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Mainstream, VOL LII No 50, December 6, 2014

Whatever happened to Netaji?

Sunday 7 December 2014, by Apratim Mukarji



The Search for Netaji: New Findings by Purabi Roy; Purple Peacock Books and Arts Pvt. Ltd., Kolkata; Rs 430.00.

One enquiry committee and two commissions have so far probed the reported death of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose at the Taihoku airport in Formosa (Taipei) on August 18, 1945, appointed at different times by three Indian governments. Their reports were placed in Parliament in 1956, 1974 and 2006, and yet nobody seems to be sure of how the intrepid Indian actually died.

Even more strangely, while the reports of both the Shah Nawaz Committee and the Justice G.D. Khosla (Retd.) Commission—confirming Netaji’s death at Taihoku—were accepted by the government of the day but largely rejected by the people of the country, the government once more found it necessary to have yet another examination of the matter and appointed the Justice M. K. Mukherjee (Retd.) Commission in 1999 for the purpose. Then, something still more puzzling happened. When the third probe body reported its conclusion that Netaji did not die at Taihoku, the government of the day—the first UPA Government—rejected it but did not care to explain why.

The Action Taken Memorandum (ATM) of the government is remarkable for its lack of transparency. It reads: “The government has examined the report submitted by the Commission on November 8, 2005 in detail and (has) not agreed with the findings that Netaji did not die in the plane crash and the ashes in the Renkoji Temple were not of Netaji.”

Prof Dr Purabi Roy, formerly of the Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University, who has pursued the mystery of Netaji’s death for over fifteen years and has finally come out with this startling publication, makes a very pertinent comment referring to the ATM: “It would be of immense importance had the government made a statement explaining the reasons behind its disagreement: with the findings of the (Mukherjee) Commission: (a) Netaji did not die in the plane crash, and (b) the ashes in the Renkoji Temple were not of Netaji. But there was no such statement, and thus the issue still remains unresolved. The debates and controversies still continue.”

However, Roy does much more than introducing this query. After one reads her book, it becomes impossible to remain content with the Indian Government’s position that Netaji indeed died at the Taihoku airport, and that was the end of his life. With the transition of the Soviet Union to today’s Russian Federation, it is no longer feasible to take shelter behind the traditional plea that the Soviet and Russian archives are not accessible. It is now absolutely up to the Indian Government to persuade the Russian Government to allow Indian and Russian scholars to continue the search for truth in this matter. Obviously, the stake for India is very high; Indians are definitely eager to learn the circumstances in which Subhas Chandra Bose died.

The Bose family, of course, never accepted the British Indian and Indian governments’ conten-tion that Netaji died of burns at the Taihoku airport on August 18, 1945. The All India Forward Bloc also doggedly pursued all available avenues to persuade the government to change its mind and carry out a serious investigation. Indian and foreign scholars and the media also periodically raised doubts about the veracity of the account of the incident at Taihoku, but nothing much came out of this listless campaign. The Mukherjee Commission report was the first serious blow to New Delhi’s determined opposition to reopen the case; yet, the Indian Government has so far succeeded in stonewalling the demand for investigating the truth about Netaji’s death.

The best way to learn what Roy has put together in her book is to read it. She has gathered a host of documents, entirely from primary sources, facilitated by her proficiency in the Russian language, and laid them out for her readers to delve into and ponder. There is no analysis and the author’s effort clearly is to present the documents (all for the first time), and urge scholars to pursue the case further. The effect, therefore, is of ushering readers into the Soviet and Russian, British and Indian archives and letting them discover one startling fact after another for themselves. The impact is electrifying, to say the least.

If one discounts the 66-year-old theory that Netaji died at Taihoku, the next logical question is: what then happened to him? The author quotes a number of references indicating or implying that he actually left for the Soviet Russia on August 18, 1945. The National Herald, Delhi, reported for the first time on December 31, 1945 that Bose was in the Soviet Union. Earlier in the book, she shows that Bose’s original plan was to escape to the USSR from Calcutta and not to Berlin where he eventually landed. Later on, readers come across documents showing that while leading the Indian National Army in South-East Asia, Bose pursued his plan to travel to Moscow to obtain Soviet help in continuing his war against the British Indian Government. The documents unearthed by Roy indicate Bose’s continuing quest for collaboration with the USSR, reinforced by Japan’s impending defeat at the hands of the Allied Forces (September 1945). He was focussed on establishing contact with the Soviet ambassador in Tokyo, Adam Malik, for the purpose.

Even if Bose succeeded in reaching the USSR, the mystery over his eventual fate remains. Roy shows how studiously the Soviet and Russian scholars had for long kept the subject of Netaji out of their orbit, and how latterly one scholar after another began to venture into the seemingly taboo subject. The initially hesitant research has since borne a few highly stimulating results, some of which are mentioned in the book. Still, a full-throttle research is nowhere in sight, and can only be undertaken if the concerned governments—the Russian, British, Japanese and Indian—act honestly and permit access to all the relevant documents.

Meanwhile, just to whet the readers’ appetite, Roy says: “...all the indicators now point to a Russian role behind his disappearance...The story of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s post-18 August , 1945 life and eventual death is probably locked up in some archive in Russia or in any of the former republics that made up the Soviet Union.” While hoping that intrepid and hard-working scholars will be pursuing the case, we can only question when the truth will be out and wait for the day. 

Apratim Mukarji is an analyst of South and Central Asian affairs.

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