“Modi government has an opportunity to bring Netaji a small measure of justice which was denied to him by his contemporaries. It must throw open all the material (thousands of pages in dozens of files) pertaining to Netaji in its possession. It must also request Britain and Russia to disclose whatever information they have about him. The contention that such disclosures will impair relations with other countries is untenable. All the principal actors are dead and international equations have changed beyond recognition.” – Meena Mandavia
Truth, like sin, cannot be hidden away forever. It has a habit of resurfacing, often at odd times. The haze of mystery surrounding the last phase of the illustrious life of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose is a sin of Congress leadership at the time of independence and a truth concealed from the people. Strenuous efforts for seventy long years have failed to suppress it. Like Banco’s ghost in Macbeth it refuses to disappear.
The recent revelations that Congress governments in Delhi and Calcutta spied on Netaji’s family members who were tracked within India and abroad, their letters were opened, watch was kept on their visitors and the information was shared with the British spying agency MI5 may disturb us, but they need not surprise us. The question that needs to be asked is: why did Jawaharlal Nehru think it necessary? A possible answer is that he was unsure about Netaji’s survival, whereabouts and activities after the alleged crash and wanted to secure this information by tracking his family. Another, more probable explanation is that he knew, at least broadly, what happened to Bose and did not want Bose’s family to know his fate. He was extremely wary of the likely consequences of such knowledge. The British intelligence agency was kept in the loop all along to ensure that he kept receiving information from that source and that there was no leakage.
The official line is that Subhash Chandra Bose died on 18 August 1945 when the aircraft carrying him and some of his associates along with others crashed at Taihoku (now Taipei) airport while taking off. Netaji’s family members, close associates and knowledgeable researchers have resolutely refused to accept this theory. Netaji’s widow Emilie as well as his close associate Lt. Col. Habib ur Rahman refused till the close of their respective lives to lend credence to the plane crash theory despite repeated requests from the Government of India. Nor did they affirm that the ashes brought back to India were Netaji’s. On a visit to Bose family’s home in Calcutta soon after the alleged crash, Nehru showed a wrist watch to Sarat Chandra Bose with a charred band and square dial and said with teary eyes, “this was the watch Subhas was wearing when the crash took place.” Sarat Chandra Bose returned it, saying “Jawahar, I do not believe in the crash theory. Subhas never wore such a watch. He wore one with a round dial that our mother had given him”. Nehru was silenced.
Much evidence has surfaced to show that the so-called fatal crash never took place. The government of Taiwan, the only country that has wholeheartedly cooperated with efforts to unearth the truth about Netaji’s death, sent the government of India a report in 1956 saying there was no record whatsoever of any aircraft crashing at Taihoku airport on 18 August 1945. The Mukherjee Commission managed to get this report from British intelligence. It is futile to ask how a secret report submitted to government of India found its way to Britain. More pertinent is the question: Why was it not shared with people of India?
Senior journalist M. D. Nalapat writes “Taiwanese authorities have stated to this correspondent that to the best of their information, there exist no records of any crash at the airbase in question on the date specified as being the final day of the life of Netaji Subhas Bose. Instead, they say that witnesses to the flight confirmed that the aircraft took off in a normal fashion and was bound for an airfield in Manchuria.” (Sunday Guardian, 11-4-2015)
There is some material suggesting that Nehru knew Subhas Bose did not die in the plane crash.
Along with this article, we publish copy of a letter addressed to Clement Attlee, the prime minister of Britain during the period India got independence (July 1945-October 1951). The letter purportedly written from New Delhi on 26 December 1945 (i.e. four months after the alleged plane crash) reads:
The letter seems to have been typed in great hurry. As the photocopy shows, there are half a dozen typing errors in such a short letter, but the grammar is impeccable. It is unsigned.
Shyam Lal Jain of Meerut deposed on oath before G. D. Khosla Commission that he had typed this letter for Pundit Nehru at his request. (Subhas Bose and India Today: A New tryst with Destiny by Pradeep Bose p. 277-78)
The small letter raises some big questions. Who gave this information to Nehru? Why was only Nehru informed? Did he share it with other Congress leaders like Gandhi and Patel? If he did, why was the information suppressed? If he did not, why?
The British government too seems to have received some reports that Bose was alive. Amrutlal Sheth, a courageous Gujarati journalist and founder of Janmabhoomi Group of newspapers, accompanied Nehru on his trip to Singapore in 1946. According to Pradeep Bose, on his return Sheth told Sarat Chandra Bose that Punditji was warned by Lord Mountbatten that according to his report, Bose did not die in the alleged air crash and if Nehru played up legends of Bose and demand for re-absorption of INA into the Indian Army, he would be taking risk of presenting India on a platter to Bose when the latter re-appeared. (ibid. p. 278)
Dr. Purabi Roy of the International Relations Department, Jadavpur University, presented before the Mukherjee Commission archival evidence she came across while researching for the Asiatic Society in Moscow. According to her testimony, the then Soviet envoy to Teheran had delivered a letter from Nehru to Stalin in October 1946, in which Nehru referred to Netaji’s stay in the USSR at that time. Another document recorded a meeting at Moscow in October 1946 between Stalin, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov and other high officials, in which Netaji is referred to “in the present tense,” and as present in the USSR at that time (The Hindustan Times, 23 December 2000).
Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, who was appointed India’s ambassador to Soviet Union in 1949, enjoyed a measure of respect from Stalin. There are reports that at Dr. Radhakrishnan’s request, Stalin allowed him a glimpse of Subhas Bose, a prisoner in a jail, on the condition that he would not exchange a word with the latter. The philosopher statesman who subsequently became vice president and then President of India never commented on these reports. But obviously, the visit could not have taken place without the knowledge of the Government of India and some of the mission staff. The ambassador must have reported to the people back home what he saw. Why did the Indian government keep silent about it?
On the face of it, it seems that after the fall of Japan, Subhas Bose reached Manchuria (via Formosa now Taiwan), then under Russian occupation. Probably, Bose wanted to remain away from the British eyes until India’s independence. Probably he thought that Stalin would welcome him as an inveterate foe of the British imperialism. If so, he made a serious miscalculation. Stalin’s Russia had just fought a life-and-death war as an ally of Britain and he viewed Netaji as an unrepentant Fascist who had fought the war on the side of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo. Netaji reached Manchuria, was taken into custody by Russian troops and flown to Moscow where he spent 17 months in a high security prison before being dispatched to a gulag where he passed away after 11 years. Stalin and his successors kept the treatment meted out to him and his death secret to maintain good relations with India. This chain of events, though plausible, is still little more than a conjecture. The clinching documentary evidence to corroborate it is yet to surface, assuming it exists.
What can be said with certainty is that Netaji was the hero of the Indian people, especially the young generation, in the years leading to independence. He had captured their imagination with his sterling patriotism, indomitable spirit and heroic exploits such as his extraordinary escape from Calcutta in 1941, his romantic, dangerous land journey from Bengal to Berlin via Afghanistan and Central Asia, his landmark meetings with Hitler and Mussolini to seek support for India’s independence, his secret submarine trip to Japan, and then his unprecedented mobilisation of fighting units from Indian Army officers and soldiers held as prisoners-of-war by Japan.
Unfortunately for the country, all the principal political forces on the eve of independence were united in desiring his absence from the scene at that critical juncture.
For the British rulers, he was a far worse enemy than Gandhiji and Congress. Gandhi and Nehru were amenable, Bose was not. Although Gandhiji had withdrawn Congress support to the British war effort on the ground that Indian people had not been consulted, Congress did nothing to sabotage the war effort or Britain’s military might. The man who did so was Subhas Bose. His INA cracked the loyalty of the Indian armed forces to the empire and paved the way for its eventual disintegration.
Nehru knew, better than anyone else, that Bose was the only national leader who could challenge Congress dominance over India and Nehru’s dominance over Congress. Netaji was younger than Nehru and a highly charismatic popular leader. With him around, Congressmen would no longer suffer Nehru as their leader. If, for whatever reason, Congress remained with Nehru, Bose could have mounted a powerful challenge to the Congress dominance in the country. Indeed, the possible consequences of Netaji’s return from exile continued to exercise Congressmen in general and Nehru in particular for a long time. His family was spied upon, it seems, to know the possibility of such an event and probably to forestall it.
Muslim League was close to realizing its dream of Pakistan and presence of Subhas Bose could have put a spanner in its plans. The INA was a model of communal amity and by holding out a prospect of replicating it in the Indian society at large, Netaji could have questioned the very rationale for Pakistan. In his radio broadcasts from southeast Asia, he had bitterly criticized Jinnah and his demand for Pakistan.
Ironically, the best evaluation of Subhas Chandra Bose’s contribution to the freedom struggle came from his mortal foes: the British. Papers in London show that the increasing disaffection in the (British) Indian military was the most potent cause of the 1946 decision by Whitehall to leave India. When P. B. Chakravarty was acting as the Governor of West Bengal in 1956, Clement Attlee visited Calcutta and stayed at Raj Bhavan for a couple of days. Chakravarti asked Attlee about the real grounds for granting independence to India. Here is the Governor’s account of what Attlee told him: “In reply Attlee cited several reasons, the most important were the activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose which weakened the very foundation of the attachment of the Indian land and naval forces to the British Government. Towards the end, I asked Lord Attlee about the extent to which the British decision to quit India was influenced by Gandhi’s activities. On hearing this question Attlee’s lips widened in a smile of disdain and he uttered, slowly, putting emphasis on each single letter- “mi-ni-mal.” (See History of Freedom Movement by R. C. Majumdar, Part III, pp. 609-10)
Modi government has an opportunity to bring Netaji a small measure of justice which was denied to him by his contemporaries. It must throw open all the material (thousands of pages in dozens of files) pertaining to Netaji in its possession. It must also request Britain and Russia to disclose whatever information they have about him. The contention that such disclosures will impair relations with other countries is untenable. All the principal actors are dead and international equations have changed beyond recognition. Hindu nationalists have been demanding for long correction of distortions in Indian history. Sharing information on Netaji’s last phase could be a good beginning.
» Meena Mandavia is a free-lance journalist in Mumbai.
Filed under: INA, india, indian government, indian independence movement, jawaharlal nehru, psychological warfare, subhas chandra bose | Tagged: congress party, government of india, INA, indian independence movement, jawaharlal nehru, plane crash, spying, subhas chandra bose, USSR, yakutsk gulag prison |