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Time to rescue Netaji from the grip of conspiracy theories

columns Updated: Jan 31, 2016 00:20 IST
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The declassified files at the National Archives of India in New Delhi on Saturday. (Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)

I’m not a historian nor an expert on Subhas Chandra Bose but I find it inexplicable, even baffling, that many, including members of his close family, refuse to believe he died in a plane crash on the 18th of August 1945. That some actually believe he spent years incarcerated in a Soviet Gulag camp or hiding in Manchuria or disguised as Gunnami Baba is simply unbelievable. Yet some people do.

However, for those who wish to be rational it’s possible to work out what happened to Bose. I’m not relying on the files declassified last weekend. They, no doubt, help. But the best compilation of the evidence is available on www.bosefiles.info. Compiled over 25 years of meticulous research by the London-based journalist Ashis Ray, one of Bose’s great nephews, it presents a compelling case.

Ray’s research shows that Bose was in Malaya when he heard the Japanese had offered to surrender. That was on the 12th of August 1945. He then returned to Singapore where he learnt the Japanese were prepared to give him shelter in Japan. On the 16th of August he began the journey that was intended to take him to Tokyo.

In the first stage he got to Bangkok. There he decided that although he would go to Tokyo, to thank the Japanese government for all the assistance they had given him, he would, thereafter, proceed to Russia via Manchuria. Unfortunately, things worked out very differently.

On the 17th Bose left Bangkok reaching Saigon by midday. That evening he took off for Taipei but because darkness was falling the pilot made an unscheduled night-stop at Tourane on the Indo-China coast.

On the 18th — the day he died — Bose took off from Tourane for Tokyo via Taipei, where concerns arose about one of the plane’s engines. Although the engineers satisfied themselves the problem was clearly not resolved.

Shortly after the plane left Taipei for Tokyo a loud explosion was heard. The plane tilted to its left and one of its propellers fell off. It crashed 100 metres beyond the runaway and caught fire.

Col. Rahman, Bose’s ADC, who was with him, has graphically described his injuries and the last message he left for the Indian people. At least three others, who attended to Bose at the Nanmon military hospital where he was taken, have given an account of his last hours. They are Capt. Yoshimi, the Medical Officer In-charge of the hospital, Dr Tsuruta, a Japanese doctor, and a Taiwanese nurse.

Now, the files released last weekend add that Capt. Nakamura, a Taiwanese translator, was also present when Bose died. He says his last words were: “I want to sleep.” Ten minutes later, Nakamura reports, he died.

Ashis Ray comes to the following conclusion: “There is overwhelming, irrefutable, hard documentary evidence to reconfirm that Subhas Bose unquestionably met with a plane crash at Taipei on 18th August 1945.” He died hours later. Bose’s daughter, Anita Pfaff, accepts this. Is it just their fondness for conspiracy theories that prevents others agreeing?

Anita Pfaff has suggested a DNA test be done on the remains which are said to be her father’s at the Renkoji Temple in Tokyo. It’s an eminently sensible idea. But the problem is: What happens if they turn out not to be Bose’s ashes? Does that mean he didn’t die in the air crash? And that he’s still alive somewhere?

For those who don’t want to accept there will always be some reason not to believe.

The views expressed are personal