His death divided his family for more than 70 years. Finally, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s family accepted that he died as a result of a plane crash at Taihoku in Formosa (now Taiwan) on August 18, 1945.
All members of the Bose family except his nephew Sisir, Sisir Krishna’s wife and son Sugata had dismissed the air crash theory. The theory did not find much acceptance in Bengal and the rest of the country as well. To add to this there were conspiracy theories, that he escaped the crash and fled to Russia, and unconfirmed sightings in different parts of the world, sometimes as a prisoner in a Russian gulag or as a godman in Uttar Pradesh.
Chandra Kumar Bose, Bose’s great-nephew and president of the Netaji Mission, told THE WEEK: “We are very sad to have believed in certain theories for all these years. He is [a] bitter truth that we should accept that Netaji died due to a plane crash. Chandra Kumar is the grandson of Bose’s older brother and closest ally, Sarat Chandra Bose. The two brothers fled Calcutta together. Sisir would have helped them in their escape in 1941.
Madhuri, Chandra Kumar’s sister, is a lawyer with a United Nations agency. “I have no doubt that Netaji died as a result of the plane crash,” she told THE WEEK from Geneva. “I also recently found clear evidence of his death in the British Library in London.”
The evidence she found also relates to her grandfather. “The British Indian government was determined not to release Sarat Chandra Bose, held at Coonoor (since December 1941), until they were certain that Subhas Bose was dead,” Madhuri said. “Therefore, they made all the inquiries necessary to be certain that Bose was no longer alive. When they were certain of this, they released Sarat Chandra Bose in September 1945. I have this information in writing, which will be published in a book on Sarat Chandra Bose, soon to be published by Routledge.
But this is not new information. It’s all available in 304 files declassified by the Narendra Modi government in 2016. And the Bose family’s recent change of heart could be attributed to those same files.
The Netaji mission set up a committee, led by engineering professor and researcher Netaji Sumeru Roy Chowdhury, to review the declassified records. “The declassified records came from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Cabinet Office and, most importantly, the Ministry of External Affairs, which included some foreign investigations…[unveiled] for the first time, regarding the disappearance of Netaji since the air crash,” said Roy Chowdhury.
Files related to Netaji have been declassified twice before, in 1997 by the HD Deve Gowda government (990 files) and in 2012 by the Manmohan Singh government (1,030 files). The files declassified by the Gowda government mostly came from the Ministry of Defence, and those declassified by the Manmohan Singh government came from the ministries of interior and defence.
Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao had also tried to declassify the Netaji files. “The bureaucrats stopped it saying it would invite unnecessary provocations across the country,” Roy Chowdhury said.
Bose’s death has been a political issue since independence. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru formed the Shah Nawaz Committee in 1956, and many close associates of Bose testified before it. Bose’s brother Suresh was one of its members. Suresh rejected the committee’s report, which accepted the air crash theory. He said it was politically motivated. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi constituted the GD Khosla commission in 1970, which reiterated the findings of the Shah Nawaz committee report. But these did little to quash the conspiracy theories.
In 1999, in accordance with instructions from the High Court in Calcutta, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government set up the Justice Mukherjee commission, which declared that Bose had not died in the plane crash and that the ashes of a temple in Tokyo were not his. The report was rejected by the Manmohan Singh government.
Prime Minister Morarji Desai refused to set up a committee, saying it would be a waste of time and money. However, former MP Professor Samar Guha, a close aide to Bose, persuaded Morarji to reject the Khosla commission’s findings.
The latest batch of declassified files made public by the Modi government has put a lot of speculation to rest. These records include investigations not only by foreign governments, but also by the Indian Independence League (IIL), the civilian administration of Netaji’s Indian National Army.
The first foreign report came from the Japanese government, which was made 12 days after the Japanese-occupied Taihoku crash. It contained eyewitness accounts and opinions from doctors, paramedics and local government. He confirmed that Bose died as a result of the plane crash.
“Lord Mountbatten asked General of the United States Army [Douglas] MacArthur to access the report. But the British couldn’t get the report until after the fall of Japan,” Roy Chowdhury said. India could access the Japanese report much later. The British government also conducted an investigation after the fall of Japan, said Roy Chowdhury, who confirmed the air crash theory in July 1946. US wartime correspondence with the British also confirmed the same. The fourth concrete report, according to Roy Chowdhury, was prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States. He said Bose did not survive the crash in Taiwan. “After this report, Allied forces stopped pursuing Bose,” Roy Chowdhury said. “Netaji has been called dead by the Americans in his future correspondence with the British government.”
