India’s freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose remains an enigma 70 years after his death or disappearance. While one among the first 100 declassified files indicates Bose did not die in the 1945 Taipei air crash, it remains a mystery why he chose to live in hiding for the rest of his life
MUMBAI–A stunning and explosive letter among the newly released top secret documents has been missed, ignored, or not sufficiently highlighted since the Indian government began releasing, on January 23, the long-awaited classified files on the enigmatic freedom fighter ‘Netaji’ Subhash Chandra Bose.
Sir F.Mudie from the Home Department, New Delhi, writes a letter discussing Bose to Sir E. Jenkins, saying: “In many ways the easiest course would be to leave him where he is and not ask for his release. He might, of course, in certain circumstances be welcomed by the Russians….”
Mudie’s letter, titled ‘Top Secret’, details options on how the British government was to deal with Subhash Chandra Bose. Mudie’s line ‘In many ways the easiest course would be to leave him where he is and not ask for his release” was paragraph numbered 9, in his 10-point suggestions on what to do with Bose.
Mudie’s letter was dated August 23, 1945. Subhash Chandra Bose was declared dead in the Taipei air crash on August 18, 1945.
Two senior administrators of British-ruled India were discussing how to deal with Bose, after Bose had ‘died’ five days ago.
Sir Robert Francis Mudie (1890-1976) had assignments that included being governor of Bihar, Sind, and Punjab and earlier deputy commissioner of Karachi.
“…not ask for his release”, writes Mudie on August 23, 1945, when a Japanese doctor had declared ‘Subhash Chandra Bose’ ‘dead’ on August 18. Where was Bose, and who had to be asked for him to be released?
Mudie’s cautiously worded letter mentions no other country except Russia – fitting with a prevalent theory that Bose was held in Siberia until the Indian government arranged for him to return to India.
For me, there is no more doubt about the fate of a man who was one of my childhood heroes.
Subhash Chandra Bose had not died in 1945, in the air crash in Taihoku, Formosa (now Taiwan), that was supposed to have burnt him alive.
After reading Mudie’s letter in the newly released declassified files on Netaji on January 25, 2016 — a day before India’s 67th Republic Day anniversary on January 26 — I now know for sure that Bose’s death was faked in 1945.
That in essence is the continuing saga of the ‘death’, and life after the declared death of Subhash Chandra Bose.
‘Facts’ to some appear unconvincing ‘fake’ to others – like India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s letter to British prime minister Clement Atlee in which he allegedly referred to Bose as “your war criminal”. The newly released declassified files has letters from the UK government and India’s ambassador in London denying that Bose was part any British list of war criminals.
Even as I write this, Netaji remains for me an enduring inspiration, for the selfless sacrifices he made in opting out of a comfortable life of luxury, and fighting for the special freedom that I now enjoy in my country.
However, the mystery remains: who faked his death, and why, if the Mudie letter is accepted as fact? Was Bose willingly part of it, or was he forced into the deception, as barter between Britain, Indian leaders and remnant of Axis powers, in negotiations leading up to the end of World War 2, and end of British rule in India?
Paragraph 10 of Mudie’s letter says: “The choice seems to be between deporting and interning Bose outside India or trying him in India and commuting his death sentence. The two might be combined and Bose deported (or “transported”), after conviction. There would be considerable long-term advantages of a trial…” The letter ends with: “R.F.Mudie, – 23-8-45. Home member”
Mudie’s letter sits towards end of the file marked Lon/Pol/103/45/98 (*1), with its cover having a handwritten line titling the subject: “Treatment of Netaji Subhash Bose as war criminal or not”.
The rest of the first batch of 100 released files seem irrelevant static noise to the stunning central message from Mudie’s letter, written five days after Bose was declared dead by a Japanese doctor.
The declassified files include letters appointing commissions of enquiry on Bose’s death, questions raised in Parliament, controversy over the ‘ashes’ of Bose kept in the Renkoji temple in Japan, and the ‘treasure’ of Bose’s Indian National Army.
This was more than I expected when the Indian government declassified files on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose on January 23, Netaji’s 119th birth anniversary.
The classified documents did not seem likely to settle the mystery of his death. At best, the ‘top secret’ files seemed only likely to settle the issue of what the classified files contained.
Yet, while at least one document among the first 100 declassified files has startlingly proved Bose did not die in 1945, it still has not answered the core mystery of why Subhash Chandra Bose chose to live in hiding, in a country where he was, is, will be revered as a hero.
In effect, the Mudie letter among the released declassified papers only confirmed findings of the one-man Justice Manoj Kumar Mukherjee Commission (*2) the Indian government appointed in 2000. His report in November 2005 concluded that Subhash Chandra Bose had not died in the air crash of 1945.
The Indian government refused to accept Justice Mukherjee’s findings – officially. But no Indian prime minister has as yet carried the ‘deception’ to the extent of bringing back to India what is said to be the ashes of a Japanese solider — page 13-14 of the 488 page declassified Mukherjee file (*2) says the ashes are of Ichiro Okura — and honoring it as mortal remains of a revered leader in India’s freedom struggle.
In all, Bose’s death or ‘death’ continues being a Pandora’s Box, as this Asia Times article, suggested after the West Bengal government released its files on Bose in 2015.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to declassify the central government Bose files was a brave move. But it seemed likely to have similar results: more questions, instead of answers, and more political bickering over the death of India’s most enigmatic freedom fighter.
But remarkably, bizarrely, the latest conclusive revelation in the Mudie letter about Netaji living beyond the 1945 air crash has not been headlined, noticed or prominently published in India. The media has chosen instead to scramble around the even more speculative side issues of Pandit Nehru as potential ‘villain’ in the Bose story.
