Netaji’s daughter wants ashes back in India
With the BJP Government showing no interest in bringing the ashes back to India,it is left to the people to campaign for the return
On 18 August 1945, Subhas Bose, twice elected president of the Indian National Congress, died in a plane crash at Taipei. But even after 75 years, his mortal remains – lying at Tokyo’s Renkoji temple - have not been brought to India for a final disposal. Eleven inquiries into the accident, the cremation of his body and carriage of the ashes to the Japanese capital, have without any qualification confirmed these facts.
Narendra Modi declassified all Government of India files pertaining to Bose, which ratified the inquests. On 31 July 2017, the Indian Home ministry in a reply to a public query under India’s Right To Information Act reiterated, ‘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.’
The view of Bose’s daughter and sole heir Professor Anita Bose Pfaff, as expressed in my book LAID TO REST, is, ‘the only consistent story about Netaji’s demise remains his death in a plane crash on 18 August 1945’. She fervently desires the remains be transferred to India. Her sentiment being, it was her father’s ambition to return to an independent India; and since this did not happen, his remains should at least touch Indian soil. Also, as per the Bengali Hindu tradition, they should be immersed in the River Ganga.
Arguably, Modi published the ‘Netaji Papers’ not out of any affection for Bose, but because he was told by misguided members of Bose’s extended family in India that rendering the files public would reveal he was killed in the Soviet Union at the behest of Jawaharlal Nehru. Once no such nonsense emerged from the classified records, Modi lost interest.
Therefore, an Indian government request for a transfer of the remains, which its Japanese counterpart has imposed as a necessary formality, has failed to materialise. In such circumstances, Pfaff, now 77, and anxious to bring closure to a matter near and dear to her, can only receive justice if the Congress takes an initiative. Bose was a star in the party’s struggle for emancipation and ultimately sacrificed his life fighting for Indian freedom. Nehru, who visited Renkoji temple, and P V Narasimha Rao did venture to import the ashes; but were thwarted by vested interests.
In 1921, after graduating from Cambridge University` and then quite sensationally refusing a probation in the coveted Indian Civil Service – which he had secured with excellent results in the highly competitive entrance examination in London – Bose set sail for Mumbai. On the very day his ship docked he hurried to meet Mohandas Gandhi.
He later recorded, ‘There was a deplorable lack of clarity in the plan which the Mahatma had formulated and that he himself did not have a clear idea of the successive stages of the campaign which would bring India to her cherished goal of freedom.’ Gandhi directed Bose to Chittaranjan Das, the leader of Bengal Congress, who spontaneously became his political guru.
By the time the annual session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) was held in Kolkata in 1928, Bose was already president of the Bengal Congress. He pressed for an amendment to a resolution on dominion status – proposed by Gandhi – to purna swaraj or complete self-rule for India. This change was defeated. But Gandhi told Bose, ‘If you will help me and follow the programme honestly and intelligently, I promise that Swaraj will come within one year.’ It was duly adopted at the next session in Lahore. Nehru and Bose were soulmates on economic and social issues. In June 1935, the former was in prison when his wife Kamala needed urgent treatment for tuberculosis in Europe.
Bose, who was in exile in Vienna, accompanied her to Prague for medical care. As her condition deteriorated, the British permitted Nehru to join her. Ultimately, Kamala was moved for further attention to Lausanne, where she passed away in 1936 in the presence of her husband, daughter Indira and Bose.
Nehru soon left for India to preside over the Lucknow session of the Congress. Bose underscored in a message to him, ‘Among the front-rank leaders of today – you are the only one whom we can look up to for leading the Congress in a progressive direction.’ In 1936, after three years of banishment in Europe, Bose was hankering to return home. The British consul-general in Vienna cautioned him, ‘I have today received instructions from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to communicate to you a warning that the Government of India have seen in press reports that you propose to India this month and the Government of India desire to make it clear to you that should you do so you cannot expect to remain at liberty.’
Bose nevertheless took the boat to Mumbai, where he was immediately arrested. Nehru, as Congress president, gave a cry to the country to observe an ‘AllIndia Subhas Day’ to condemn the internment on ‘frivolous’ charges. However, it was not until a year later that Bose was set free. In January 1938, Bose was briefly in London – his only visit to the British capital since his student days – when he received a cable from Gandhi informing him of his unanimous election as Congress president.
