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Netaji plane crash: An enigma that continues to haunt

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

By Anurag Dey

Kolkata, Did Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose die of third-degree burns on August 18, 1945, after his plane crashed in Formosa (now Taiwan) or did he survive and escape to Siberia? Or was the “‘crash”‘a mere hoax to help him flee to safety? The questions have been haunting, agitating and engaging Indians, in particular Bengalis, for 70 years, but the mystery endures even today.


A section of Netaji’s descendants, including his daughter Anita Pfaff, as also some Indian National Army (INA) veterans, hold that the revolutionary leader perished in the accident and his ashes have been interred at Tokyo’s Renkoji temple.

But a large number of Netaji’s admirers, researchers and family members don’t buy the theory.

During her visit to Kolkata in 2013, Pfaff said she was convinced that he died when the Mitsubishi Ki-21 Japanese heavy bomber Netaji boarded at Saigon with his close aide Col. Habibur Rahman on August 17, 1945, purportedly to shift base to the erstwhile Soviet Union and continue his fight for India’s independence, crashed in Japanese-occupied Formosa.

“It would be the perfect homecoming for him if the ashes are brought to India. His ashes should be immersed in the river Ganges,” Pfaff had said.

Netaji’s grand nephew and Harvard University professor Sugata Bose is another big votary of the crash theory and has detailed his viewpoint in his book ‘His Majesty’s Opponent’. Bose bases his arguments on “overwhelming evidence”, citing the testimony of six of the seven survivors of the crash as also that of doctors and paramedics who treated Netaji at the Taipei Military Hospital.

The Indian government’s three attempts to unravel the mystery by constituting probe panels – Shah Nawaz Khan Committee (1956), G D Khosla Committee (1970) and the Justice M K Mukehrjee Commission which submitted its report in 2006 have only fueled the debate.

While the first two panels concluded Bose perished in the Taipei crash, the Mukherjee Commission debunked the theory. The government however debunked the Mukherjee Commission’s findings.

Researcher and author Anuj Dhar stands by the Mukherjee Commission.

“Both to the Mukherjee Commission as well as in letters written to me, the Taiwan authorities have stated that according to their records, no plane crash occurred on Aug 18, 1945”.

“There are many secret files that can prove the air crash theory was planted by the Japanese and Netaji to facilitate his escape to Russia.”

Lakshmi Sahgal, nee Swaminathan, who led the all-woman Rani Jhansi Regiment of the INA, supported the crash theory.

She claimed in an interview in 2005 that the Japanese had destroyed all records before their surrender after losing the second World War.

“As far as the Taiwan government’s denial of any air crash during that period on its soil is concerned, all I can say is that the Japanese had destroyed all records. They did not want one bit of paper to fall into the hands of the Allied forces that could prove as evidence for wartime crimes.,” Sahgal had said.

The answer to the enigma, many believe, lies hidden in scores of secret government files.

Besides Dhar and his Mission Netaji, a host of Netaji’s descendants have been demanding publication of over 100 such files claimed to be in possession of various departments of the central government including the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and 64 classified documents with the West Bengal government.

“All information on record – from Indian, Japanese, British and Taiwanese sources – is unambiguous that the man who died in the Nanmon military hospital in Taihoku (Taipei) in August 1945 was a Japanese soldier named Ichiro Okura,” said Dhar.

Netaji’s grand-nephew Chandra Kumar Bose concurred.

“There are several secret Japanese government dossiers that are lying with the Indian government where Okura has been named. Okura’s name appears in the official records accessed by various authorities.

Col. Rahman, a survivor of the alleged crash, recounting the last hours of Netaji Bose before the Shah Nawaz panel, affirmed he died at a hospital after the crash. But Dhar and Chandra Kumar claim Col. Rahman was only following Netaji’s orders.

“Colonel Rahman’s interrogation reports, declassified in 1997, clearly state that he had not told the truth. In fact, in close quarters including the Bose family, he had confided that he did so following Netaji’s orders,” said Dhar.

Netaji’s elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose had questioned Col. Rahman and rejected his crash theory.

“Sarat Chandra Bose rejected Col. Rahman’s crash theory after questioning for hours,” Chandra Kumar said, quoting his father and Sarat Bose’s son Amiya Nath.

