Bose and died instantaneously, was scheduled to disembark; and there was every possibility Bose would have followed suit instead of proceeding to the Japanese capital.
In 1946, after World War II ended, Pfaff’s mother Emilie Schenkl wrote to Sarat claiming she was Subhas’ widow. In effect, she had accepted news reports about her husband’s death following the air crash. But seeds of doubt were sown in her mind after Sarat met her in 1948.
When Sarat prematurely passed way in February 1950, no public inquiry into the matter had taken place. Indeed, speculation persisted about Subhas fleeing to the Soviet Union or China to prevent arrest, since Britain was considering putting him on trial if he was captured.
Eleven years after the crash, a three-member Inquiry Committee headed by Shah Nawaz Khan, one of the stalwarts of Subhas’ Indian National Army (which fought British forces on the India-Myanmar border), was appointed by Jawaharlal Nehru to investigate the matter. By a majority vote it reached the conclusion that Subhas died as a result of the crash. One of the committee members, Subhas’ brother Suresh, initialled the principal points in the draft report, but was pressurised by a section of his family and Subhas’ more militant supporters not to sign the final report.
In 1974, Justice Khosla Commission reconfirmed the Shah Nawaz Committee’s findings. However, in 2006 another commission, headed by Justice M K Mukherjee, decreed Bose did not die in the Taipei air crash. The judge pursued the line that he had become ‘Gumnami Baba’, but DNA tests predictably dismissed this theory. The Manmohan Singh government rejected this report, as has the Modi regime so far.
Following the Mukherjee Commission’s disagreement with the Khan Committee and the Khosla Commission, some of Subhas’ relatives were emboldened to demand declassification of government files pertaining to him in the hope that this would debunk the first two reports. This campaign intensified after it became evident that the BJP would come to power in the 2014 Indian general election, with the campaigners urging Modi to release such documents.
To his credit, the new prime minister proved sympathetic to this application, contrary to previous Indian governments, which fell back on the excuse that such revelations would harm the country’s foreign relations under India’s Official Secrets Act.
As expected, though, no Indian government stance in the declassified files has even remotely challenged the verdicts of the Shah Nawaz Committee and Khosla Commission.
Professor Sugata Bose of Harvard University, also a Trinamool Congress member of the Lok Sabha and a great-grand-nephew of Subhas, speaking to India’s NDTV, criticised Modi for not visiting the Renkoji temple during his trip to Japan in 2014. ‘Other prime ministers, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, visited the temple to show their respect,’ he said.
Yet Modi claims proximity to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is a known admirer of Netaji. A Japanese diplomatic source indicated that if approached for a DNA test, the latter is likely to consider the matter quite sympathetically.