The peculiar thread of the Bose saga continues actually as how a country apparently refuses to accept facts pointing to an uncomfortable truth: one of modern India’s most charismatic heroes was living in hiding, incognito, silently for decades.
Over a decade ago, the Uttar Pradesh High Court brought to light the belongings of a ‘deceased’ mysterious ascetic said to have been Subhash Chandra Bose. The hermit had with him possessions that more likely belonged to Bose (*3), than a recluse in the Hindi-speaking belt of northern India.
The books in English — and P.G. Wodehouse and Charles Dickens novels — among the long list of possessions of this mysterious Gumnami Baba (meaning ‘holy man with no name’) included books on Bose and India’s freedom struggle, photographs of Bose and family members, belongings like an Empire Corona typewriter, a Rolex wrist watch, an Omega gold wrist watch, a large tricolor (Indian flag), a pair of 16X56 German binoculars, records of Netaji’s voice issued by Netaji Research Bureau, and a collection of news reports, including:
* A news report in Daily Monitor of 30.5.70 titled ‘Mary Taylor’s sensational confession’ where a British woman speaks of her father who thought Subhas Bose to be alive
* Series of articles in Anand Bazar Patrika from 25 September to 22 October, 1974, titled ‘Was Taihoku plane crash planned?’ The series refers to Leela Roy’s visit to Neemsar to meet a hermit
*A copy of The India Observer of 2 October 1964 containing the article ‘Netaji in exile’
*A copy of Swatantra Bharat of 13 March 1978 containing the report on claims of Samar Guha that Subhas Bose was alive
*Copies of Jugantar of 8 August 1977 and Statesman of 20 August 1977 containing reports on Transfer of Power volumes that had extracts of secret documents on Subhas Bose’s death
But just as much India has chosen this week to ignore the truth revealed in the Mudie letter, mainstream India had not taken much note of this factual, physical reality of a collection of court-certified possessions of a hermit – of a kind that indicated he was Subhash Chandra Bose living incognito.
Even here, the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose mystery continues. Gumnami Baba – if he was Netaji in hiding – was supposed to be dead in 1985. Or did he again simply disappear to another village?
The declassified top secret files contain a news article included among the 488 pages of the Justice Mukherjee papers. Page 11 of the declassified file (in pdf format) reports that a very old man claiming to be Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose died in a village near Guna, in Madhya Pradesh, central India, in 2006.
“Baba Lalji Maharaj who had been living in Saiji village for the past 30 years,” said the news report, “claimed before he died on October 27 that he was Netaji”, ex-sarpanch (village head) G.S.Raghuvanshi said.
“We were returning from hospital after getting him treated when he revealed his identity and asked us to keep it a secret until his final rites were performed”, Raghuvanshi said.
“When asked about deep scars on his head and body, he would reply that he sustained the injuries when he fell from a plane,” he said.
One way or the other, one report or another, points to possibility that one of India’s most charismatic freedom fighters had not died in 1945. And India seems having trouble accepting that Netaji could have been living in hiding for decades.
The government plans to release about 25 files each month. This new material may, or may not, throw light on why Subhash Chandra Bose chose not to reveal he was alive, to the country for whose priceless freedom he tirelessly fought.
The strange life of Subhas Chandra Bose was the classic case of an enigma wrapped in a mystery. His meeting with Adolf Hitler, the alliance with Japan, his discussions with Heinrich Himmler to start a police force in India modeled on the Nazi police, calling himself ‘Netaji’ – the Indian version of ‘The Fuehrer’ – all contributed to another of the great ‘what ifs’ of history: if Netaji had had his way, and had been the ‘Fuehrer’ of India, would India be celebrating its 67th Republic Day today on January 26, 2016?
Yet among all of India’s great leaders who fought for freedom from colonial rule, it was Netaji who had a clear cut plan on what to do after India had attained independence. He thought ahead, and had written and spoken about his plans for developing the country. But where his socialist-leaning, possibly authoritarian ideas would have taken India is another story.
History worked its twist and Netaji had disappeared – declared dead in 1945. But the first phase of releasing the hidden documents of his life shows he was alive after August 18, 1945, and maybe living for decades in a free, independent India.
The truth finds a way to knock on our door. Our choice is whether to accept it or not.
1) Declassified file containing Sir Mudie’s letter (pg 45 of 47) revealing Subhash Chandra Bose was alive after August 18, 1945 – the officially declared date of his ‘death’.
2) Declassified file on January 23 relating to the Justice Mukherjee Report on death and disappearance of Netaji
3) *1. “Bhagwanji’s belongings – by Anuj Dhar
“Almost a year after Bhagwanji’s death in 1985, the Uttar Pradesh High Court had his belongings listed and sent to the Faizabad treasury.
“The work on the inventory, which started on March 23, 1986, continued for one and a half years, at the end of which more than 2,700 items were listed and sealed in dozens of boxes. The court order came after Lalita Bose, MA Haleem (both are now dead) and Vishwa Bandhu Tiwari in a writ petition said that since the man could be Netaji, his belongings needed to be preserved. Earlier, the local administration had planned to auction them.
“On November 26, 2001, the seals were broken before Justice Manoj Kumar Mukherjee, chairman of the one-man commission probing the disappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. After the belongings were examined, a few articles were marked for handwriting and DNA sampling. The articles included, notes left behind in English, Bangla and Hindi, and teeth found in matchboxes.
The hermit’s belongings, as listed in the inventory, can be found here
4) Declassified files on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose can be accessed at this specially created India governmental site Netaji Papers
Raja Murthy is a Mumbai-based journalist writing for the Statesman since 1990 and Asia Times since 2003 – besides having been a long-term contributor to the Times of India, Economic Times, Elle etc. He shuttles between Mumbai and the Himalayas.