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>>

Netaji Inquiry Committee: Dissentient Report of Suresh Chandra Bose (1956)

To supplement the evidence that has been adduced by Netaji's associates and those who were alleged to have been with him in that plane, regarding Netaji's stay at Saigon and at Tourane from local persons, it would appear that only one person at each of these two places could be secured and their depositions will now be considered.

Shri Ramneo Goswami, witness No. 29, said to be a watchman of the firm of Chotirmal, in one of whose houses, Netaji stayed during his visits to Saigon, has stated, that about a week after the surrender of the Japanese, Netaji came to that house accompanied by two Japanese Officers and enquired about Chatterjee, Sahay and Iyer. He told Netaji that they had left only two days previous to that date. As a matter of fact, Shri Iyer was with Netaji at Saigon on that date and had been in Netaji's company for a few days previous to that. So this alleged enquiry by Netaji regarding Shri Iyer does not arise at all. With regard to the subject matter of this enquiry, the deposition of this witness is useless, especially, when the little he has stated, is not borne out by the statements of the other witnesses; on the other hand, they have been contradicted by some of them.

The other person, Shri Mir Ghulam Dastgir, witness No. 31, who states to have been at Tourane for the last 14 years, has deposed that sometime in 1945, he was asked by Mr. Suziko, the Japanese Administrator of Tourane, to meet Netaji, who, he said, had arrived there; that in spite of his best efforts, he was unable to do so, due to continuous air raids. It is quite clear that the deposition of this witness has absolutely no bearing on the fact that has been attempted to be established that Netaji stopped on the night of 17th August 1945 at the biggest hotel there. It is for the exclusive purpose of establishing this fact, which is definitely considered to be an important point in this enquiry, that ' all the three members of the Committee visited Tourane on 2-5-1956 in the company and under the guidance of Shri Kutti, our Consul-General at Saigon and though all of us stopped at the biggest hotel there for some time and made serious attempts to get evidence everywhere, including the hotel staff about Netaji's stay at Tourane, such attempts on our part ended in miserable failure. Far from obtaining any evidence, no clue about Netaji's alleged stay there was secured and the only person we could get hold of there was Shri Dastgir, whose worthless nature of evidence has been stated above. Such being the result of our efforts, a reasonable suspicion would naturally arise about Netaji's alleged stay at Tourane, which has been stated only by the six persons, who allege to have been with him in that plane, but, being Japanese nationals, are expected to support the announcement made by their Government.

The point, which is now being taken up, requires careful consideration. The conduct of the Japanese, in offering only one seat to Netaji, could reasonably be surmised to be the outcome of their and Netaji's agreed plan of removing him as secretly as possible and with the minimum of publicity, so that their conduct would not be exposed to the Anglo-Americans to whom they had surrendered, and not really due to their inability to provide seats for only six of his trusted followers, whom he had selected to take with him to Russia for carrying on his activities for the independence of India. The standpoint of the Japanese Government was quite different from that of Netaji. They were taking a great risk and it involved great danger to themselves, if their plan was found out by their victors. As stated earlier, Col. Pritam Singh inferred from the conversation of some of the Japanese at the Saigon Aerodrome that they wanted to take Netaji alone and which Netaji is reported to have told him subsequently there. In this connection, very important and significant state­ments have been made by Col. M. Yano, witness No. 44, who was at that time, the Chief of Air-force Section No. 2 of the Southern Army Headquarters under the Supreme Command of F. M. Count Terauchi at Dalat and they are, (1) that Gen. Isoda had sent a telegram to Gen. Numata, the Chief of Staff, Southern Army, "that Mr. Subhas Chandra Bose wished to make contact either with China or with Russia to continue his struggle for India's independence in view of the fact that the Japanese were retreating away from India and were not in a position to help him very much," and (2) "the plan was to move Mr. Bose alone to Tokyo. Mr. Bose had desired to go to Russia. F. M. Count Terauchi decided that, in the first instance, Mr. Bose should visit Tokyo and discuss the matter with the Government of Japan and then proceed onwards. The arrange­ments for Mr. Bose to be flown to Tokyo were made by our Headquarters. The arrangements for aeroplane were made by the Air-staff Officer attached to the Headquarters at Dalat." Though this Officer states that it was decided that Netaji should go first to Tokyo, it has been proved quite satisfactorily, that at Saigon aerodrome in the presence of Gen. Isoda and others and before the plane took off from there, that the plane would go to Dairen in Manchuria first and after dropping, according to plan, Netaji and Gen. Shidei there, it would then come to Tokyo. As Gen. Isoda had contacted the Field Marshal at Dalat, when he had gone there for making transport arrangements for Netaji for his onward flight from Saigon, it must obviously have been decided by these two high-ranking officers that Netaji and Gen. Shidei would be dropped at Dairen first and before the plane flew to Tokyo and according to this decision, the route of the plane was scheduled to be from Saigon to Taihoku, then to Dairen and finally to Tokyo, and which has been stated by several witnesses. This is a valuable piece of information and the more so, as it comes from the source of its origin.

