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Sunday, August 19, 2001
Lead Article

Did Netaji Actually Die in 1945     --   ILLUSTRATION BY KULDIP DHIMAN

The question of Netajiís death, surrounded by mysterious circumstances and resulting from an aircrash, is a subject of controversy in the country. Did he die at Takhoku (Formosa) on August 18, 1945, as has been claimed? Or did he repair to Manchuria or the Soviet Union to escape from the clutches of the British, asks V.N. Datta

SUBHAS Chandra Bose sacrificed all he had to obtain the freedom of his country from the fetters of British rule. A man of strong convictions, he would never compromise his principles to which he was deeply attached. He had a tearing spirit, and would never give in, however mighty the forces that rallied against him. He feared none but God. He preferred to break rather than bend. Generations to come shall scarce find men of his mettle inspired by the highest ideals of patriotism and self-sacrifice.

He fought British imperialism for which he languished in prison for years. He challenged Mahatma Gandhi's leadership for which he was ousted from the Congress party. He waged war against the Allies to free his country from foreign rule. His INA that fought the British with meagre resources represented a unique symbol of India's composite culture.

It is not our concern to assess Subhas Chandra Bose's contribution to the cause of India's freedom. The question of his death, surrounding the mysterious circumstances and resulting from the air crash is a subject of controversy in the country. Did he die at Takhoku (Formosa) on August 18, 1945, as has been alleged? Or did he repair to Manchuria or the Soviet Union to escape from the clutches of the British? The question is what exactly happened to him? Where did he disappear? To answer this question it is necessary to see what kind of efforts have been made to ascertain the truth of his whereabouts. And to what end?

 
Fighting for the freedom of his country: Netaji in South Asia
Fighting for the freedom of his country: Netaji in South Asia

It is public knowledge that General Shahnawaz Khan, Subhas Bose's associate and confidant, was commissioned by the Government of India to probe into the disappearance of his chief whom he had loyally served. A man in a desperate hurry, Shah Nawaz Khan gave his verdict in a soldierly manner that Bose had died at Taikhoku on August 18, 1945. Shah Nawaz Khan was an establishment man, a Railway Minister in the Union Government. He had no legal acumen to conduct an inquiry requiring a sensitivity to the examination of variegated evidence of numerous witnesses belonging to different nationalities.

Following strong public opinion, mobilised particularly by the Forward Bloc leader Samar Guha, the thenPrime Minister Indira Gandhi felt compelled to institute a one-man inquiry commission into the facts and circumstances leading to the disappearance of Subhas Chandra Bose. G.D. Khosla, a retired Chief Justice of the Punjab High Court, who took over the commission in July 1970, visited Rangoon, Bangkok, Singapore and examined 200 witnesses.

It may be mentioned that Justice Khosla was closely associated with the Nehru family. He had shared his literary interests with Jawaharlal Nehru at Manali, where they spent a good deal of time together trekking through the forests and the hills. Khosla had also known Subhas Chandra Bose, when he met him at Cambridge in 1921 where he had a tiff with him. A student of Fitzwilliam House, Cambridge, Bose had passed the ICS examination, and secured fourth position in the merit list. In early 1921, Bose had decided to resign from the ICS, and told Khosla that he was throwing away the most prized position he had obtained. When he learnt that Khosla was preparing for the Indian Civil Service examination, Bose gave him a withering look of contempt and condemned his act as unpatriotic. However, Khosla defended his position by arguing that he would at least keep off one imperialist British from the privileged coterie.

Bose's earlier treatment was bound to rankle in Khosla's heart. Justice Khosla took four years to submit his report on Bose's disappearance in June 1974. Having relied mainly on the medical report of Dr Yoshimi Taneyoshi, Captain of the Imperial Japanese army, the surgeon in-charge, Khosla came to the conclusion that Bose had succumbed to the serious injuries he had received in the air crash at Takhoku (Formosa) on August 1945.

Samar Gupta was the first to condemn the Khosla report as 'an act of conspiracy and treachery'. Prime Minister Morarji Desai rejected the report. It was felt that Khosla did not visit Taiwan nor did he examine the whole issue candidly as he was engaged in several important assignments which left him little time to weigh and consider the matter in the detached spirit of a judge. It was also said that judges are not the right type of persons to settle such sensitive issues of national importance.

When Lord Radcliffe completed the Boundary Commission Report dividing the borders of India and Pakistan and announced its recommendations in August 1947, Sir Patrick Spens, former Chief Justice of the Federal Court of India quipped, "Judges are not competent to understand such intricate issues".

Bose as a student
Bose as a student

Of all the studies undertaken on Bose's death, Professor Leonard A. Gorden's Brothers against the Raj published in 1990 is apparently highly informative. Gordon prepared his case with meticulous care after visiting several placed connected with Bose's movements and examining numerous witnesses who gave accounts of Bose's activities during early August, 1945.

After dropping the atom bomb in Hiroshima on August 8, 1945 and Nagasaki on August 9, the Japanese offered to surrender if the status of their emperor remained unchanged. In such a critical situation, Bose refused to surrender. He decided to escape to the Soviet Union because he believed that the Russians were only capable of resisting the British. It seems that Bose had hoped to enlist their support for the cause of India's Independence. He also thought that it might be safer for him to go there. According to Gordon, Bose flew to Bangkok on August 16, 1945 and to Saigon on August 17. He was accompanied by Col. Habibur Rehman, Col. Pritam Singh, Major Abid Hasan, S.A. Ayer and Debnath Dass. Bose had hoped to take all of them, but in vain. In Saigon, the plans had to be changed. Bose was told that only one place was available in the aircraft which was to leave for Taipei and then Dairen (Manchuria). One more seat was secured for him.

