Former prime minister Manmohan Singh approved the shifting of Subhas Chandra Bose’s purported remains from Tokyo’s Renkoji Temple to the Indian embassy but the move was shot down after the external affairs ministry pointed out it would be tantamount to acknowledging the ashes were those of Netaji.
A secret file from the prime minister’s office — one of 100 files declassified by the NDA government on Saturday — details options considered by the UPA regime regarding the ashes, such as “increasing substantially” the amount paid for their upkeep or shifting the remains to another Japanese temple.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the files running into some 16,600 pages during an event at the National Archives. Delivering on his pledge to make public documents on the iconic freedom fighter, Modi clicked a button to activate a website with the files in the presence of members of Bose’s family.
Soon after the event, a political controversy erupted as a fake letter that claimed former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had called Netaji a “war criminal” did the rounds on social media. The Congress described the letter as “mischievous and fake” and said the declassification of files was an attempt by Modi to divert people’s attention from the “failures of his government”.
Many of the declassified files relate to the stance adopted by successive governments with regard to the ashes collected from a crematorium in Taiwan where Netaji’s last rites were performed following his death in a plane crash on August 18, 1945.
The files also detail the different positions adopted by governments over the years on the issue of Bose’s death.
In November 1977, the Janata Party government, in which BJP leaders AB Vajpayee and LK Advani were ministers, had found it unnecessary to launch any fresh inquiry into Netaji’s death.
A note of the home ministry of the Janata Party government in a separate file stated the cabinet had approved a proposal that “no fresh inquiry into the disappearance of Netaji is necessary”.
The decision to shift the ashes from Renkoji Temple to the Indian mission — which had the backing of Manmohan Singh, then national security adviser MK Narayanan and then foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon — was made after Bose’s daughter, Anita Pfaff, wrote to the PM in June 2007 saying she wished to take charge of her “father’s remains” and take them to India for the “appropriate rites”.
Pfaff also wrote that she wanted to have a DNA test done to convince those who did not believe Bose “died following the plane crash” and do not accept the ashes as his remains. Pfaff, who planned to immerse a part of the remains in the Ganga, asked if the Indian government would be “involved in the return of my father’s remains”.
Though the UPA government’s immediate reaction was to shift the ashes to the Indian embassy, the foreign ministry and then external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee sounded a note of caution. A note signed by Narayanan states that Mukherjee suggested the government maintain the ashes at Renkoji and explore other options, such as “increasing substantially the amount paid for their upkeep”.
Though successive governments were convinced the ashes were of Netaji, the files show they were reluctant to bring them back because of domestic political sensitivities.
The file further revealed the external affairs ministry paid Rs 53.66 lakh between 1967 and 2005 to Renkoji Temple for upkeep of the urn with the ashes. During 2002-05, the annual contribution was 1 million yen (equivalent to about Rs 4.3 lakh). These payments were made from the external affairs ministry’s “Special Diplomatic Expenditure” budget.
Notes in the file state it was the government’s position that the “ashes in Renkoji are those of Netaji” since it had accepted the findings of the Shahnawaz and Khosla commissions of inquiry, which concluded in 1956 and 1970 respectively that Bose died in the crash. Though the Mukherjee commission of inquiry concluded the ashes were not those of Netaji, this finding was not accepted by the government, the notes pointed out.
However, the notes also refer to the “political sensitivities linked to the circumstances of the death” of Bose. One unsigned note raised questions about the move to shift the ashes to the Indian embassy.
Referring to assertions by the Forward Bloc and some relatives of Bose to “fight tooth and nail” any effort to take over the ashes, the note stated: “The question that needs to be asked is what has changed for GoI to consider taking over the ashes and keeping them in the new Chancery?”
It added: “The shifting of the ashes to the Indian Chancery premises will make explicit what has been implicit so far – that Government recognises that the ashes are those of Netaji. This may not satisfy the Japanese and will certainly generate controversy in India among the Forward Bloc etc.”
The notes questioned the plan to store the ashes in Japan “without a plan to bring them back to India” and “interring them in a fitting national memorial” and said “any change in the status quo should be carefully thought through”.
In May 10, 2007, joint secretary (East Asia) Vijay Gokhale wrote to the Indian envoy to Japan, HK Singh, to make a plan “for keeping the ashes in an appropriate and befitting manner within the premises of the Indian embassy in Tokyo”.
The “priest and Japanese side” wanted the ashes to be repatriated back to India. “Any action on our part short of that will come as a huge disappointment to the Japanese and become a major controversy,” the Indian embassy warned in a secret cable sent as the reply to Gokhale’s missive.
An official statement said the Indian government has written to foreign governments to declassify all files or papers related to Bose, and is committed to pursue this matter.