By Nithin Sridhar
Subhas Chandra Bose, who was popularly referred as “Netaji” was one of the most outstanding and tallest leaders of India’s freedom struggle. He was one of the first to give a call for “Poorna Swaraj” (complete freedom) for India. Bose, then revamped the Indian National Army (INA) to fight against the British and formed “Provisional Government of Free India” in Andaman and Nicobar islands with the help of the Japanese.
On 18-August-1945, after the Japanese had accepted unconditional surrender in the World War 2, Subhas Chandra Bose is believed to have died from third-degree burns when his plane crashed in Taiwan.
This has been the accepted version of the events, and accordingly India has been observing his death anniversary on 18-August. Over the last few years, this account of his death has been repeatedly questioned. There is an increasing pressure on the government to release all the classified files about Netaji Bose, so that the truth about his disappearance is brought out into the open.
This year would be his 70th death anniversary, if he had really died on that fateful day. On this occasion, NewsGram spoke to Chandrachur Ghose of “Mission Netaji” in an exclusive interview about the various mysteries surrounding Netaji’s disappearance and the current status of research on the issue.
Mission Netaji is a registered trust in New Delhi, which has been unearthing and piecing together various documents and information regarding Netaji’s life and disappearance.
Nithin Sridhar: Exactly 70 years ago, on this day, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose is supposed to have died in a plane crash in Taiwan. For the last few years, you, AnujDhar and others in Mission Netaji have unearthed various documents and evidences, which raise many serious questions about the supposed death of Netaji. Can you share about the origins of Mission Netaji? And elaborate more on how this interest in unearthing Netaji files started?
Chandrachur Ghose: Mission Netaji originated as an online discussion group around 2004. It was the time when the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry was nearing the completion of its investigation into Netaji’s mysterious disappearance. The group comprised of a bunch of young professionals as well as students in their 20s and early 30s spread across several countries who were following the Commission’s work very closely.
Even before the Commission’s report was out, Anuj Dhar – who was then a journalist with the Hindustan Times, and part of the group – published his first book on the mystery, “Back from the Dead: Inside the Subhas Bose Mystery”. We were captivated by the findings, which clearly established that Bose did not die in the alleged plane crash in 1945, and might have been compelled to live incognito till much later.
We hoped that if a journalist could wade through the complex web of facts to reach that conclusion, it should not be difficult for a former Chief Justice of a High Court (Justice MK Mukherjee, heading the commission) to establish the same. But soon we found out that we had underestimated the powers of the Government.
Justice Mukherjee was denied access to documents, had to face opposition in visiting Taiwan and Russia, and there were rumors that forensic tests were tampered with. Despite these obstacles, Justice Mukherjee clearly showed the absurdity of the story of plane crash which supposedly killed Bose and said that the ashes being preserved at the Renkoji Temple in Japan are not of Netaji.
Our hopes were soon dashed as the Government rejected his findings without giving any reason. Even the parliamentary debate that followed was unceremoniously cut down. We found that the case had reached a dead end, and realized that unless we take it upon ourselves, the report would be buried and forgotten in no time.
This realization led us (Anuj Dhar, Sayantan Dasgupta, Sreejith Panickar, Vishal Sharma, Vinay Yadav and Arijit Choudhury) to give a formal shape to Mission Netaji by setting it up as a trust, with the objective of taking forward the investigation and to disseminate the information amongst the people.
NS: Though there are multiple theories about what happened to him later, do you believe it can be established beyond doubt that, Netaji did not die in that plane crash in 1945?
CG: It can certainly be established if all files and documents – those with the Ministries, with the intelligence agencies and in Prime Minister’s custody – are declassified.
It can be established if the Indian government seriously asks foreign governments (such as Russia, UK and the US) to share all secret documents they are holding on this issue. At present, let alone asking other governments to share information, the government of India is not even ready to disclose its correspondence with Russia on this matter.
NS: Can you summarize your findings so far regarding disappearance of Netaji in 1945? What is the current status of your investigations? Any latest development?
CG: The three key conclusions we have reached through our past decade of investigations are: (i) there is no question of Netaji’s death in Taiwan on 18 August 1945, (ii) probably he obtained asylum in the erstwhile Soviet Union, and (iii) the evidence which has surfaced in Faizabad is too serious to negate the possibility of Netaji’s return to India and living incognito.
Our latest finding was the discovery that the Indian Government was snooping on Bose family members till the late 1960s, perhaps even later. A lot of the information collected by the Intelligence Bureau was also shared with the British intelligence in the initial years post freedom. No Government would undertake such surveillance for a dead man.
NS: How has your journey been till now, in your perusal of Netaji’s disappearance? What were the challenges that you faced? How was the attitude of government and other administrative officials? Were they sympathetic or did they show indifference regarding the Netaji issue?
CG: When we formed Mission Netaji, our plan was to bring out all documents related to the mystery into the public domain. At that time, almost all documents (except some INA files declassified by the Vajpayee Government) related to the mystery were secret. The Right to Information Act, which was legislated in 2005, gave us the means to try and obtain those documents.
In addition to the Indian Government, we have contacted the US and UK Governments as well to bring out the relevant documents. While the various ministries of the Indian Government have declassified some documents and sent them to the National Archives in response to our campaign (especially, documents related to the Shah Nawaz Committee, GD Khosla Commission and the Justice Mukherjee Commission) they still hold a huge number of files which they have refused to declassify.
