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22 September, 2015

A legend that will live for ever

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With West Bengal’s Trinamool Congress government declassifying files relating to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the charismatic freedom-fighter who reportedly died in an air crash at Taihoku in Taiwan at the end of World War II, the Centre has come under pressure to reveal the information in its possession about him.

Successive Central governments, including the present one, have refused to publish documents relating to Bose on the ground that it may adversely affect relations with foreign countries.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has offered to meet members of Bose’s family and persons engaged in research on his life next month. His office has asked them to intimate in advance what kind of information they are seeking.

Bose’s family and ardent followers have all along refused to believe that he died in the accident. They are of the view that the accident report was concocted to facilitate his escape. If caught, he was sure to be arraigned before the war crimes tribunal along with the Japanese leaders.

Subhas Chandra Bose lived a life full of stuff that legends are made of. After qualifying to become a member of the coveted Indian Civil Service he refused to serve the colonial regime and joined the freedom movement. Elected President of the Indian National Congress in 1938, he won a second term against Gandhi’s wishes.

While under house arrest in Kolkata, he slipped out in disguise and travelled to Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, hoping to challenge the British militarily with foreign help. Rejected by the Soviet Union, he went to Germany. From there he reached Japan after a perilous submarine journey.

He took charge of the Indian National Army, which comprised officers and men of the British Indian Army whom the Japanese had taken prisoner, and expanded it by recruiting Indian expatriates, who hailed him as Netaji (leader).

Heeding his Dilli Chalo (Onward to Delhi) call, the INA marched to the border state of Manipur and laid siege to its capital, Imphal. A turn in the tide of war forced the Japanese and the INA to retreat.

Though the military campaign ended disastrously, Netaji had an opportunity to set foot on free Indian soil. As head of the Azad Hind (Free India) government, he had flown to the Bay of Bengal islands of Andaman and Nicobar, which the British abandoned during the war, and renamed them Shaheed and Swaraj.

After the war, the British arraigned three Indian army officers who had switched loyalty to the INA before a military court. The Congress engaged a team of lawyers to defend them. Massive protests against the trial raged across the country.

The military court found all three officers guilty and sentenced them to death. However, the British Commander-in-Chief commuted the sentence to cashiering.

The spontaneous manifestation of public support to the INA officers and the small mutinies that broke out in the three wings of the military convinced the British that they could not hold on to the Indian colony much longer. They made a policy shift: from ‘divide and rule’ to ‘divide and quit’.

A British military officer, John Figgess, who investigated the Taihoku crash in 1946, concluded that Bose was in the plane and had died of burns in a hospital after it crashed. The body was cremated and the ashes taken to Tokyo, he said.

As reports that Netaji had been seen at various places surfaced from time to time, the Indian government ordered inquiries in 1956, 1970 and 1999 to unravel the mystery.

Shah Nawaz Khan, one of the three INA officers who had faced court martial, headed the first inquiry. He and another member of the inquiry committee upheld the air crash story, but Netaji’s brother, Suresh Chandra Bose, who was the third member, dissented.

G.D. Khosla, a former high court chief justice, who conducted the second inquiry, too, endorsed the air crash story. He said the motives of those who propagated alternative theories were not altruistic.

The third inquiry was by MK Mukherjee, a retired Supreme Court judge. He said the evidence of those who supported the air crash theory was not reliable. The ashes kept in Tokyo were a Japanese soldier’s, not Bose’s, he added.

The Bengal government papers have not settled the controversy. In all probability, doubts will persist even after all pertinent facts are in the public domain.

Legends like Subhas Chandra Bose are rare in the history of any nation. Such legends live for ever. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 22, 2015.

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