Among his Japanese co-passengers accompanying Bose in the aircraft was the Lieutenant-general Shidei, a Japanese expert on the Soviet Union who was to fly to Dairen to take command of the Kumantang army to work out the surrender. In a bomber of the 97-2 (sally type), Subhas Bose and Col. Habibur Rehman boarded the aircraft with two heavy suit cases filled with gold and jewellery. There were ten others Japanese in the plane which took off from Tourane on August 18, 1945 between 5 and 5.15 a.m. and flew to Taipei (Japanese Taihoku).

The aircraft again took off from Taipei and just after rising to the height of 30 feet, it burst into flames and crashed. This was on August 18, at about 5 p.m. Bose received extensive burns over his whole body, the more serious ones on the head, chest and thighs. He was in a state of semi-consciousness. In a truck, he was driven up to the hospital. Dr Yoshimi Tameyoshi who attended on Bose state, "When he (Bose) was laid on the bed, I personally cleaned his injuries with oil and dressed them. During the first four hours, he was unconscious". Later, when he gained consciousness the doctor asked him 'Whether there was any statement, will or such matter he wanted to make' Bose answered, 'Nothing'. Dr Tameyoshi added,' After the fourth hour he appeared to be sinking into unconsciousness.' At about 23.20 hours, Subhas Chandra Bose died. Apart from the injuries received about there were abrasions on his elbows and knees.

Dr Yoshimi Tameyoshi's statement is a first-class eye-witness account to establish Subhas Chandra Bose's death on August 18, at Takhoku. This statement was brought to light by the noted archivist and historian Dr T.R. Sareen from the achieves of Public Records Office records. Dr Gordon, by using this source, has established Bose's death. We have to note that this statement forms a part of British records submitted to Captain A.R. Turner in-charges of War Crimes Liaison Branch (Formosa).

The question arises whether Taneyoshi's statement is authentic or dubious. Was it voluntarily given or under duress? The British were the vectors and the Japanese the vanquished. During the war, the British regarded Subhas Chandra Bose as their bitterest foe. When Dr Yoshimi Taneyoshi submitted his report on 15 October 1945, Bose had caught the imagination of the people of India and had became a legend because of his great services rendered to his motherland combined with the heroic fight of the INA against the British. Lord Wavell, the Viceroy, felt first that the news of Bose's death was a canard. But later when his own sources confirmed that Subhas was dead, he felt relieved because a living Subhas Chandra Bose would still have been a formidable challenge to the British. Wavell thought that Bose's death had solved the British problem. Had he been alive, the British would have been compelled to declare him a war criminal. That would have necessitated a court martial. Such a situation would certainly have placed the British Government in a quandary.

It is not generally known that Lord Wavell, the Viceroy, had initiated an inquiry into the disappearance of Bose and sent some officials including Rai Bahadur Bakshi Badrinath serving in the War Department of the Government of India to Japan in September 1946. These officials visited various placed connected with Bose's activities and recorded eye witnesses accounts of a number of people including Col Habibur Rehman who shed light on the circumstances that led to Bose's death. This report maintained that Bose died on August 18, 1945 at Takhoku. Information about this report has been obtained by this writer from a retired Air Vice-Marshal Kuldip Bakshi, son of Bakshi Badrinath, in the course of an interview held with him on August 1, 2001. No one knows where the report is! It was submitted in three parts, the first two dealing with Bose's death, and the third on the INA. Probably it was destroyed. Lord Wavell told Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, member of the interim government in early 1947 that he had ordered a destruction of large number of documents relating to the intelligence department and war operations.

The BJP government have appointed the Justice J.C. Mukherji commission to settle the question of Subhas Chandra Bose's death and the members of the commission have gone to U.K. to consult the archival records. I think they are likely to cover the already well-trodden ground, and repeat what has already been said. The avenging force of fact is that as a nation we have cultivated the genius of missing opportunities on resolving issues of crucial importance, and the question of finding truth about Bose's disappearance in 1945, is one such issue of capital import. When Germany had surrendered in 1945, the British government appointed Trevor-Roper, the Regius Professor of Modern History, Oxford, to investigate the whereabouts of Hitler. Trevor-Roper produced his famous book Last Days of Hitler which settled the mystery of Hitler's death.

Successive Indian Governments since 1945 have continued to dither and vacillate on the issue. Consequently, delay complicated matters. Contemporary eye-witnesses who knew Subhas Bose in 1945 no longer exist; substantial archival material has been destroyed; and the Nehru papers (fort-1947), the Krishna Menon papers, and the Radhakrishnan correspondence which are likely to contain some historical importance relating to Subhas Bose are not open to scholars. It is doubtful whether any new evidence will be forthcoming to add up anything to dispel the confusion that already prevails about the mystery of Bose's death. Thus the whole issue is bound to remain an enigma for all time to come, due to our inaptitude in handling the problem relating to Subhas Chandra Bose's death. This is one of those momentous historical issues that is bound to remain unresolved.

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