So, Netaji Subhas Bose did die in a plane crash in 1945?

The Modi Government finally concedes that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose indeed died in a plane crash at Taihoku (Taiwan) in 1945 after keeping the country on tenterhooks for years

Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images  
Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Uttam Sengupta

It is nothing short of an anti-climax. Few opportunities were missed by the Modi Government during the last few years to keep suspense alive over the death of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The Prime Minister’s much publicized meeting with almost the entire Bose clan, the Home Minister’s assurance that Netaji files would be declassified and BJP national president Amit Shah’s withdrawal of a tweet in August, 2015 paying tributes to Netaji on August 18 had led people to believe that there was indeed some great mystery behind the death of Netaji.

But after keeping the country on tenterhooks for the better part of three years, the Ministry of Home affairs (MHA) has now reportedly informed an RTI applicant that Netaji had indeed died in the plane crash at Taihoku (Taiwan) on August 18, 1945.

The report of the Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry, set up by the NDA Government in 1999 and which submitted its report in 2005, had indeed come to the conclusion that Netaji had not died in the plane crash. It had based its conclusion on three main factors.

First, a statement made by the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai in 1978 that new revelations cast doubts on the theory that Netaji died in a plane crash. But the PMO could offer the Commission nothing to suggest what Desai had in mind and on what basis he had made the statement in Parliament.

The Commission refused to believe that a Prime Minister would have made an important statement in Parliament without any substantial evidence. Secondly, the Commission wrote to the authorities in Taiwan, who informed that they did not have anything on record to suggest that a plane crash had taken place in Taihoku on August 18, 1945.

Finally, the Mukherjee Commission suspected that successive governments refused to declassify Netaji files because they had something to hide. The information that during the tenure of Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister, several files related to Netaji had been destroyed, seemed to confirm the Commission’s worst suspicions.

The confusion was also caused because before embarking on his last flight from Bangkok and Saigon, Netaji had confided that he wanted to reach Manchuria, still under Japanese occupation but about to fall to Russians. Russia, he felt, would take on Britain and that’s why he wanted to make contact with Russians.

To be fair, the Commission may also have taken British Intelligence reports a tad too seriously. Eight months after the plane crash, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) communications showed, they were still unsure of Netaji’s death. IB records also showed that they were aware of the unconfirmed buzz that that Netaji Subhas Bose was in Russia. So, the Mukherjee Commission put two and two together and came to five.

But the report was submitted in 2005 and was tabled in Parliament by the UPA Government in 2007. What the Commission had overlooked was that Taihoku was still under Japanese occupation on August 18, 1945. Japan had surrendered unconditionally after the Americans dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And the Japanese were in retreat everywhere. It must have been a chaotic time with everyone for himself. It is not surprising that the present Taiwan government has no record of any plane crash.

The fatal mistake that the Japanese made was to pack the bomber with 15 people including Netaji and Habibur Rahman who Netaji insisted on taking with him. There were also too many boxes and luggage in the plane which ordinarily carried only five people. And though they prudently dumped baggage weighing 1000 KGs at Saigon, the rear door was still blocked by too many boxes.

Netaji too would have survived if the rear door had not been jammed. Unlike people in the front who died instantly following the crash, Netaji and Habibur Rahman, who were seated at the back, survived the crash with minor injuries, Rahman with a concussion. Had they been able to get out of the plane through the rear door, both would have survived. But it was blocked or jammed.

The plane was on fire and both tried to get out through the front door. For some reason, Netaji was doused in gasoline, possibly because he was sitting close to the fuel tank. It caught fire and eyewitnesses’ accounts hold that Netaji looked like a fireball as he staggered out of the plane and ran towards safety. He survived for about six hours after the crash.

There are detailed accounts of the Japanese doctors and nurses who attended on him at Taihoku. The account of the Japanese officers who attended the funeral and the one who carried his ashes to Tokyo.

As for the destruction of files at the PMO, an Under Secretary in the PMO, Jarnail Singh, in his affidavit to the Mukherjee Commission clearly stated that the destruction was part of a “routine” weeding out of files at the PMO. They contained agenda papers for cabinet meetings and of proposals for inquiries and memorials. More importantly, the PMO kept a record, as per rules, of what the destroyed files contained.

Why would the PMO under Indira Gandhi keep a record of what the files contained if it wanted to destroy any kind of evidence? Surprisingly, the Mukherjee Commission, deliberately or otherwise, chose to make much of the “ routine weeding out of the files” ( words used by the PMO when the NDA was in power) and allowed a section of the media to engage in mud-slinging.

Some people have made a career out of Netaji. BJP and the NDA have clearly used the ‘controversy’ to gain political mileage in West Bengal. The controversy was whipped up ahead of the election in West Bengal in 2016 for predictable reasons.

Now that the purpose has been served, one hopes the NDA would allow Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his memory to rest in peace.

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