Japan now has no reason to hold back Netaji's ashes from his only daughter

After Home Ministry acknowledged in 2017 that GoI believed Netaji had died in a plane crash, there is no reason it cannot write to Japan for handing over Netaji's remains to his daughter

Japan now has no reason to hold back Netaji's ashes from his only daughter

Ashis Ray

The celebration of Subhas Bose’s 125th birth anniversary today is a hollow hologram commemoration. It is a pretence; having dishonoured his memory and soul by not bringing his mortal remains from Japan for 76 years and respecting these with a final disposal in the Indian tradition.

The Germany-based daughter of Subhas Bose, Professor Anita Pfaff, has been exceptionally – some would say needlessly – polite and respectful towards her extended family in India and the Indian government about bringing her father’s mortal remains to India for the last rites. As Bose’s only child, now his sole heir since his wife and Pfaff’s mother Emilie Schenkl is no more, complete legal and moral rights are vested in her regarding the remains.

India, Bose’s family and followers have reason to be grateful to the Buddhist Renkoji Temple in Tokyo, where a succession of priests have piously preserved the remains ever since a memorial service there on 18 September 1945. The Government and people of Japan are also to be thanked for their stellar role in safeguarding the ashes.

Bose died as a result of a plane crash at Taipei on 18 August 1945. My book LAID TO REST: THE CONTROVERSY OVER SUBHAS CHANDRA BOSE’S DEATH, based on the findings of 11 different official and unofficial investigations and my own exploration of the subject, confirmed this fact without an iota of doubt. It has a foreword by Professor Pfaff endorsing the findings.

Netaji’s Austrian wife Emilie Schenkl lived up to March 1996, but tragically did not experience the comfort of closure on the vexed matter of her husband’s death. Pfaff, now 79, is anxious to ensure this occurs in her lifetime.

While she is on record expressing her debt to Japan for the services it has rendered to her father’s remains, she feels there ought to be a final disposal in India. Her contention is:

1. Her father’s ambition was to return to a free India. Since this did not happen, his remains should at least touch the soil of India.

2. Her father was a Hindu; and so, the last rites should be the tradition of this faith. This in the Bengali Hindu convention (for Bose was from Bengal) means an immersion of his remains in the River Ganga.

Discussions with Japanese government officials over 40 years on the issue of handing over of Bose’s remains to India have revealed there is no objection to facilitating such a transfer. But Tokyo has desired that the Indian government make a formal request to this effect for it to act accordingly.

Such a stance has clearly caused an indefinite stalemate. The Government of Japan needs to appreciate the Government of India has no locus standi on the matter. It, therefore, needs to correct its position on the issue. The person with full authority on the subject is Pfaff and she alone.

She is officially recognised by the Indian government as Bose’s daughter. This is duly recorded at the Indian embassy in Vienna, where she was born. She thereby also holds an Overseas Citizen of India card. Consequently, it is time for Japan to take these realities into account, reconsider its position and terminate the impasse once and for all.

New Delhi cannot lawfully take exception to the Japanese government handing over the remains to Pfaff:

a) The government of independent India inherited official files from British rule of India, which incontrovertibly established Netaji’s death in the circumstances described.

b) The Indian government has been underwriting the Renkoji Temple’s costs since around 1951 for offering of prayers to and the upkeep of the remains, thereby upholding the truth that they are Bose’s.

c) Almost every Indian government since the country’s freedom have regarded his death following the plane crash to be true.

d) Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee have personally visited Renkoji Temple.

e) In 2006, the only official Indian investigation that provided an inconclusive verdict on Bose’s death and remains was rejected by the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The succeeding Narendra Modi government has abided by this view.

f) In 2016, Modi declassified all Indian government files pertaining to Netaji. They officially rendered public and transparent what was known all along by informed and rational people. But he failed to undertake the next logical step of requesting the Japanese government to send the remains to India.

g) On 31 May 2017, the Home Ministry of the Government of India in a reply under India’s Right to Information Act stated: “After considering the reports of Shah Nawaz Committee, Justice G D Khosla Commission and Justice Mukherjee Commission of Enquiry, the Government has come to the conclusion that Netaji has died in (a) plane crash in 1945.”

Prime Minister Nehru in the 1950s and Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao in the 1990s made sincere efforts to bring the remains to India; but were thwarted by opposition from some members of Bose’s extended family and a section of politicians and bureaucrats.

With Morarji Desai as the Janata Party prime minister influenced by MP Samar Guha into politicising a humanitarian matter, and Vajpayee later occupying the same office following suit, governments in India have increasingly lacked courage to take the bull by the horns. Neither the Indian nor Japanese government should in the eyes of the law be determining the fate of the ashes, as they have presumptuously been doing.

Japan has held Bose in high esteem ever since their alliance in the Second World War. Indeed, the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on one of his trips to India, visited the house in Kolkata where Bose lived and worked – now known as Netaji Bhavan. But the Nippon government continues to err on its policy towards his remains. The best tribute it can pay to Bose is by rectifying its mistake. This means inviting Professor Pfaff to take possession of the remains in accordance with her wishes.


* Ashis Ray is an Academic Visitor at St Antony's College, Oxford. His Twitter account is @ashiscray

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