If one disputes these reports as Western propaganda, then Roy Chowdhury is pointing to the IIL report (1953). He not only accepts the crash theory, but also reveals that a faction of the Japanese government, which was soft on the Allied forces, allegedly plotted Bose’s death in the plane crash. The report states that the Japanese military officer, Colonel Kagowa, coordinated with MacArthur and served as liaison officer with the “enemy force”.
The Indian independence movement was then at its height and Bose wanted to return to India with Japanese help. The British feared that his return would strengthen the struggle for freedom. “Hence the diversion of the route of the plane in which Netaji traveled,” the report said. Bose had traveled from Bangkok to Saigon with six INA men. But from Saigon to Taihoku, he was only allowed to take one officer with him. “Leaving Captain Gulzara Singh, Colonel Pritam Singh, Major Abid Hassan and others in Saigon against the wishes of Netaji and ourselves was a calculated plan,” the report read. “The ease given to Shri SA Aiyer (another close ally of Bose) to go directly to Tokyo was a premeditated plan…. They only allowed one officer (Col Habibur Rahman) with Netaji to keep him as a witness .
From Taihoku, Bose and Rahman headed for Dairen in Manchuria with General Tsunamasa Shidei. The aircraft took off after refueling only to crash moments after takeoff. According to the report, the Japanese ensured that the plane crash was not full-fledged. They assured that it was “a short fall, manipulated only to cause bodily injury to passengers”. They did it because they wanted Rahman to witness “Netaji’s death caused by a plane crash”.
This ended a conspiracy theory that Bose had fled to the Soviet Union. It is true that Bose wanted to go to Russia from Japan and asked for help from the Japanese. But the Japanese government, while wishing him good luck in his struggle for the liberation of India, wrote to Bose saying: “The Japanese government considers it almost hopeless of success to come into direct contact with the Soviet government on behalf of Your Excellency and he has no interest in doing so. intend to do so. Roy Chowdhury said Japan feared that if he helped Bose reach Russia, India would become a fully communist country after independence.
On the revelation that the Japanese rebels could have orchestrated the tragic end of Bose, Chandra Kumar said: “We never imagined this before. Now it is very likely that he did not die during the accident but because of its impact. We do not exclude an overdose of drugs in the hospital, which could have caused his death.
Chandra Kumar admitted that many were making money from the conspiracies surrounding Bose’s death. “Many films have been made,” he said. “A lot of people were implicated. The time has come to correct all the mistakes. A lot of people tricked our family into continuing their duck. We were also motivated because we had no information.
Sugata Bose, a historian, said he was justified. “I’m not surprised,” said Sugata, professor of world history at Harvard University. “This information is not new to me. Any serious historian and scholar would know that. If you read my book – His Majesty’s Opponent – the last chapter is about Netaji’s deadly end. My mother Krishna Bose’s book deals with the tragedy of Taihoku. My father believed in the accident theory because he visited the accident site in 1965. I accompanied my mother on her trip in 2002 and read several documents.
He said the Shah Nawaz committee report was the most authentic Indian report and that all rumors of Bose’s death should be dispelled. “These ducks are very insulting to Netaji,” he said. “All conspiracy theories must be dismissed. Unfortunately, in India there will always be a few people who will deliberately hold this theory for some time to come, I’m afraid. But reasonable people should accept Netaji’s deadly end and celebrate his life instead.
The Netaji family, including his daughter Anita Bose Pfaff, wrote to Modi to bring back his mortal remains for final detection and immersion of the ashes in the Ganges. “Why not? He was a devoted Hindu who admired Ramakrishna and Vivekananda,” Chandra Kumar said. “He used to offer puja to Ma Kali. We would also like his last rites to be performed now. Chief Minister of Bengal should take the lead for this even though she would not accept this crash theory for obvious reasons.
The family are now calling the Mukherjee Commission for rejecting the plane crash theory. “I can say that this (the Mukherjee Commission) is misleading to a large extent,” Anita Bose Pfaff told THE WEEK from Germany.
However, Calcutta High Court Barrister Keshab Bhattacharjee, who was one of the advisers to the Mukherjee Commission, said: “The Bose family are once again misled. I doubt they have more respect for Netaji.