Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

The author goes on to describe how Gandhi clarified the baselessness of his belief of Subhas being alive by quoting from his article in Harijan of 7 April 1946. Again, he chooses to ignore the letter from Gandhi's secretary Khurshed Naoroji which she wrote to his American biographer Louis Fischer on 22 July, which is now preserved at the Princeton University library. "If Bose comes with the help of Russia neither Gandhiji nor the Congress will be able to reason with the country," she wrote. Surely, Khurshed Naoroji was not imagining things!

The author's one-eyed approach leads him to make statements such as, "from 1946 to 1956, evidence for the air crash accumulated and became weightier." Nothing could be farther from truth. He cites the evidence of Harin Shah who went to Taihoku in 1946 for investigation and tried to pass on a fictitious death certificate as that of Subhas's; from Yoshimi, the surgeon who apparently treated Subhas on 18 August 1945, but had never seen him or even heard of him before - Yoshimi was told by the interpreter Nakamura that it was Subhas that he was treating; from Ayer, who made a trip to Japan in 1951 seemingly to investigate the veracity of the plane crash story and was secretly suspected of a foul play (along with Rama Murti) over the INA treasures (Anuj Dhar has documented in his book Back from Dead the fact that Ayer's report was doctored); and of course the investigation by the Committee headed by Shah Nawaz Khan, whose methods of inquiry and treatment of evidence were as juvenile as it can be.

"There was no reason to doubt the witnesses, belonging to various nationalities and walks of life, who all testified that Netaji had met his death as a result of this crash," says the author. Obviously, the author cannot see the reason to doubt and so he does not talk about it. It could not have been too difficult to arrange for five or six eye witnesses for a planned cover up, especially when someone such as Field Marshal Terauchi had backed Subhas's plan to cross over to Manchuria without involving the headquarters, as Ayer was informed by Colonel Tada. That makes it more likely that the Japanese Government would not have much clue about the incident.

In 1949, The Nation, a newspaper edited by Sarat Chandra Bose had as its headline spread across the paper "Netaji in Red China: Sarat Bose asserts Govt. possess information." Such a strong statement is difficult to ignore, so the author has to labour to invent a way around. After playing Sarat's psychiatrist to paint how difficult he found to "accept the loss of his beloved brother", the author points out that after all he died "before all the pertinent evidence was gathered in 1956". It is difficult to expect something so banal from a professional historian. It does not even need a historian to understand that Sarat was not asking for evidence of the plane crash, but was screaming in print that he knew that his brother was alive in communist China.

By ascribing the rejection of the Reports of both Khosla Commission (1974) and Shah Nawaz Committee to political prejudice (1956), the author blindly repeats the allegation made by the former Home Minister Shivraj Patil, and highlights only half of the story. If the author accepts that the Janata Party rejected these reports for reasons of political exigency, then to be fair, he must also accept that the Congress Government so far championed the plane crash story for political reasons. But the author is unable to take that fair position, for obvious reasons. Otherwise, instead of blaming it on politics (and virtually accusing a former Prime Minister of lying on the floor of the Parliament), he would have tried to figure out why the Prime Minister - Morarji Desai - who was no friend or follower of Subhas, and in fact belonged to the opponent political camp, would point to availability of new documents as the reason for discarding earlier findings.

For the sake of transparency, the author should have also mentioned that his father, from whom he inherits the belief in the plane crash story, belonged to the Congress Party - the party that has propagated the story of the plane crash. If he did, the political alignments would have become clearer to the reader. But honesty is not a characteristic of this book. The author's political leanings, it would seem, takes over the historian in him when he does not as much refer to the fact of secret destruction of files on Subhas. No historian worth the name could look over such a desperate and heinous act.

The Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry (1999-2006) incurs the author's wrath. Overwhelmed by his frustration at his inability to logically disprove Justice Mukherjee's findings, he begins by calling him a "retired Bengali judge," trying to give this issue a regional colour. Perhaps he should be reminded that Supreme Court judges are not selected on the basis of and identified by their ethnicity or caste or religion, but by their capabilities. The author, seething in anger, brings serious charges against the Commission but as usual, forgets to substantiate them. "The judge himself harboured a preconceived notion, as he confessed in 2010, that Bose was living as an ascetic in the north Indian town of Faizabad decades after 1945," he writes. Now, how did the author reach this conclusion? The historian cites a show on the Bengali news channel Star Ananda as the source of his reference. As it happens, the programme aired by Star Ananda showed only a few seconds' fragment of a detailed interview given by Justice Mukherjee to a researcher who was making a documentary. The author has not seen the full recorded interview since it has not yet been released in the public domain. During the interview Justice Mukherjee confessed that after going through all the evidence, he was 100% certain that Subhas was alive until 1985, living as a monk in Faizabad. Far from having a preconceived notion, Justice Mukherjee became familiar with the Faizabad link only in November 2001, after over two years since the inquiry was instituted when he visited the house where this monk was last known to live in order to scrutinise his belongings. True to his profession, Justice Mukherjee drew the substantive conclusions in his final Report, namely that there was no aircrash at Taihoku Airport on 18 August 1945, based purely on evidence he could gather under severe constraints placed on him by the Central Government in terms of provision of information held by the government, and not on his personal views which he had expressed in an interview much after the submission of his Report.

To further run down Justice Mukherjee, the author suppresses another piece of key information: Mr B Lal, a former Chief Examiner of Questioned Documents examined the handwritings of Subhas and the monk of Faizabad and found them to be the same. Continuing with his selective presentation of information, the author emphasises that the DNA of the monk did not match with the DNA profile of Subhas's family in the test that was done by Government laboratories. Anyone familiar with these laboratories is aware of their past record in terms of accuracy, when their findings have not only been turned down by better laboratories abroad, but even by their sister agencies. As has been seen above, intellectual honesty and thoroughness of research are qualities that have consistently eluded the author.

The Taiwan Government could not have produced any document regarding the plane crash, since the island was under Japanese occupation until the spring of 1946, the author opines. In that case he should have thrown some light as to how the document related to some Ichira Okura, and documents related to General Shidei's death were maintained carefully. Moreover, even if the author's contention is accepted for the sake of argument, it remains to be answered as to why the numerous investigations of the Allied Forces could not locate such a document during their investigation in 1945 and 1946. As the Mukherjee Commission Report points out, a fact that the author again conveniently misses out, the Institute of Taiwanese History maintains microfilmed local daily newspapers of that time. Is it believable that a plane crash death of the Chief of the Kwantung Army and the Head of the Indian Government-in-Exile was not reported in the local newspapers? If that is not convincing enough, sample this: the local daily reported the release of Sarat Chandra Bose in India in September 1945. From the author's viewpoint, it would seem that reporting on Sarat Chandra Bose in faraway India was more important than reporting his brother's death a few kilometres away.

The author also makes much of his father Sisir's collection of evidence to be convinced of Subhas's death by the so-called plane crash. It is unnecessary to go into the details of this self-championing, and it would be sufficient to point out, neither the author's father, nor his mother Krishna Bose had the nerve to face any inquiry commission with their collected "evidence". In view of the author's contention, his father would emerge as someone who was not telling the truth to the Justice Mukherjee Commission. On being summoned to depose before the Commission, Sisir Kumar Bose wrote on 22 September 2000, "I have no personal knowledge as to the issues referred to the Commission. I am therefore not competent to depose on this matter." In other words, if the author is correct, Sisir Bose lied to the Commission. But if Sisir Bose was being truthful, then clearly the author is not.

The "very major" and "the definitive" book

It is silly to ask an author why he has written a book or to ask a publisher why a book is published. The situation however changes when a book is promoted as something that it is not. False labelling attracts penal action for many other categories of products, but not for books, where authors are licensed to take creative liberties. Taking such liberties rests on the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. And that is the sole reason that justifies the existence of this book, with all its acts of omission and commission based on sloppy research. In sum, the book may be just enough to introduce Subhas Chandra Bose to an uninformed student in a college in some corner of the world. However, with the author bending the truth to the extent of making it a jalebi, the book can barely be described as a good one, let alone being "the definitive" biography.


Chandrachur Ghose