Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: A revolutionary chapter in the offing – Santwana Bhattacharya

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

Santwana Bhattacharya“A consensus has emerged among historians and generations of researchers on two points: 1) Bose disappeared, and did not die in the crash; 2) he was in Soviet Russia post-1945. Whether it was as a prisoner in a Siberian gulag or under house arrest has not been established. Beyond some broad hints dropped by post-Soviet Russian historians, anecdotes of Indians in Moscow, and stifling silences, no definitive official record has emerged. Neither from the depths of the KGB archives, opened after the Soviet downfall, or the colonial papers in London.” – Santwana Bhattacharya

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan had seen Bose in Russia when he was Indian ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1949 to 1952.On May 13, 1952, S. Radhakrishnan was sworn in as the first Vice-President of India. A few months prior to that, he had visited his old colleagues at the Philosophy Department of the Calcutta University. His endearing personality, academic reputation, and added to it, his ambassadorial stint in the Soviet Union ensured he had a rarefied audience of five professors and senior research scholars. One of those present in the ‘adda’ that day, who would go on to become the V-C of Burdwan University, Shankari Prasad Banerjee, would later recount in an affidavit to the Mukherjee Commission a story Radhakrishnan shared with them—of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s presence in Soviet Russia and of him fleetingly seeing Bose there. Another well-known philosopher, then a young researcher, J. N. Mohanty, was also present.

There was a surprise inflection to this story: Radhakrishnan’s subsequent appointment as Vice-President, a post not there in the original scheme of things. Implicit in this turn, as read by those in the know, is the suggestion that it had something to do with the story he had narrated to his former colleagues in the Calcutta University. Soon after that outing of a risky fact, Radhakrishnan was whisked away from the academic world. As V-P, naturally, he later retracted. Little corners of Bengal, however, are still awash with such curious Bose anecdotes. A book on Netaji’s disappearance mystery by Prof Purabi Roy has even devoted a whole chapter to the most popular among the startling anecdotes.

The Mukherjee Commission, before which Shankari Prasad Banerjee had deposed on the Radhakrishnan angle, was the first and only one of the three government-appointed panels to conclude that Bose did not die in the plane crash in Formosa/Taiwan. Its report was rejected by the then UPA government and the Sugata Bose-Krishna Bose wing of the family. Neither was ready to buy what they call the “myth-cum-conspiracy” theory that Bose did not die of third degree burns in the plane crash of August 18, 1945—the last fortnight of World War II, two years before India’s Independence—and that it is not Bose’s ashes buried in Tokyo’s Renkoji Temple. Nonetheless, for many, Bose, the daring ‘revolutionary’ who cocked a snook at the British Empire to raise an Indian army with civilian-Tamils living in Malay and Singapore and martially trained men from Punjab, could not have died at 48. But this may not be a mere desire born out of hero worship. They have reasons to propagate the anti-air crash death theory—it stems primarily from the Indian government’s caginess, its stowing away of intelligence reports and files on Bose as “top secret” for decades on the ground that “international relations” are at stake. At an emotional level, the faithful believed Bose stage-managed his own death with his friends in the Japanese Army (that a new Indo-Japanese research team is coming into being soon shows the credence given to what was once called ‘kite-flying’).