Now to summarise the point about Netaji's departure from Bangkok on the morning of 17. 8. 45 and subsequent departure from Saigon the same afternoon, the underlying policy behind it, according to the plan agreed upon both by the Japanese as well as by Netaji, was that, to comply with Netaji's desire not to fall into the hands of the victorious Anglo-Americans, who would thereby wreak their vengeance on him under the Enemy Agents' Ordinance or as a War Criminal, for having waged war against his King and Emperor, the Japanese Government, being exceedingly sorry for Netaji's failure in his mission to bring about the independence of India, which they ascribed to their losing the war, decided "to respect Netaji's last wishes", and in pursuance of the same, made necessary arrangements for removing Netaji to a safe zone, viz., Manchuria, from where, Netaji said, he would make his own arrangements for going into the adjoining Russian territory. For helping Netaji to do so, the Japanese Government were generous enough, though there was distress and utter confusion in their ranks, due to their having surrendered, to depute one of their top-ranking military officers, viz., Lt. Gen. Shidei, who knew Manchuria well and who was reported to be a key man for negotiations with Russia. As there was difficulty for the Japanese in arranging transport for Netaji's party, primarily consisting of more than 100 persons, Netaji finally selected only six of his trusted and loyal followers to accompany him to Russia and accordingly requested the Japanese to arrange transport facilities for only seven of them.

As Netaji was an arch enemy of the Anglo-Americans, to whom they had also surrendered, it is quite clear that the Japanese could not under any circumstances openly remove Netaji to a safe zone and out of the clutches of the victorious Anglo-Americans. They had, therefore, to do so very secretly and without the least chance of being found out. As stated by Col. Pritam Singh, the Japanese were talking among themselves at Saigon aerodrome that it would be difficult to conceal such a big party, which, however, consisted of only seven persons and so they decided to take away Netaji alone. In removing Netaji to a safe place, the primary consideration of the Japanese would naturally be to do so with the minimum chance of being detected by their victors. The question of Netaji having six associates along with him in his new sphere of activities would surely be of little consideration with them. They could in no case embarrass themselves and get themselves disgraced and punished, if detected. It should be very clearly understood, that it was under such circumstances that the Japanese Government had decided to remove Netaji alone to Manchuria.

After a very careful consideration of the evidence recorded on this point, I am of opinion that it is fairly satisfactory only from the time of Netaji's depar­ture from Bangkok and subsequent departure from Saigon. Discrepancies worth considering started commencing after that, and as the alleged flight continued, discrepancies, contradictions and different versions continued to be on the increase. It cannot but be mentioned here that in spite of the best and sincere efforts on our part and on that of our Consul-General at Saigon, we were unable to secure even a single person at Tourane, who was in a position td state that Netaji was there on the night of 17-8-45, especially, when it has not been stated by any of his alleged fellow passengers that there was secrecy about his stay or his movements there. This point should be considered to have some significance. Moreover, apart from the single statement that Netaji stopped at Tourane for the night, the other detailed statements made by the different witnesses are generally discrepant. Taking all these into consideration, it would be difficult to conclude that Netaji came to Tourane along with these witnesses, as alleged by them.

