Netaji: The mystery deepens

What happened to Subhas Chandra Bose in 1945? Maj Gen Himmat Singh Gill (retd) says many questions remain unanswered if we buy the story that he died in the plane crash at Taipei

Netaji Subhas Chandra BoseAn organisation called Mission Netaji, invoking the RTI Act, has succeeded in forcing the government to make public the secret and controversial documents relating to Netaji Subhas Chandra Boseís reported death in a plane crash at Taipei on August 18, 1945. This would be welcomed by every nationalist Indian, for many of whom Netaji was as towering an icon as Mahatma Gandhi. Questions which have remained unanswered to date and troubled this writer are: whether there was such a plane crash and was Netaji on board? Did he die in the crash as announced by the Japanese.

What is known is that Netaji had first journeyed to Moscow en route Germany, and from there after a prolonged stay he had been transported to Tokyo by sea in German and Japanese submarines in May 1943, to take over the reins of the INA, which was then waging a war against the Allied Forces operating in the Far-Eastern Theatre. The Great Escape to Germany from Calcutta via the Khyber Pass, Kabul and Moscow in 1941, and later in 1945 when as believed by many Netaji took the final flight out of Saigon to Manchuria from where he is understood to have crossed over into the Soviet Union and obscurity, will continue to be studied by political analysts and historians alike who have never bought the official finding that Netaji perished in the Taipei air crash. Though the Shah Nawaz Khan Committee set up during Jawaharlal Nehruís time and, later on, the Justice G.D.Khosla Commission in 1970 had both ruled that Netaji had died in the Taipei crash, the Justice M.K.Mukherjee Commission in its 2005 report has totally debunked this conclusion of Netajiís purported death. Inquiries made in Saigon and later in Kabul in our embassies and with many of the old-timers in both the places, have revealed that no one had ever heard anything about the plane crash at Taipei. Though the 1941 Kabul-Moscow journey was a well-recognised fact, there were no signs of any kind that indicated a return journey by Netaji in 1945 through present-day Kyrgtistan, Tajikstan ( both then part of USSR and the shortest route home) or Moscow for that matter into Afghanistan presumably en route India, after his reported crossing over into Russian territory from Dairen. Where did Netaji suddenly vanish after his entry into Russia in 1945? This is a question that needs to be answered.

To understand what possibly happened to Bose on his last flight to Dairen in Manchuria, it is necessary to retrace his successful outward journey through Afghanistan in 1941. As Pradip Bose records in his book Subhas Bose and India Today, Netaji braved a trek over the Khyber Pass and across the Kabul river gorge and the icy Sairobi plains in an overcrowded bus and made his way to Kabul on January 27, 1941. It could have only been a person with a tough mind like that of Netaji who could have made such a hazardous and dangerous journey in such inclement weather and on a highway where even during daytime there are good chances of being waylaid and looted.

Sadly, when Netaji arrived in Kabul he found that the Russian Ambassador there was not very keen on giving him a visa to travel to Moscow, since they anticipated that if Germany attacked Russia as was expected then the Russians would become the allies of the British and it would not do to be seen to be assisting an enemy of the Empire.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, Bose decided to travel to Japan in 1943 to influence the operations on the Burma-India border with the assistance of his new hosts.

By mid-August 1945, when Japan was on the run, Netaji found himself at Singapore heading a bedraggled INA most of which had already been taken into detention by the Allied Forces and who were now being held in concentration camps awaiting deportation and trial after the war ended. Netajiís initial plan to stick on with the INA in Malaya and Singapore underwent a change at this stage and he made plans to move closer to the neighbourhood in Burma to carry on the freedom struggle for India. By then the Burmese army had switched its loyalties to the winning Allied Command. It was not possible to set up INA resistance bases in the region, and neither was a route through Burma found practical for Netajiís return to India because of lack of any local assistance so crucial in such operations.