Besides, Sarat Bose had also come across American intelligence reports saying Netaji safely reached Manchuria in China bordering the USSR.

“Justice Radha Binode Pal of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East had told Sarat Bose about American intelligence report that was shown to him by an American judge at the tribunal. The report clearly stated that Netaji safely reached Manchuria on August 18, 1945,” Chandra Kumar maintained.


Next Story

The Mainstreaming of Netaji

Politics is about legacy. It is a constant. But political choices are like the swing of a pendulum

Subhas Chandra Bose wikimedia.commons

By Ananda Majumdar

It is impossible to delink a political motive from the revival of Subhas Chandra Bose under the NDA. The result, however, goes beyond politics. The discourse around him, even though pushed by the ruling party, has led to the mainstreaming of Netaji and given him a far bigger stage than the one he has generally had as one of the icons of the freedom movement from Bengal.

What had started with the declassification of a part of the Netaji papers has now reached full momentum with the opening of the Netaji Museum in the Kranti Mandir complex at the Red Fort. For his followers, this is a sort of rehabilitation. He is back on centre-stage in the national discourse, and that includes on the social media, the pre-eminent medium of communication in the digital age. Even Congressmen suggesting that there were no major differences between him on the one side and Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi on the other only succeed in keeping him on the national stage.

Bose is a good vehicle to use in the effort to reinstall icons from the Congress party and outside overshadowed by the Nehru-Gandhis and the Mahatma. His views led to the formation of the Leftist Forward Bloc but that does not make him an untouchable for India’s Rightwing. His obvious nationalism, and a militaristic approach to it, make him a ready-favourite. One of his most-quoted lines, “Give me blood and I shall give you freedom,” from his speech to the Indian National Army in Burma in 1944 is the kind of stuff that drives the Rightwing. His life story gives a dimension that is more substantive than merely placing him in the space opposite Gandhi and Nehru and other Gandhian acolytes. In that sense he gets a heads-up when compared to say, Bhagat Singh, the other Leftist icon of the freedom movement.

Gandhi and Bose in a train compartment, 1937. Photo: Netaji Research Bureau.

More than politics and ideology, the key words while referring to Bose are nationalism and patriotism. Taking up his cause helps the ruling party to score high on the patriotism index. This is one of the legs on which the BJP’s push for new constituencies stands – the others being a wave of welfare populism signified in the budget, talking Bharat ahead of India, and finding ways to ensure its upper caste vote which is illustrated in the move for quota in the general category.

Whether the pursuit of Bose and his legacy by the BJP will polarise the vote bank is an open question. In West Bengal where it is hoping to win at least 20 seats, and the Prime Minister has campaigned aggressively, the party has been moving in stages. There was an elaborate, almost ritualistic celebration of Swami Vivekananda, and Modi has made no secret of the fact that he has been an avid reader of Vivekananda’s teachings. Once again, social media has highlighted this. That apart, there has been an attempt to introduce ‘shastra pujan’, or a worship of weapons, a practice that did not originate in the state. The common thread running through these is nationalism/patriotism.

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Taking up Bose and Vivekananda in Bengal is a bit like selling coal to Newcastle. So it is doubtful whether they alone will bring in new voters for the BJP. But it is part of an overall package as mentioned earlier. The state is certainly providing the setting for a definitive electoral battle. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has positioned herself at the vanguard of the anti-Modi alliance. The recent all-party meet in Kolkata has shown that. The BJP has matched that with a campaign strategy to up its presence in the state, and that is going to increase in the lead-up to the Lok Sabha elections. If the vote count in Uttar Pradesh will have a bearing on the constitution of the next Lok Sabha, the polls in Bengal will provide the setting for the ideological battle between the two sides.

Politics is about legacy. It is a constant. But political choices are like the swing of a pendulum. They move from one extreme to the other. A liberal discourse ruled for a long time. There is now a course correction towards the Right. It has come more than 90 years since the formation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh by K.B. Hedgewar in 1925 and over 60 years since the Bharatiya Jana Sangh was founded by Syama Prasad Mookerjee in 1951. The mainstreaming of Netaji becomes relevant in this context. Whether or not the Rightwing discourse is the dominant one will not be determined by the Lok Sabha polls because of the number of factors involved in the world’s largest democracy. But it will be a key determining factor. (IANS)