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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 35, New Delhi, August 14, 2021

Mystery over Netaji Subash Chandra’s death Lingers | Rajaram Panda

Friday 13 August 2021, by Rajaram Panda


by Rajaram Panda

It is almost established that Netaji Subash Chandra Bose died in a plane crash in Taihoku, the present day Taipei, Taiwan, on 18 August 1945. However, conspiracy theories appeared within hours of his death, which persisted for decades and kept alive various martial myths about Bose. Many of his supporters in India and elsewhere refused at the time to believe the fact or the circumstances of his death. What has transpired from credible sources that Subash died of third-degree burns on 18 August 1945 after the overloaded bomber in which he was being transported by the Japanese crashed in Taihoku.

Subash was marginalized within Congress in his own country and was a target for British surveillance. He chose to embrace the fascist powers as allies against the British and fled India, first to Hitler’s Germany, then, on a German submarine, to the Japanese-occupied Singapore. Where he was going in the bomber and who else were in the same bomber became the centre of controversy. Though plenty of written works are available on his death and many more shall be appearing in the future, offering various and sometimes conflicting versions, one work by an Indian journalist Harin Shah from the Bombay-based Free Press Journal who visited Taiwan within a year of Netaji’s purported death and wrote a small book (Verdict from Formosa: Gallant End of Netaji (Atam Ram &Sons, 1956), pp.158) containing plenty of insights from first-hand information has not received the desired attention.

Having spoken to many persons such as the nurse, Sister Tsan Pi Sha who took care of Subash in the South-Gate Military Hospital and was by Netaji’s side till his death, the Chief the Taipeh City Health and Hygiene Bureau Dr. Kaw King Yen, the keeper of the crematorium who cremated Netaji’s body Chu Tsung, some students and many more, his observations are revealing. The nurse in the hospital was candid even to the point of pointing at the bed in which Bose breathed his last. She also confirmed by showing the cot that was occupied by Netaji’s companion Col. Habibur Rehman. It was Habib who took the ashes of Netaji to Tokyo.

Though there was no dispute on Netaji’s death in the plane crash and severe burn, Dr. Kaw offered a different perspective as to the origin of the accident. He was of the belief that Netaji wanted to proceed to Soviet Russia and that the Japanese did not want him escape to Russia. Dr. Kaw held the theory that the Japanese deliberately dived the plane soon after it had taken off from the airport with the intention to kill him. Though Shah tried to gauge the basis of his conclusion by probing further, Dr. Kaw could not throw further light. His theory seems to be based more on speculation and personal belief. But there are more reasons that could testify to Dr. Kaw’s suspicion to be true. But the information provided by Shah in his observation that Japanese military officers because of their anxiety advised the Director of the Bureau to cremate Netaji’s body and keep this confidential gives room for suspicion. For example, Sister Tsan Pi Sha who was at Netaji’s bedside when he breathed his last had no clue when and where Netaji was cremated. Shah felt that local Japanese authorities were acting under acute tension and confusion to surrender. He observes: “It is possible they were acting on orders from Tokyo.” Even Col Habibur Rehman’s suggestion to shift the body either to Singapore or Tokyo was turned down by the Japanese.

As mystery deepened on the issue of Netaji’s death, he Indian government constituted several investigative commissions to go to the truth of Netaji’s death. There was the Figgess Report (1946), Shah Nawaz Committee (1956), Khosla Commission (1970), Mukherjee Commission (2005) and Japanese government report (1956) which was declassified in September 2016. The findings of all these committees and commissions created more controversies than concrete results. None of them was able to decode the mystery of Netaji’s disappearance. The mystery continued until people in India had to accept that Netaji died in Taiwan. Like the recognition accorded by Japan to Justice Radha Binod Pal by creating a memorial at Yasukuni Shrine, Netaji has also his pride of place in Japan, demonstrating the deep friendship and mutual respect between India and Japan. There is a memorial (bust) of Subash Chandra Bose in the compound of the Renkoji Temple, Tokyo, where Bose’s ashes are stored in the temple in a golden pagoda. Bose died on 18 August 1945; his ashes arrived in Japan in early September 1945 and after a memorial service, they were accepted by the temple on 18 September 1945.

Mystery over the story of Gumnami Baba

The news of the death of the colossal personality, one of India’s most admired icons, was not accepted by the people, including his family members, for quite some time. This notion of not accepting the truth gave rise to few/new mysteries when one Gumnami Baba, a reclusive sadhu of Uttar Pradesh, was seen with uncanny resemblance with Netaji. Priyanka Basu’s recent article in an online platform offers detailed explanation. The rumour spread that the Baba was no other than Netaji in disguise. Even after his death in 1985, people continued to believe that he was Netaji in disguise. Though Netaji did not appear, the myth lives on. A book authored by Anju Dhar and Chandrachur Ghose (Conundrum: Subhas Bose’s Life After Death, (Vitasta Publishing Pvt Ltd, 2019) on Netaji further perpetuates the mystery. Srijit Mukherjee’s film Gumnaami (2019) based on the book further added to the controversy when Netaji’s family members expressed anguish as they felt the story based on Gumnami Baba was fictitious and therefore an insult to Netaji. As a result, the mystery remains a mystery. The inability to solve the mystery draped over Netaji attracts people more towards his enchanting personality. The mystery of Netaji’s disappearance is India’s one of the biggest unsolved political mysteries.

(Prof. Rajaram Panda is Senior Fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi.)

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