Surya Kumar Bose & Narendra ModiPopular theories apart, a consensus has emerged among historians and generations of researchers on two points: 1) Bose disappeared, and did not die in the crash; 2) he was in Soviet Russia post-1945. Whether it was as a prisoner in a Siberian gulag or under house arrest has not been established. Beyond some broad hints dropped by post-Soviet Russian historians, anecdotes of Indians in Moscow, and stifling silences, no definitive official record has emerged. Neither from the depths of the KGB archives, opened after the Soviet downfall, or the colonial papers in London or among the Communist Party of Great Britain’s correspondences in Manchester. Where does CPGB feature here? Because it groomed successive generations of Indian communists, including Jyoti Basu, Bhupesh Gupta, Indrajit Gupta and Mohit Sen. One of their preceptor-stalwarts, Rajni Palme Dutt, had Gandhi, Nehru, Bose and even Sheikh Abdullah contributing to his Labour Monthly. At a documentary level, what is available is Stalin’s rather scathing views on Gandhi-Nehru, as British imperialist implants in the Indian national movement (similar to the Justice Katju tweets we see these days), and more sympathetic take on Bose. The CPGB had a diametrically opposite view, inspired by Palme Dutt. The reason for this duality of opinion on Bose obtained from Moscow and London could have had to do with the conflicting position the two powers found themselves in vis-a-vis the Great Game. Bose’s flight via Afghanistan in 1941 to Moscow (en route to Berlin) buttresses this early proximity. Even when Bose and INA warriors flitted from Singapore to Bangkok to Saigon on that fated path, after getting news of Hiroshima-Nagasaki and the Japanese surrender—between August 16 and 17—his original destination could have been Russia, the only power he felt at that point would be ready to take on Britain.

Joseph StalinIf indeed Bose met with his death in Formosa, what explains the furtive silence and stealth that surrounds all government moves? Why should revelation of all that lies behind intelligence vaults imperil international relations? Did Bose reach Moscow and then, get entangled in something? Was he ill-treated by Soviet Russia? Or was he deported but forced to live incognito? Revelations would, no doubt, cast a long shadow on Nehru and revive the memory of his uneasy relation with Bose (though Nehru was the one who defended the INA soldiers caught by the British Army in Burma). As also the Communist leadership of India, who must have been in the know of it and helped Nehru’s government keep things under wraps. If the official history is right and unproblematic, why are the Bose papers never made public? Why did the PMO even under A. B. Vajpayee shy away from revelations? Why did even the Modi government take one step forward and two steps backward? Why does the Bose family get riled when too many questions are asked? What is this fact that is so tangible even in its absence? An explosive potency that has not got blunted by the years?

It is in this context that West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee’s sudden conjuring up of 64 classified files gains significance. Obviously, she has a political angle. Mamata wants to pip BJP-Modi in the race to encash the Bose myth. And she would not mind if, in the process, she can damage the Congress and the Left, in case their joint complicity in keeping Bose out of Indian politics comes out in the process. But can Bose—or a frenzy created around him—be a vote-catcher in Bengal? The short answer is: no. Bose’s own party, Forward Bloc, as a Left Front constituent, shared power with the CPI and CPI-M for 34 years. Still, Mamata cannot allow a politically ascendant Modi-BJP to walk off with a Bengali icon right under her nose. Though many die-hard Bengal Congressmen would tell you Bose means little to Bengal, and has far more fan following in Odisha and Punjab. – The New Indian Express, 18 September 2015

» Santwana Bhattacharya is  Political Editor of  The New Indian Express. E-mail: santwana@newindianexpress.com

Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee & Kolkata Police Commissioner Surajit Purkayastha at the release of the confidential files on Netaji at Kolkata Police Museum in Kolkata on Friday. PTI Photo (PTI9_18_2015_000128B) *** Local Caption ***