With the maritime routes blocked by the Allies and the confidence gained in having made a similar land journey before through South and Central Asia, the only feasible routing for Netaji from Singapore was therefore through Saigon, Taiwan, Manchuria and thence into Russia, for a return via Kabul to India. After the nuclear bombing of Japan, it has been well documented that the Russians had launched deliberate attacks from Russian Manchuria into Japanese controlled territory southwards towards Harbin, Fushun and Dalian, and therefore Netaji making for Darien and thence into Russian territory made perfect sense.

The intriguing part, however, is that Netaji is supposed to have died when his plane was taking off from Taipei, and therefore it is clear that there had to be a destination for which he was heading. Surely he could not have been heading for Japan which was by then tottering to a meek fall,and neither could his bomber aircraft with the flying range that such aircraft had in those days be heading right across the vast Pacific Ocean to Hawai and American territory!

Anuj Dhar of Mission Netaji had been intimated by the Taiwanese government in 2003 that no plane carrying Netaji had ever crashed in their territory. Neither is it possible that having flown all the way from Saigon, Taipei was Netajiís final destination and not just a stopover for refuelling of the aircraft. What was Netaji going to do in the middle of nowhere in Taiwan, when all around him the Axis Powers were collapsing one after the other? It is logical to believe that Netaji took off from Taipei safely and flew on to Dairen, irrespective of Col Habib-ur-Rehmanís (his fellow passenger on the flight) report in the matter much after the purported crash. It is also intriguing that whereas Netaji died of severe burns in the purported crash, Habib-ur-Rahman only had some burnt skin and scars to show for the good luck in his survival.

There is a linkage in this to what Shyam Lal Jain of Meerut, deposing before the Khosla Commission (an account documented by Pradip Bose in his book referred to earlier), had stated that he was asked by Nehru in Delhi to type out a handwritten note which he (Nehru) had handed over to him, and the contents of which Jain, reproducing from memory, had stated to the Commission as follows, "Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose proceeding by aeroplane from Saigon, arrived today August 23, 1945, at Dairen (Manchuria) at 1.30 afternoon". Shyam Lal, in his recorded statement, goes on to state that according to the said note, after a short break Netaji and four others left in a jeep for Russian territory. Access to classified documents of the period will throw light on Boseís flight in 1945, and there is need to delve further into the matter in the interest of recording truthful history. An unconfirmed report had also appeared earlier that Netaji had died at a ripe age in a Siberian prison, and Pradip Bose also mentions in his book that in July 1946 there were reports that Khurshedben Naoroji, a Secretary of Mahatma Gandhi, wrote to American author Louis Fischer that if Netaji came back to India with the support of the Russians then neither Gandhi nor the Congress would be able to do anything about it. Who then or which power in India was interested in seeing the last of Netaji and did not want his return to his homeland? Was the story of the Taipei crash deliberate misinformation first put out by Japan and later on confirmed by Indian high-ups, so that Netaji never returned to India.

Americk Singh Gill, a former INA man in his book Indian National ArmyóSecret Service also writes that, "I was thinking that Netaji had put up a mighty camouflage and curtain with the story of the aircrash", indicating that many of those who had been close to Netaji had found it difficult to suddenly believe that he had died in the air crash at Taipei.

There is certainly more than what meets the eye in the sudden disappearance of Netaji in mid-1945, and if the Americans are still investigating the assassination of President John Kennedy then there is no reason why the Indian people, if not their government, cannot move international agencies and the present governments of Russia, Japan, UK, Vietnam, China, Mangolia, Afghanistan and America to release from their archives any confidential material for scrutiny which could reveal the final years of this great patriot.

The Shah Nawaz and Khosla Commissions did to my mind an incomplete and rushed job by just buying the Taipei air crash theory. We often entrust such enquiries to politicians and members of the judiciary. Many of them have little idea of the peculiar terrain, topography and distances of the Far East, all inter-related factors in Netajiís journeys to that part of the world and his sudden disappearance. It is time for a full-fledged Commission with the right people on it, to find out how and when Netaji met his end.