II.a. The aircraft accident

According to Col. Rahman, the plane after taking off, circled over the airfield as Taihoku at a height of a few hundred feet, which he later on stated, would be 1,000 feet or more. It then turned to the north or north-east and while it was still gaining height, he suddenly heard a deafening noise, as if some cannon shell from an enemy plane had hit the starboard side of their plane, which immediately started wobbling and made a nose-dive, which is confirmed by another statement of his, viz., that while the plane was nose-diving, their heads were downwards. That the plane nose-dived has been stated by all the other witnesses, though the maximum altitude said by them to have been attained by the plane falls short of and is nowhere near 1,000 feet stated by Col. Rahman, who then stated that within a few seconds, the plane crashed on the ground. Shri Sastri, witness No. 67, an Aircraft Inspector, Accidents Investigation Branch, Civil Aviation Department, Government of India, who was requested to give his opinion as an Expert, has stated that it takes about 8 seconds to fall down from a height of 1,000 feet and which confirms Col. Rahman's statement. Although Major Kono stated that as soon as the plane had attained a maximum altitude of approximately 30 metres, which is equal to about 100 feet, which, however, is quite different from what has been stated by Col. Rahman, the plane started falling and it descended rapidly. He failed to switch off the ignition switch, as he could not maintain his balance and proceed forward, but he saw the Chief Pilot Major Takeaway and N.C.O. Ayoagi struggling hard to control the plane, which then crashed on the ground. According to Shri Sastri, it would take the plane 3 seconds to dash against the ground from a height of 150 feet and if it crashed from that height, a "Major" accident would be expected. Taking Col. Rahman's version that the plane crashed from a height of 1,000 feet and as stated by Major Kono that the pilots failed to control the plane, though they struggled very hard to do so and as no witness has suggested that the pilots had succeeded in doing so and as it takes only 8 seconds to crash on the ground from a height of 1,000 feet, the nature of the accident due to the downward mounting momentum of the plane could reasonably be expected to be something very horrible and shocking and beyond all imagination and nothing near what has been stated by the witnesses. This altitude of 1,000 feet, as stated by him, is also explained and made believable from another statement of his that the plane was in the air for 5 or 6 minutes. It could be said that it was not quite possible for the Colonel to form a more or less correct idea of the height the plane had attained from inside the plane, but, being an educated and respectable person, he was not expected to make a statement unless he could vouch for its correctness. The other inmates of the plane were also in a position to give the height attained by the plane according to their respective estimates, which, however, are absolutely different from that given by Col. Rahman. Therefore, it could be stated definitely that Col. Rahman knew that the plane had reached a height of 1,000 feet or more. Moreover, his statement that the plane was in the air for 5 or 6 minutes was made with the belief that it was more or less correct, because persons do form an idea of time even without consulting a watch. Similar is the case with his definite statement that the plane crashed at a distance of 1 to 2 miles from the airfield and he could have made no mistake about it either. Another definite statement made by him is that after the plane was 5 or 6 minutes in the air and was still gaining height, he suddenly heard a deafening noise, as if some cannon shell had hit the starboard side of the * plane and his immediate reaction was that some enemy plane carrying cannon had fired on their plane and had hit it and as soon as he heard the noise, the plane started wobbling and it nose-dived, and within a few seconds, it crashed on the ground. According to the Colonel, this was the reason that brought about the accident to the plane. It is exceedingly curious and at the same time inexplicable as to why this reason given by Col. Rahman for the plane crash has not been stated by any other witness or inmate of the plane. The version of the majority of them is that there were two or more loud noises and bangs and, from inside the plane, they knew that the propeller of the left engine and also the left engine, as stated by some of them, had dropped off the plane and which, therefore is totally different from the reason given by the Colonel, for which there can be no explanation whatsoever.

These few statements made by the Colonel fit in with one another and, therefore, give the impression that it could be a probable story. That the plane was in the air for 5 or 6 minutes could reasonably prove that it had attained an altitude of 1,000 feet and that it could have flown to a distance of 1 to 2 miles from the airport, that shell from a cannon from an enemy plane after hitting their plane could cause damage to it, resulting in its wobbling, nose-diving and finally crashing to the ground. In my opinion, by no stretch of reasoning or arguments, could it be explained why not even any of these few but important statements has been supported in any the least manner by any of the other inmates of the plane and the other witnesses. As these statements of Col. Rahman have not been corroborated by any of the other witnesses, I regret, it is not possible to accept them as correct. From this, however, it does not necessarily follow that the statements made by the other witnesses would be accepted as correct either. They have to be judged on their own merits.

To continue with the further statements made by the Colonel, he is definite that as it was a bomber plane, there were no seats in it. This has also been stated by the other witnesses, except Col. Nonogaki, who has shown only two seats in his sketch A, (App. J) and which he stated were occupied by the two pilots. The evidence on record is that as there were no seats, all of them, including Netaji, squatted on the floor. As such, it would be probable and reasonable to expect that when the plane nose-dived, it would not be possible for any of them to retain their seats and they would have all dashed headlong into the cockpit or against any other obstruction in the front portion of the plane. In any case, when the plane dashed against the ground on its nose, they must have been hurled forward with the heavy and sudden impact and injured fairly severely also in the process, unless they were hanging like bats from any part of the plane, which they may have held firmly, but, even in that case, they would have had in all probability lost their grip. For doing this, it would be 3 evident that they would not have got the time, opportunity or presence of mind. Moreover, if the plane had crashed from a height of about 1,000 feet with the pilots unable to control it, the impact would be more than enough to finish all the inmates and that beyond all recognition. It does not require an expert to come to this opinion, though Shri Sastri has stated that a crash from a height of only about 150 feet is sufficient to cause a "Major" accident. So one would shudder to imagine what the result would have been if the plane had crashed from a height of 1,000 feet.