One of the youngest ever presidents at 41, the American TIME magazine put him on the cover. It reported, ‘Among the slick, satisfied top handful of Congress politicians, most of them obviously enjoying the incense of power and prestige, Subhas Bose stands out.’ Bose formed a planning committee based on the Soviet model under the chairmanship of Nehru.
As his term progressed, Gandhians and Congress conservatives opposed his re-election. As a storm brewed, Nobel Prize winning poet Rabindra Nath Tagore asked Gandhi to re-nominate Bose. Gandhi replied, it would be better for him not to run. Bose himself said he won’t be a candidate if another leftist would. This did not occur. In the contest that ensued, Bose defeated Gandhi’s nominee PattabhiSitaramayya.
The apostle of non-violence fumed, ‘Since I was instrumental in inducing Dr Pattabhi not to withdraw the defeat is more mine than his.’ Bose responded, ‘It will be a tragic thing for me if I succeed in winning the confidence of other people but fail to win the confidence of India’s greatest man.’ At his re-anointment, which he couldn’t attend because of illness, Govind Pant moved a motion in Bose’s absence which bound the latter to composing a working committee ‘in accordance with the wishes of Gandhiji’.
Bose attempted but failed to reach an understanding with Gandhi. So, he offered to resign as president. At a special meeting of the AICC in Kolkata, Nehru moved a resolution calling on Bose to withdraw his resignation. He suggested retention of the working committee of the previous year, barring two members, who should be replaced at the president’s discretion. Bose, though, wanted greater left representation in the committee. There was, thus, no meeting of minds.
Tagore in a despatch to Bose said: ‘The dignity and forbearance which you have shown in the midst of the most aggravating situation has won my admiration and confidence in your leadership.’ But Bose was aggrieved with Nehru. In a copious letter on 28 March 1939, he said, ‘I find that for some time past you have developed tremendous dislike for me. I say this because I find that you take up enthusiastically every possible point against me; what could be said in my favour you ignore.’ The recipient replied, ‘I have always had, and still have, regard and affection for you, though sometimes I did not like at all what you did or how you did it.’
In January 1941, Bose dramatically escaped from India to surface in Berlin a couple of months later. He controversially sought the Third Reich’s support for India’s freedom. Gandhi, unexpectedly, was uncritical of his move. Congress leader Abul Kalam Azad noted, ‘He (Gandhi) had not formerly approved many of Bose’s actions, but now I found a change in his outlook. Many of his remarks convinced me that he admired the courage and resourcefulness Subhas Bose had displayed in making his escape from India.’ In 1943, he shifted his base to southeast Asia and formed an Indian National Army (INA) from the British Indian Army’s prisoners-of-war captured by Japan.
He named INA’s brigades after Gandhi, Nehru and Azad. On the eve of its campaign to enter India, Bose, now Netaji to his followers, took to the airwaves on his Azad Hind Radio. ‘Father of the Nation,’ he said, ‘in this holy war for India’s liberation, we ask for your blessings and good wishes.’ This was the first time anyone had conferred the overarching mantle of ‘Father of the Nation’ on the Mahatma. The INA fought the British Indian Army on India’s north-eastern front, indeed briefly entered Indian soil in Manipur and Nagaland, before being forced to retreat. In the winter of 1945-46, officers of the INA – who had effectively defected from the British Indian Army – were court martialed at Delhi’s Red Fort, found guilty of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The upsurge of public anger that greeted the pronouncement was unprecedented. ‘The trial,’ Nehru declared in a speech, ‘has taken us many steps forward on our path to freedom. Never before in Indian history had such unified sentiments been manifested by various divergent sections of the population.’ Gandhi reacted, ‘The hypnotism of the Indian National Army has cast its spell on us. Netaji’s name is one to conjure with. His patriotism is second to none. His bravery shines through all his actions.’ On another occasion he remarked the INA’s greatest credit ‘was to gather together, under one banner, men from all religions and races of India, and infuse into them the spirit of solidarity and oneness to the utter exclusion of all communal and parochial sentiment’.
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