It’s more than 70 years and so many questions still remain unanswered. We need answers and we need that soon.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose has found an enduring place in the hearts and minds of his people. It is now seventy-two years since Netaji disappeared. it is alleged that he died in an air crash in Taipei (then Formosa) on August 18, 1945. But questions remain.
On August 16, 1945, the Japanese who had been Netaji’s allies in South-East Asia during the Second World War and had supported him to form and arm the Indian National Army to fight the British on their eastern front, were escorting Netaji to safety. The Second World War was effectively over by then with the defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945, and the surrender of Japan on August 15, 1945, following the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945.
The mystery surrounding what really happened to Netaji after August 18, 1945, continues to challenge us despite three official inquiries. The official Japanese report of the incident is that there was indeed an air crash on August 18, 1945 and Netaji died as a result of third degree burns that he sustained when the said military aircraft caught fire on hitting the ground from a height of about a hundred feet as reported by Habib-ur Rahman and other so-called eye-witnesses.
Some passengers, including Habib-ur Rahman, survived. It is indeed possible for passengers to survive if an aircraft comes down from a height of about 100 feet. Unfortunately Netaji according to the Japanese report, was alive after the crash, but he succumbed to the serious burns that he suffered in escaping from the burning aircraft.
It’s more than 70 years and so many questions still remain unanswered.
There have been to date three official inquiries into the so-called disappearance of Netaji. According to the first two – the Shah Nawaz Committee (1956) and the Khosla Commission (1970), Netaji had died in the alleged air crash on August 18, 1945. According to the findings of the third inquiry namely, the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry (2006), there was no plane crash and therefore Netaji could not have died in the alleged plane crash.
You must all be aware of the decision taken by Prime Minster Narendra Modi last year to declassify all files relating to Netaji in the custody of the government of India and release them to the public domain. PM Modi, true to his promise made to the Bose family and the people of India, released all the said files on January 23, 2016. The national archives of India has been given the responsibility to digitalise all the files and place them on their website. they have been doing so almost every month since last year. Anyone interested to access these files can go to www.netajifiles.gov.in.
I will come back to the topic of the current status of declassification of Netaji files and the surrounding controversies after I have spoken to you about Netaji – the man.
Among the pantheon of leaders that we have seen over 100 years of India’s struggle for independence, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose stands out. With the passing of years, the charisma and the magnetism of Netaji have not faded, but grown and spread especially among the younger generations.
What is heartening is that Netaji has found a permanent place in the imagination of the people despite active efforts on the part of various Congress regimes to erase the man and his role from the historical record. School textbooks include at best a brief and cursory mention of the role Netaji played in the struggle for independence.
It is time for us to rectify such distortions of history. We need to fully document the impact of the Indian National Army, the first and only revolutionary army of India which led the final assault on the British Empire from the eastern front.
The profound impact that the trial of the INA officers had on the British Indian armed forces and the revolutionary fervour that it unleashed is hardly known. Our current historians have ignored such facts of history. In fact, foreign scholars have done more in this regard. For example, Joyce Lebra, an American scholar, in her book The Indian National Army and Japan writes – “Despite the military defeat of Japan and with it the INA, popular support for the INA ultimately helped precipitate British withdrawal from India.”
Here is an American scholar who is recognising the critical role of the INA in our freedom struggle which most Indian historians, with the exception of a few such as Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, have not done.
Indian historians, many of whom claim to be Nehruvians, have unashamedly written a biased history of India. I feel compelled at this stage to mention that Gandhi, Nehru and Patel collectively failed to deliver a free and united India which Netaji and his brother-in-arms, Sarat Chandra Bose, had worked towards all their lives from the 1920s. From the war front in Burma, Netaji appealed to the Mahatma not to give into partition which would only bring disaster. Even as Partition plans were being made later in 1947, Sarat Chandra Bose fought a lone battle to save the unity of India and Bengal. He failed. The result – endless conflict in our region. Subhas Chandra Bose was in all senses a man ahead of his time – a statesman whose attributes and achievements resonate to this day. Allow me to draw your attention to just a few remarkable aspects of his personality:
• Subhas Chandra Bose was a man of vision – of a free and independent India where all its peoples regardless of religion, caste, gender or creed would enjoy the benefits of the resources and wealth of mother India, where every person would have enough to eat and every child would attend school. His Haripura address is just one of many statements to this vision.