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7 Responses

  1. I fully agree with ” In a 1943 speech in Singapore, Bose specifically called for a “iron dictator” who would rule over India “for 20 years.” “There must be a dictatorship” he argued, “No other constitution can flourish in this country and it is so to India’s good that she shall be ruled by a dictator, to begin with …”! Without doing the necessary ground work of adequate and lasting brain wash to the people in the then India, we got Independence, Democracy and Secularism, which have given us a series of problems, for which in reality, there is no soft solution; having yielded more than proportionate area and water resources, we are forced to quieten the majority people, who have no other country! And this is still alive and growing in J &K., Parts of UP., Bihar, Telengana, Kerala, Nagaland, etc. But, the same view is not taken of the Tamils in SriLanka;; the West are keeping this hate problem alive and are even promoting new ones, like the Khalistan; we blew very high the RamJanma Bhoomi Issue, which, but for the Congress, would have been no issue at all! Look at the number of Railway Zones, the splitting of States, which themselves were formed based on the Language by the Congress themselves! And see the problem of sharing of water-not confined to Irrigation; Chennai City can not get adequate for Drinking and general living; the self styled Social reformers want reservation based not on Economic backwardness, but based on caste and sub caste every where-Judges, IAS etc. Cadres, Defense Services, Temples…the media makes much noise on trivial issues, but is docile when major issues have to be high lighted; the image “India is shining ” is publicized only so long as we import what other countries want to export to us and at what all conditions they stipulate! With all these the “ESTABLISHMENT” has not changed even slightly; in fact, it has become worse! And so the story, no stock taking, will be a very lengthy one. From these , Nethaji’s tilt to Dictatorship is highly reasonable and is welcome too!!

  2. Netaji Files Graphic

    How Mamata Cornered BJP, Congress and Left With Nethaji’s Files – Arup Chanda – The New Indian Express – 20th September 2015

    KOLKATA:The enigmatic life and death of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was a ticking political time bomb. It took over 68 years and 14 governments before West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee detonated it by declassifying 64 Netaji files, which had been lying in the State government archives since 1947. In the explosion, shrapnel has scattered in the direction of the BJP, which was hoping to dethrone her with its Hindutva-Modi mantra in next year’s Assembly polls. It has wounded the Congress, which has been trying to reincarnate itself in the state. It has damaged the Left, Banerjee’s deadliest foe and was sitting on the Netaji files during its rule of over three decades.

    With a single masterstroke, the political artist in Banerjee has repainted the canvas of public discourse in the state, where politics is practiced with a fervour that matches the Bengali veneration for Maradona. The move has had the Trinamool Congress (TMC) workers in a state of euphoria. They feel this political trump card will help them project Didi as a renewed Bengali nationalist. Party strategists say she will be compared with Netaji, as a leader who had the guts to take on the mighty Modi mainframe.

    The Left has little to offer than mere excuses. The fact is that former Left leaders like Jyoti Basu considered Netaji a “Fascist stooge.” The Congress has an uphill task at reincarnation. Nehru is not a figure of veneration in the state. Congress leaders will have a real hard time on election platforms explaining the Nehru government’s spying on Netaji’s family. Banerjee deftly put the BJP on the backfoot by challenging the Modi government to make all files pertaining to Netaji public.

    The BJP banks on the legacy of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who never gained ground in Bengal after the partition, but is known as a saffron leader who respected Netaji. BJP leaders say the party will gain advantage if Modi releases the 130 files and exposes Nehru. Then the party will go for a carpet bombing campaign to win over fish-eating Bengali voters who otherwise consider it a “north Indian vegetarian party”.

    In utmost secrecy, Banerjee had been meticulously planning to make the Netaji files public for the last three months. On July 9, she dropped in at the headquarters of the Forward Bloc, the party founded by Netaji and is now part of the Left Front. She described her call on the FB state general secretary Ashok Ghosh a courtesy visit. However, in their meeting, the plan to declassify the files was discussed.

    Later, Mamata had directed Kolkata Police Commissioner Surajit Kar Purkayastha to bring the original files from the state intelligence branch and special branch headquarters. Senior bureaucrats and trusted intelligence officials pored over the files and pointed out to her, which were the most explosive among them.

    While declassifying the files, Banerjee had said, “Please read word by word and you will know that some people out of sheer fear wanted to be sure of Netaji’s death. They seemed to have been scared if by chance Netaji returned to the country after independence.” It is abundantly clear at whom she was pointing her fingers and since the Congress was in power during that period, she wants to wipe out the already decimated party in West Bengal.

