Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s daughter is annoyed that instead of accepting evidence, many continue to be excited with “asinine” theories that he survived the plane crash in Taipei in 1945 and lived in the mountains as “Gumnami Baba”.
Anita Bose Pfaff, 73, was about a month old when Bose saw her for the last time in Vienna. She is convinced Bose died in the crash on August 18, 1945, and has proposed a DNA test on his remains kept at Renkoji Temple in Japan. Speaking to Hindustan Times shortly before the Narendra Modi government begins releasing declassified files related to Bose, Pfaff said she supported the move but doubted if it would end the “fruitless” controversy.
A former academic and economist, she spoke on a range of issues, including the relationship between her mother, Emily Schenkl, and her iconic father.
Q: Are you convinced that your father died in the air crash?
A: I think that is the most likely thing to have happened. If we get evidence that supports something else, I am open to that but so far I have not seen any evidence which is more convincing. In the beginning we all doubted that he died in the plane crash but as time passed some things came out and I was also present in the interview of some people who were survivors of that plane crash. It sounded very convincing.
Q: Since there is so much evidence about the crash and witness statements, do you think it is time to put this controversy to rest?
A: I wish so, it is rather fruitless with all these rather asinine theories being advanced, including that he is still alive, god knows where, or that he lived in the mountains as ‘Gumnami Baba’, which is an insult to him, because how can anyone believe that a person who was so dedicated to his country would then go and live in the mountains and not involve himself at all and not get in touch with any member of his family?
Ultimately, it is a very uninteresting controversy. Sometimes I am really annoyed. My father gave so much of his life to his country and then he is remembered by some people as , ‘Oh, he is that chap about whose death there is a controversy’. Is that the only claim to fame that he has? It’s really not a very fair reflection on his life and his contribution to the independence struggle.
Q: Do you think the files being declassified from Saturday will help put the controversy to rest?
A: I doubt it very much because these files will cover any number of interesting details, maybe interesting to historians, corroborate something, contradict other things, some of them new, some of them not really new, but I doubt very much that the convincing story about the plane crash not having happened, which some expect, is going to come out of that.
Q: You mentioned the idea of a DNA test on the remains in the Renkoji temple in Japan.
A: Yes. The two governments – India and Japan – need to be involved, they need to agree, because without that the priest of the temple will not agree to hand over the material. There are bones but if the bones are charred very badly you cannot extract the DNA. Some specialists in the field have looked at the pictures of the bones and they say it’s quite conceivable that one could (extract DNA) because there are larger parts of the jaw and so on and that the DNA could be extracted from the centre of the bones. I think one should try. Originally, I was a bit hesitant because I felt the Japanese would feel very insulted but this whole rather undignified discussion which has been going on over decades can possibly be, well not put to rest, because there will be some people who will not take DNA proof as proof either. But I think rational people would at least accept the outcome of that, whichever way it were to go. The danger is that maybe the Japanese government feels that, well, what if they are not his remains - then they will sort of feel embarrassed. That is an issue where they may dilly-dally around it.
Q: Would you like the ashes to go to India?
A: If the proof of the DNA test shows that and the Japanese would be amenable to that, I think it would be better (if they are taken to India). If we cannot have a DNA test I personally would not mind if they came to India but if we were to face a very ugly controversy – from including members of my family – I think we could save ourselves that trouble (laughs).
Q: Do you think India would be different if your father were alive?
A: First, I am convinced that if he were alive he would have involved himself in the politics of the time. That might have had a number of consequences. There would have been a prominent alternative to Nehru. Of course we must consider that on some issues they had very similar views. They were both in essence in favour of a political system which was not dominated by communal controversies. They were both modern in the sense that they wanted industrialisation. But on the other hand, there would have been differences; for example, I imagine his position vis-à-vis Pakistan would have been different. Nobody really wanted or expected what happened after Partition. The amount of genocide left wounds on both sides which were difficult to overcome but I imagine he would have a different view towards Pakistan. If he could not prevent Partition – both he and Gandhi wanted to prevent it – I think he probably would have tried and succeeded in having better relations with Pakistan…India has been suffering less from the controversies (since independence) because with all the problems India faces, it is a functioning state, and from that point of view Pakistan is in a much worse position.
Q: What is your memory of your father, your assessment of him as a person; what did your mother say to you about him?
A: I have no recollection of him at all. He was a person very dedicated to the cause of fighting for India’s independence. Of course, my mother told me a number of things about him. Well, she was certainly a biased person in that matter, of course. Given the circumstances, one has to be surprised that she was willing to share her life with a person who was so dedicated to a cause which took him away. Looking at this as an adult it is really more surprising that she always spoke well of him and did not criticise him because he really must have been a disaster of a husband…She was better at maintaining correspondence with members of my family than I am.
Q: Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Berlin last year, but you did not meet him.
A: I was invited to the reception in Berlin but I decided not to go because I felt he is so busy with any number of topical issues on the Indo-German relations, so certainly talking to him about anything pertaining to my father would have just added a totally different issue which in essence would have been a burden on him I felt. And just to go and say Namashkar (laughs)…I am sure he would have met me for a few minutes but I felt this would have been more symbolic than anything else. His office has been in touch; they asked several times if I would be coming for the 23 January event (declassification of files) but few days ago I told them I won’t be able to make it; they even told me that he would meet me privately, but maybe I will go later in the year. The embassy told me that they would make an appointment for me to see him.