As regards the place where the plane is alleged to have crashed, Col. Rahman has stated that it was 1/2or 2 miles from the boundaries of the airport, and on being questioned, he stated that it crashed on "Plain Open Land". During the last part of the Colonel's examination, he replied to a question put by the Chairman that though he had some photographs, he did not bring any of them with him. He stated later that he had four photographs, two of the crashed plane, one of the coffin and in the fourth, he is shown as sitting beside the coffin.

It appears from newspaper reports recently published, containing the gist of my colleagues' report submitted to the Government, that they have relied on one of those photographs of the crashed plane, which was given very good publicity in the front page of the newspaper. It is, therefore, evident that Col. Rahman sent those four photographs to the Committee. I regret very much to state that I had absolutely no knowledge of the same, till I could surmise this now from the newspaper reports. It is sickening to report that though these photographs and all other relevant papers were sent to Shri Sastri for his opinion as an expert, and which have evidently been referred to and relied upon by my colleagues in their report to Government, they have intentionally been withheld from me, the third member of the Committee, and to whom those photographs and all other papers are equally necessary for writing his dissentient report and that, in spite of requests, verbal, by letters and by telegrams, starting from 14. 7. 56 to 30. 8. 56 to the Chairman of the Committee, the Prime Minister of India and the Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi. It is with deep regret that I am constrained to state that the Chief Minister of West Bengal, who was requested by some high official in New Delhi, to get me round to sign the report of my colleagues and thereby make it a unanimous one, and who tried his utmost to do so by influencing, persuading and coaxing me, not only by contacting me personally and over the phone, but also through some of my nearest relations and friends, failed to have his high position and prestige maintained. Having failed in his attempt, he heard patiently what I had to say in reply and he was good enough to request the Prime Minister by a letter, in reply to a letter he had received from him, in my presence on 15. 8. 56, requesting him to arrange to send me all the papers, I had requested them several times, so as to enable me to complete my dissentient report. I naturally expected that our Chief Minister's efforts in coming to my aid would meet with success and I was expecting the necessary papers from the Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs everyday soon after that. I was sorely disappointed, when he informed me over the phone on 28.8.56, that there was no likelihood of my getting any of those papers from Delhi. He advised me at the same time, to write my report by making use of the personal notes, I had maintained, regarding some of the important statements made by some of the witnesses. In this connection, I consider I will be failing in my duty, if I do not make it clear the circumstances, which compelled me to keep these notes as well as the nature of those notes. I have made mention of this in an earlier part of the report and I consider it necessary to point out here that the Chairman had decidedly a biased, prejudiced and preconceived opinion that Netaji was dead and which he in a way, openly expressed to the Pressmen in Tokyo on 4.5.56, immediately on our arrival at the airport there and which was also the confirmed opinion of the Prime Minister and which he also openly expressed in the Parliament on 29.9.55. This appears to have moulded the opinion of the Chairman in such a manner as to get those statements of the witnesses, that were not favourable towards his opinion, recorded in such a manner as would be least detrimental to his opinion. To guard against this, as much as I possibly could, I was compelled to keep notes to the best of my abilities and with the least inconvenience to the work of the Committee. As I have stated earlier, I had to check the draft statements of some of the witnesses recorded by our stenographer with these notes of mine and had on a few occasions, got them corrected after reference to and with the permission of my colleagues. This "Private Noting", as was styled by my colleague Shri Maitra, was evidently a hindrance to them and on a few occasions, he remarked that my "Private Noting" had no value and that I would not be allowed to take up the time of the Committee, to which I invariably replied immediately, that in doing so, I had never wasted a minute of their time nor did I ever ask them for time for doing so. Whenever I put any question to any witness or listened to his answer, it was not possible for me to keep notes of the same. Besides this, I kept notes only when I felt inclined or thought it necessary to do so and they were accordingly kept in a haphazard manner. I had not the faintest idea at that time, that such notes of mine would be considered so valuable by the highest officials of our Government, as to cast aside all the evidence that had come to be placed on record during the course of our enquiry and, for which so much time and money had been spent both here as well as in foreign lands and to be ordered to be made the basis of my report to the Government. Later on, the Joint Secretary was pleased to inform me that he regretted his inability to send me the papers I had asked for and requested me to rely on the notes I had kept and to write my report accordingly. In this matter, the climax was reached, when on 28.8.56, our Chief Minister advised me over the phone to depend on my memory also in writing my report. This is decidedly the limit. It is exceedingly unfortunate for me, as a non-official member of the Committee, to have been the victim of such injustice and oppression and the only guilt that I can make out is that I dissented from my colleagues and did not see my way to agree with their finding that the aircraft accident took place. I regret very much that I am compelled to state that this sort of partiality, obstruction and injustice on the part of some of the highest officials, paid from the exchequer of Government, that is claimed to be a civilised and a democratic one, in withholding relevant papers that are filed on the record, from the non-official member of the Committee, with the apparent intention of making it impossible for him to write and submit his report to the Government, because his opinion happens to go against the opinion of the Government, is something really amazing and probably unique in the annals of any judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings and it will not at all be surprising, if it goes down to history as such.