According to a former Home Secretary, declassification of these documents will lead to serious law and order problem within the country and will impact India’s relations with foreign countries. The current NDA Government is continuing with the legacy of the previous governments, although in private most politicians and bureaucrats disbelieve the plane crash story.
NS: Many theories and arguments have been forwarded regarding the fate of Netaji by those who believe he did not die during the plane crash. These include Netaji voluntarily hiding in Russia, Netaji being imprisoned and dying in Siberia, Netaji living as one Sri Saradanandaji in North Bengal, or Netaji living as Gumnami Baba in Uttar Pradesh. You both have studied and researched extensively on each of these possibilities. In your personal opinion based on all your research, which option or options appear as most probable? Or are the evidences in each case not sufficient enough to draw any such inferences?
CG: Many hypotheses were brought forward to the last two commissions of inquiry – the GD Khosla Commission and the MK Mukherjee Commission. Broadly these covered three areas – Netaji’s death prior to independence (but not in the plane crash), his incarceration in Russia followed by his murder, and his return to India and living as a Sadhu. While some claimed that he was eliminated by the Japanese, others claimed that he was brought back to India by the British on the eve of independence and shot dead in the Red Fort. There have been many anecdotes related to Netaji’s presence and ultimately death in Russia.
There have been an equal number of ‘baba’ theories claiming that he came back to India and lived under the guise of a holy man – the most famous of them being the Shaulmari case. However, none of the proponents of these hypotheses have been able to provide a shred of evidence in support of their claims. In the case of the Shaulmari Sadhu, the intelligence agencies followed him till his death in the 1970s and those documents conclusively prove that he was anyone but Subhas Bose. These documents, incidentally, are still classified.
Although it appears rational, given the flow of events and on the basis of other circumstantial evidence, that Netaji did indeed reach Russia, there is no documentary evidence to support the claim that he was eliminated either by Stalin or by Krushchev. The only hypothesis which is backed by some material evidence is that of the holy man of Faizabad who used to be addressed by his followers as Bhagwanji (Gumnami Baba).
As a result, the Uttar Pradesh High Court has asked the Government to investigate into the identity of this mysterious man who lived at various places in Uttar Pradesh for nearly three decades.
NS: Now, this question is purely subjective. In your investigations, have you come across any evidence or any pointers that reveal any probable reasons for Netaji living incognito in India? If we were to assume for a moment, that Netaji indeed returned to India and lived as a Sadhu, have you come across anything that reveals probable reasons behind his choice to live incognito as a Sadhu and not get involved in the politics of Independent India?
CG: Any attempt to answer this question will be no better than speculation. We haven’t been able to see all the material evidence related to Bhagwanji. Most of his material belongings are packed in large trunks now under lock and key at the Treasury at Faizabad. What we have been able to scrutinize till now are some documents retrieved by the Mukherjee Commission and some additional notes and letters preserved by his disciples and associates.
Although he is reported to have said that “My coming out is not in the interest of India,” and that he had undergone a complete metamorphosis of personality, we are not in a position to say with any certainty what exactly were the reasons for his remaining incognito.
To solve this mystery, we have asked the Government to set up a multi-disciplinary special investigation team working under the supervision of a sitting High Court or Supreme Court judge. The team should include former and current intelligence officers, historians, bureaucrats and members of the civil society.
NS: Various Bose’s family members have met Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding declassifying the files. Modi himself has reiterated time and again his commitment to Bose issue. But, what is the status on the ground? Have there been any concrete steps from the government regarding the issue? Do you believe NDA government is really serious about the issue or are they also toeing the same line as previous UPA governments?
CG: Members of the Bose family, led by the family spokesperson, Chandra Bose met Narendra Modi on this issue both before his election as the Prime Minister and later. Surya Bose, son of Netaji’s nephew Amiya Nath Bose also met the PM in Germany.
On all occasions, Mr. Modi has given the family a sympathetic hearing and has assured action. Prior to the elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders also demanded that papers related to Netaji should be released and that investigations should be taken forward to establish the fate of Netaji.
There has been, however, little action on the ground. If there is any intent, we are yet to see any reflection of it in the PM’s actions.
NS: Have you chalked out any plans in near future to pressurize the government to declassify all information regarding Netaji?
CG: Being a pressure group, we can only continue to generate awareness, network with opinion-makers and bring out new information from various sources, in order to build the pressure of public opinion.
The print and electronic media will have a big role to play in this. If the governments are indifferent, only the pressure of public opinion in a democratic polity can force them to act. The level of awareness and the quality and quantity of debates taking place in the social media are very different from what they were a decade ago.
It has taken us a decade to reach this stage, but we hope it will take lesser time to reach the next stage where the Government is compelled to take note of the campaign and take concrete steps. Apart from this, we are trying to utilize the RTI Act to bring out more information in the public domain. Approaching the judiciary is also under consideration.
NS: Do you believe that there is a nation-wide consensus that the government should declassify Netaji files?
CG: There is no doubt about the consensus on the issue of declassification. Even those who tend to believe that Netaji died in 1945 have come out in support of the declassification campaign. Transparency is a principle of good governance and we don’t think anyone buys the absurd claims that releasing these documents will harm India in any way.