    However, Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharya claimed the files will never have any effect on ballot boxes. CPI(M) politburo member Mohammad Salim insinuates that Mamata and Modi are co-conspirators against the Left and through her, the PM wants to test the Bengal waters. Asked why the CPI(M)-led Left Front which ruled West Bengal for 34 years did not make the files public, he replied: “We had no problem in revealing those files as it was not our government, which ordered surveillance on Netaji’s family members. But three commissions of inquiry were ordered and the hearing of witnesses was going on. As such, there were legal problems to declassify the files.”

    Sources said on Monday at her private studio, Mamata will paint Netaji’s portrait and release its copies. The last stroke of her brush will be painting her comeback. She will soon be, to the dismay of her opponents, transformed from “Didi” to “Netriji”!

  3. Seven calls in eight days from PMO to Bose family – Madhuparna Das – Economic Times Bureau – 19 Sept. 2015,

    KOLKATA: In eight days of Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s announcement about the declassification of 64 Netaji files, Bose family received at least seven calls from the Prime Minister’s Office seeking details of the issues they have planned to discuss with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 14. The family members have also been asked to prepare and send a probable agenda for the meeting.

    Chandra Bose, grandnephew of Netaji Subhas Bose received a call from PMO today too. He was asked to send the list of the people, willing to attend the meeting between PM Modi and Bose family. “We were asked to send an agenda. And they told us that they would call the concerned people to address the issues immediately. They might call the national security adviser and union home secretary too in the meeting. It seems that the Prime Minister is also serious this time,” Chandra Bose told ET.

    He was asked to send the list of the people, willing to attend the meeting between PM Modi and Bose family. “We were asked to send an agenda. And they told us that they would call the concerned people to address the issues immediately. They might call the national security adviser and union home secretary too in the meeting. It seems that the Prime Minister is also serious this time,” Chandra Bose told ET.

    Around 35 members from Bose family and 14 researchers and scholars would be attending the meeting, added Chandra Bose. “The PMO appears to be quite active this time. And they are cooperating with us too. We will request Prime Minister Modi to initiate a probe into the snooping scandal and to write to the British and Russian governments for releasing the files they have in their possession,” added Bose.

    Adding that the human rights of the family were violated for two decades, he said, “We have seen that many letters and communications did not even reach my father Amiya Bose, my uncle Sisir Bose and my grand father Sarat Bose.The letters were retained. The people who used to meet our family members were also under surveillance. My father and grand father were shadowed in foreign countries too. This was the magnitude of the snooping operation.”

    Meanwhile, BJP has taken a stand on declassification of all existing files. “The family members met our national president Amit Shah some days back. And they would be meeting prime Minister too. Our party has, in principle, taken a stand supporting the declassification of all files related to Netaji. But the final call would be taken by the government of India. BJP feels that the nation has right to know about the national hero and what happened to him. With declassification of Netaji files, true colour of many people will come out,” Kailash Vijayvargiya the National General Secretary of BJP told ET.

  4. Netaji Mystery Deepens: 76 Forgotten Files Including 71 Microfilms Left With IB – Yatish Yadav – The Times of India – 20th September 2015

    NEW DELHI: Much of the attention has shifted to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) after West Bengal declassified 64 files on Subhas Chandra Bose on Friday, but 76 files on Netaji and his Indian National Army are still locked away in the Intelligence Bureau headquarters in Delhi.

    Those waiting for a closure with the declassification of 64 files by the Mamata-led government will have to wait a little longer. Apart from 89 files on Netaji — 29 with MEA, 60 with PMO — the IB has 76 files, five files and 71 microfilms, which require microfilm reader to view the documents.

    Not much is known about these documents except that some may be copies of Government Communications Headquarters’ (GCHQ) intelligence reports. GCHQ is a British intelligence and security organisation formed after the First World War. GCHQ’s earlier avatar, GC&CS (as it was known till 1946), was snooping on Netaji, and his activities were recorded and stored in the British agency’s headquarters in Bletchley Park. GC&CS is learnt to have generated volumes of intelligence on Netaji and his close aides, while he was travelling to Germany, Bangkok and Singapore.