Now to return to the four photographs, which, I believe, were sent by Col. Rahman and which along with all other papers were not sent to me, as already stated by me, I have to state that I have just managed after great difficulty, resourcefulness and expenditure to get hold of. As regards the Photograph, (App. Q), showing the plane alleged to have crashed along with the place, where it is shown to have crashed, different versions have been given by different witnesses. Col. Rahman stated that the photograph was given to him by the Japanese with the report that it was the identical plane, in which Netaji, he and others were alleged to have travelled and which subsequently crashed. The details shown in the photograph should have, therefore, more or less tallied with the statements of the witnesses, without which, it cannot be considered to have any evidential value. It will be seen that it does not show the "Flat Country" or "Plain Open Land", stated by Col. Rahman nor does it show the airfield or the runway, stated by the other witnesses. It is absolutely different and it clearly shows hilly area. It is common knowledge that a photographic print correctly shows what really exists and nothing different from that. The discrepant, contradictory and irreconcilable statements of the witnesses, therefore, show that the aircraft accident, as alleged by them, cannot be said to have been proved and this finding is confirmed by this photograph. In my humble opinion, there can be no other conclusion.

As regards the other three photographs, copies attached, (App. R, S & T), I regret I am not in a position to state definitely whether they are the identical three sent by Col. Rahman. Considering the one, (App. R), which is likely to have been sent by him, it gives a view of the place, where the plane is alleged to have crashed. It is nowhere like what the witnesses have said, but is similar to the first photograph, (App. Q), already discussed. The other two photographs, (App. S & T) will be considered at the proper place.

Regarding the aircraft accident, Capt. Arai stated that in a few minutes after taking off, the plane attained a height of about 500 metres, equivalent to about 1,600 feet, when he heard two loud noises and the plane immediately started to dive towards the earth. Except him and Col. Rahman, all the other witnesses stated that the accident took place soon after the plane became airborne and when the altitude attained was low and very much less than 1,000 feet or 1,600 feet, stated by Col. Rahman and him respectively. The Captain learnt later that the first noise was due to one of the propellers falling off and the second was due to one of the engines dropping off. After crashing on the ground, the plane broke into two pieces from near the middle, as shown by him in red pencil in his sketch, (App. L). This contradicts Col. Rahman's statement, the opinion of Sri Sastri, and the photograph, (App. Q) that the tail and wings were attached to the remaining part of the plane. He has also stated that the accident was due to overloading, but Shri Sastri is definitely of opinion that the propeller could not drop off due to overloading. On the other hand, Col. Nonogaki and Major Kono have said, that as they considered that the plane was overloaded at Tourane, they relieved the load off the plane and the Major stated that he did so to the extent of about 600 kgs., which is even more than half a ton. It is curious, that the statements of the witnesses are, that up to Tourane, when the plane is alleged by some of them to have been overloaded, the take off, landing and flight enroute were quite normal and smooth. The opinion of Shri .Sastri, after considering the overall evidence on record, including the photographs, sketches etc., is that the plane attained a maximum height of about 120 feet and then crashed near the runway, and which, even in that case, would be expected to result in a "major" accident. So anyone could easily imagine what the nature of the accident would have been, if the plane had crashed from a height of 1,000 or 1,600 feet, as stated by Col. Rahman or Capt. Arai respectively.