• His courage and fearlessness are legendary. He once wrote – “fearlessness in thought and action is to me is the supreme virtue in life”. And throughout his life, Subhas Bose showed absolute fearlessness both in a moral and physical sense.
• His moral courage was expressed early on when he took responsibility for what has come to be known as the “Oaten incident” and was rusticated from Presidency College. His moral courage was again evident when he threw away a promising career in the Indian Civil Service because he felt he could not serve two masters – the British rulers and his motherland.
• Netaji’s fearlessness had no limits. He took off from Calcutta, while under house arrest, on a long and perilous journey right across India, Afghanisthan via Moscow to Germany, determined to enlist foreign assistance to fight for India’s freedom. Again, his submarine journey from Germany back to South-East Asia during the height of the second world war is a death-defying exploit.
• During what was undoubtedly a most dangerous voyage on the high seas in the stifling environment of a submarine, Netaji was reportedly calm and stoic throughout the journey. His aide Abid Hasan has spoken about how Netaji continued to reflect and strategise about his dream of a free India while they travelled under the seas.
• Again we find, in retreat from Burma with the advancing Anglo-American army, Netaji shared the immense hardships of his soldiers of the Indian National Army. Netaji personally ensured that the soldiers of the Rani of Jhansi regiment were able to safely navigate their way through the jungles back to Thailand and to their homes. Netaji had a choice to travel in an army vehicle but chose to walk with the “Ranis”.
• He never shied away from what he believed in. He did not hesitate to stand up for what he thought was right, whether towards the British authorities, his jailors in India and in Mandalay, and later in his dealings with the Japanese Imperial Army generals when he did not agree with them.
• Even with the Mahatma himself over the fundamental issue of the use of force to achieve Indian independence, Subhas Bose stood his ground. And the Mahatma respected Subhas Bose for it. Of their final meeting, Subhas Bose reported (Indian struggle) – “If his (Subhas’) efforts to win freedom for India succeeded – then his (Gandhi’s) telegram of congratulation would be the first that he (Subhas) would receive”.
• Netaji was a man of action, a dynamic and utterly committed life force who inspired all who came in contact with him. This was the man who in the short space of less than a year returned from Europe to Asia, negotiated at the highest levels of the Japanese government, revived the Indian National Army, formed the provisional government of Azad Hind, and led the INA as supreme commander in a battle against the Anglo-American forces on the Indo-Burmese front.
• The energy, commitment and sheer perseverance of this man were seemingly inexhaustible, and remain as an inspiration to this day.
• Finally, for today, Netaji was a champion of gender equality and saw in Indian women much more than the traditional and time-honoured roles of running households and raising children. As a young man, Subhas Bose had supported CR Das in calls by the Swaraj Party of the early 1920s, for women to have not only the right to vote, but to be able to do so at a younger age than males.
He believed passionately that women had a vital role to play in the political, economic and social life of India. Perhaps his crowning achievement in this respect was the formation of the all-female Rani of Jhansi regiment of the INA. It is now time to bring closure to the mystery as to what happened to Netaji after August 18, 1945.
To do this, I, on behalf of the Bose family and all those who have been part of the declassification campaign, have appealed to the government of India, particularly to Prime Minister Modi, to release all remaining files in the custody of the government, including intelligence files which can help us to get to the truth. We have also urged our government to request the governments of Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom to release whatever information they might hold about Subhas Chandra Bose. Netaji was in Japanese care in August 1945, and so we must appeal to the Japanese government to provide whatever additional information they may hold which might help to reach a closure.
It is now more than 70 years since Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was reported to have died in a plane crash when he was on the way to Manchuria via Tokyo. Questions still remain. We need answers and we need that soon.
The artcile appeared in the Daily O