    Among the files, sources said one throws light on Netaji’s travel to Bangkok in May, 1945 when he and his associates were carrying gold and diamonds in four boxes. Besides, sources said the IB files might have more information on INA members, and some files could be related to the special operation group that was responsible for surveillance on Netaji. It is not yet clear whether three Commissions of Inquiry set up by governments in 1956, 1970 and 1999 had examined the IB files while authoring their reports on Bose’s mysterious disappearance in 1945.

    There is also reportedly a letter dated May 24, 1949, from Chinese national Hsiang Kuang to Amiya Nath Bose that was intercepted by the IB, in which Kuang quoted a report in a Chinese newspaper claiming that Netaji was alive and kept in a camp in Manchuria. Some files already declassified by the government had suggested another version that Netaji was imprisoned by Russians in Cell No. 45 in Yakutsk, Siberia, where over 516,841 perished under Stalin. Although the Modi government had constituted an inter-ministerial panel to review the Official Secrets Act and decide on declassifying Netaji files, little progress has been made so far. Top sources said they had not examined any files lying with the PMO in the last four-five months.

  5. 12 files on Netaji’s activities between 1941-42 held back – Subhro Niyogi – Times of India – TNN – September 20, 2015

    KOLKATA: The declassification of Netaji files by the Bengal government is revealing more puzzling gaps than it’s solving old ones. It turns out that 12 files placed before the justice Mukherjee Commission between 2001 and 2005 were not declassified on Friday.

    What’s more, 13 files in the Kolkata Police archives, released on Friday, had not been sent to the commission, says a researcher who had deposed before the panel. “I am tallying the files that were sent to the Mukherjee Commission with those that have been declassified. Altogether, 61 files were sent to the panel. The government has now come out with 64 files. But several of them do not match. Among those that have not been declassified are reviews of revolutionary activities of 1941 and 1942 by the Intelligence Branch,” said Jayanta Chowdhury.

    File no. 1621-42 that was not sent to the commission but has now surfaced is marked ‘confidential’ and is on Netaji’s nephew Sisir Kumar Bose. It contains a foreign mail interception memo from the security control office at 3/1 Pretoria Street and is dated July 2, 1953. The intercepted letter was written by Sisir K Bose and addressed to Frau Emilie Schenkl in Vienna. It was posted on June 16, 1953.

    Assistant sub-inspector Becharam Mandal carried out the interception and photographed it before it was delivered. The memo confirms that a copy was kept and its contents forwarded to various intelligence officers, including K S Nair, assistant director of Intelligence Bureau under the home ministry. But the letter is not in the file.

    Chowdhury says the missing letter is extremely significant and should have figured in the file. “There is no plausible reason why the letter went missing unless its contents were considered damaging at a later date and removed from the contents. Had SB officials felt the contents were inappropriate, the note would not have been there at all,” he said.

    An entry in file no. 357-42 has led to a rather curious inconsistency on Netaji’s ‘marriage’ to Emilie Schenkl. Dated May 4, 1946, it contains a weekly survey of intelligence gathering on Netaji. It says: ‘During secret interception, a very interesting letter from one Emilie Schenkl of Vienna addressed to Sarat Chandra Bose was noticed. Emilie Schenkl claims to be the widow of Subhas Chandra Bose… Subhas Bose proposed to her and they were married in January 1942. On November 29, 1942, a daughter was born… The marriage was not registered and was performed according to Hindu rites, on account of the German objection to marriage of Germans with foreigners.’

    Chowdhury points out that in the book ‘Letters to Emilie Schenkl: Netaji Collected Works (vol 7)’, published by Netaji Research Bureau, the editorial footnote by Sisir Bose states that Netaji had secretly married Schenkl on December 26, 1937. “This discrepancy of more than four years is interesting. I wonder which version is correct and how the mistake happened,” he said.

