After 72 years and 11 official investigations across four nations, it’s time for closure. If he had been alive today, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose would have been 120 years old. He was only 48 when the overloaded Japanese bomber he was travelling in crashed in Taihoku, now known as Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, on August 18, 1945. Hours later, he succumbed to severe third degree burns in a Japanese military hospital.
Yet the remains of the fiery freedom fighter, whose pictures still adorn not just government offices but humble huts and houses across India, remain locked up in a temple in Japan, while we bicker, argue and debate over his death.
Some of his distant relatives and descendants doggedly challenge the official version of his demise. Other random folk insist that they have actually met the man much later in China, Russia, and of course in India. While one insists that Bose morphed into a Chinese general, another says he returned to India as a monk, who apparently went on to become a professor in the US. Others insist that he managed to reach Russia, where he died. While some genuinely believe, or perhaps hope, that Netaji survived that crash and lived on, others are clearly milking his legacy for whatever they can.
In January 2016, days before the NDA government started declassifying documents related to the Bengali icon, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee declared that she believed Bose did not die in the crash, and secret documents in Russia could shed some light on the mystery. Though she was honest enough to admit that her belief was based on nothing more than a hunch, it sparked off another wave of conspiracy theories and speculation.
Until the long-pending request for DNA testing of Bose’s remains in a small box in Tokyo’s Renkoji Temple prove it conclusively, nothing so far explains it better than Ashis Ray’s book. In her foreword, while sympathising with those who hope her father survived the crash, Anita Pfaff, Bose’s only child, concludes that given the evidence, ‘the only consistent story about Netaji’s demise remains his death in a plane crash on 18 August, 1945’.
It is this evidence—comprising not just first-hand testimonies from survivors of the plane crash, of those who were present at his cremation, and of the man who carried Bose’s remains from Taipei to Tokyo, but also official documents from the various government archives—which Ray has painstakingly compiled in this book. And while sensitive to the emotions that Netaji still evokes in India, he categorically debunks most of the conspiracy theories with hard evidence and testimonies which are difficult to wish away.
Describing himself as ‘the longest serving Indian foreign correspondent’, Ray says the book ‘is the culmination of 30 years of extensive research in Taiwan, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, Britain and the United States’. It is now time for the government to seek a DNA test on Bose’s remains, and then bring them back home, where he should be finally laid to rest.
‘Lot of politics has been played over subhas bose’
London-based author Ashis Ray talks to Medha Dutta about the book which is a culmination of 30 years of extensive research in Taiwan, Japan, Pakistan, Russia, the UK and the US.
What does it mean to have your views endorsed by Netaji’s heir Anita Pfaff?
For Professor Pfaff to put it on record in the form of a foreword to my book is extraordinary. As Subhas Bose’s only child, her word is final.
How has the feedback been to
I am quite staggered by the print and internet coverage. Of course, at the end of the day the success of a book is determined by how many copies it sells and whether critics and readers like it. The yardstick in the case of my book is acceptance of the evidence presented.
Do you think India, and more importantly Bengal, will accept Pfaff’s endorsements?
All rational Indians, including Bengalis, have realised there isn’t a scrap of evidence to back any story other than Subhas Bose dying as a result of a plane crash. Only a tiny minority are in denial. I would urge anyone who respects Bose, to read the book, absorb the evidence and support Professor Pfaff.
Can Netaji finally rest in peace?
Netaji cannot rest in peace unless his mortal remains are brought to India from Japan. It is a grave insult to him that his ashes have not been disposed of as per Indian tradition and have been lying in Tokyo for 72 years.
Apparently eight very sensitive files are still to be de-classified.
I am not aware of any file connected with Subhas Bose not been declassified anywhere in the world. This is another disinformation campaign.
Was the tension between Netaji’s older brother Sarat Chandra Bose and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru the reason for confusion?
Netaji’s older brother Sarat Bose’s premature death in 1950 was the primary reason for the confusion. Had he lived longer, visited Japan and Taiwan, he would have been convinced of the truth. The lack of coordination between him and Jawaharlal Nehru—once close friends—unfortunately caused a standstill.
There have been quite a few probes and books on the issue, why then is it still inconclusive?
The matter is not inconclusive. Successive Indian governments have accepted the truth. The Netaji Papers declassified by Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphatically ratify the truth.
Is it a political game now?
A lot of politics has been played over Subhas Bose. Various political parties have tried to claim him. He belongs to the nation.
Do you think Japan will co-operate should a DNA test be done?
Yes. But there is now so much incontrovertible evidence that a DNA test is not really necessary.
Lastly, does our government lack the courage to do the right thing?
The Indian government has lacked courage for over 60 years.
rest in peace unless his mortal remains are brought to India from Japan where they have been lying for 72 years”