    Chowdhury is also surprised by the relative lack of intelligence reports on the supposed plane crash in which Netaji allegedly died in Taiwan in August 1945. “For someone who was being tracked so assiduously for ‘subversive’ activities and whose family was under surveillance, one expects a lot of reports on the plane crash and how family members, friends and followers reacted to it. But strangely, there is very little on it. Also there is no reference to the ashes. What is seen instead is that after the British government, the state government on the behest of the Centre continues to be extremely active in snooping on Netaji’s family,” he added.

  6. Netaji Files

    Netaji files declassified: 10 things to know – The Times of India – 20 September 2015

    The West Bengal government on Friday declassified 64 files related to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The files were handed to the family members first and also kept on display in a police museum in Kolkata. Here are the 10 key things that these files say about Netaji:

    1. The fine print

    * 64 No. of files on Netaji de-classified

    * 12,744 No. of pages in the 64 files

    * 70 years time it took to make files public

    * 1940 year since when Netaji’s activities tracked as per files

    * 130 files No. of Bose files Centre keeps classified

    2. Howrah CID questioned the Taihoku air crash theory way back in 1949, years before Justice Mukherjee Commission said there was no such plane crash.

    3. State intelligence wing cited reports from British and American agencies raising questions on the plane crash.

    4. One file noted several rumours of Netaji dying in plane crashes, that first began surfacing in 1942 and continued till 1944.

    5. First rumour that Netaji had died in an air crash on Japanese shores in March 1942.

    6. Reuters reported this “crash”. Netaji’s elder brother Sarat Bose talked to Netaji in Bangkok the same day, trashed the report.

    7. Madaripur Jugantar Party used a transmitter to speak to Netaji after rumour began. Bose was in Bangkok.

    8. Hindusthan Standard, a newspaper published in Kolkata, quashed the 1942 crash theory, refused to write obituary.

    9. An entry shows Hindusthan Standard was in wireless communication with Japanese occupied territory.

    10. Files note a report that says Taiwan authorities denied the plane crash at Taihoku airport on August 18, 1945.

  7. Moti Lal Nehru & Subhas Chandra Bose

    Netaji and India’s dictatorship urge – Nalin Mehta – The Times of India – September 19, 2015, 12:11 PM IST

    The mystery of Subhas Chandra Bose has been among great unsolved mysteries of India. Mamata Banerjee’s declassification of 64 Netaji files has just made it even more tantalizing. In one bold stroke Didi has got his family on her side, stolen a march over Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had personally promised to look into the matter and re-ignited a decades-old whodunit.

    Whether Netaji was a Stalinist prisoner who returned as Gumnani Baba and whether Nehru’s government made a deal on him can only be answered from the files. On 14 December 2014, minister of state for home Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha that 87 top secret Netaji files could not be declassified because they are of “sensitive nature” that could be a problem for “India’s relations with other countries”.

    The Netaji legend has also endured for so long because of what he represented as an alternative future for India — a muscular, “manly” counterpoise to dominance of Gandhian ahimsa and Nehruvian morality that defined the nationalist movement and post-independence India.

    There is a reason why stickers of revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad still adorn most trucks and many car-windscreens. While most Indians followed Gandhi, many were equally ashamed at the notion of non-violence that was seen by many nationalist streams as too “effeminate”. Bose and his Indian National Army, in that sense, represented the martial valour of India in service of the nation.

    Netaji loved dressing up like a general (even when he was the head of the Congress) and had dictatorial tendencies.

    His 1935 book ‘Indian Struggle’ argued for a political system that was a mix of fascism and communism. In a 1943 speech in Singapore, Bose specifically called for a “iron dictator” who would rule over India “for 20 years.” “There must be a dictatorship” he argued, “No other constitution can flourish in this country and it is so to India’s good that she shall be ruled by a dictator, to begin with …”

    Many middle-class Indians still yearn for a strongman who can cut through the messiness of democracy and deliver governance. Netaji endures because while being a great patriot, he could also have filled in the blanks in that fantasy and for what could have been.

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