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)

The committee

The Chairman of this Committee, Shri Shahnawaz Khan, was an Indian Commissioned Officer in the British Indian Army. He saw service in Burma during the last war and eventually became a Prisoner-of-War, when his rank was that of a Captain. When the I. N. A. was organised, he joined its ranks at a comparatively late stage, as he was pro-British, and he has admitted in his book viz., "I. N. A. and its Netaji", that innumerable persons from their families have been in the service of the British Indian Army for the last three generations. When Netaji, as the Head of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind and as Supreme Commander of the I. N. A., ordered that army to go into action against the Anglo-American forces, he moved forward with his unit and took part in military operations. Later on, when the I. N. A. was compelled to retreat and finally surrendered, he also surrendered, when his rank was that of a Colonel, which is evident from the Secret British Military Intelligence reports, and not that of a Major-General, which, he was compelled to admit before me, was self-imposed after the surrender of the I. N. A. He had practically no position in the administrative set-up of Netaji's Government nor any important assignment in the Military Headquarters Staff and, being in the forward lines and without any decoration for any specific bravery or conduct, he had little opportunity of coming in personal contact with Netaji, the last of which was in the first week of March, 1945. He is at present a member of the Parliament on behalf of the Congress and is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport and Railways. Even if he does not continue to be a Pakistani, all his relations, including his eldest adult son, and his property are there, and in the course of a comparatively short stay here, he has created a position for himself in government circles and is the proprietor of a mechanised farm with an area of a few hundred acres. He is one of those rare fortune-favoured persons, who has successfully managed to retain his feet on two territories quite profitably. His tact and cleverness in this matter are really praiseworthy. He has been nominated as a representative of Netaji's Azad Hind Government.

Shri S. N. Maitra is a member of the Indian Civil Service, which he joined in 1935. He has served the Government in various capacities, mostly executive and administrative. Lastly he was Chief Commissioner of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands before joining this Committee. He is a nominee of the Government.

As for myself, I joined the Bihar and Orissa Executive Service in 1915 and served the Government, till I resigned on political grounds in 1924. During this period, however, I underwent industrial training in Germany. After a lapse of about fifteen years and during which period, I had my own business, I was re-appointed in the Bihar Executive Service, which I again resigned on political grounds in 1944. I have been selected as a representative from the family.

In an enquiry of this nature, it is my humble opinion that the services of a military officer were not necessary. As it was considered essential to have a representative from Netaji's Government, I may be permitted to suggest that it would have been better to choose one from his civil administration rather than one from the military. As such, Shri A. M. Sahay, witness No. 30, who is at present our Consul General at Hanoi, should have been, in my opinion, the first choice. He started his political career in 1920, when he was a medical student at Patna and was Private Secretary to Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the present President of India. In 1922, he met Netaji, who told him that propaganda and work for India's independence should also be carried on in Japan and in other parts of the world. In 1923, he left India for Japan, where he took to journalism and politics. He joined Shri Rash Behari Bose and Raja Mahendra Pratap, the renowned revolutionaries, in their movement for the liberation of India. When the last war broke out, he came to Burma side and after the Anglo-Americans surrendered to the Japanese in March or April, 1942, they formed a Committee of Action and organised the Indian Independence League with Shri Rash Behari Bose as the President and along with it, the Indian National Army. They then arranged with the German Embassies in Tokyo and Shanghai and with others for bringing Netaji from Germany to the Far East, which he actually did, first in a German and then in a Japanese submarine. On 3.7.43., at Singapore, he met Netaji, who had reached there on the previous day. In the course of their conversation, Netaji told him that Mahatma Gandhi was just like his father and he could never think of going against him and whom, he subsequently designated in his radio broadcasts from the Far East as "Father of the Nation". Shri Sahay was then appointed Secretary General to the Provisional Government of Azad Hind with the rank of a Minister. On the 28th October, 1943, he, along with Major-General Bhonsle, Major Abid Hasan and Col. Raju, accompanied Netaji to Tokyo, where he went to attend the Greater East Asia Conference. At the end of December, 1943, he went with Netaji to the Andamans, which the Japanese Government had handed over to the Provisional Government of Azad Hind. He was a member of the Azad Hind Dal, founded by Netaji and which took over charge of the civil administration of the areas round about Imphal, that had been liberated by the I. N. A. Later on, when Netaji was not hopeful about Japan's success in the war, he was sent in January or February, 1945 to Japan for sounding the high officials for getting into touch with the Russian Ambassador there, as Netaji expected to secure the help of the Russians in his future activities for the liberation of India, because he was of opinion that, though Russia was an ally of the Anglo-Americans, they would fall out in the course of the next ten years, when he expected another world conflagration. While in Tokyo, Shri Sahay met Mr. M. Shigemitsu, the Foreign Minister, who happens to hold the same position today, and who may be considered to be one of the topmost Japanese diplomats. On the 31st July, 1945, according to Netaji's instructions, he reached Hanoi in North Viet-Nam, the headquarters of Dr. Ho Chi Mirth's party, that could probably help Netaji in contacting the Russians or the Chinese Communists. He also knew that at the time of the surrender by the Japanese, it was Netaji's ultimate aim to remove his headquarters to Manchuria, and, so, on or about the 18th August, 1945, when he learnt that Netaji was going to Tokyo, he was confident that Netaji’s destination was Manchuria. He, accordingly, requested the Japanese to take him by plane to Manchuria, where he expected to meet Netaji and whom he could help materially, as he had travelled widely in that area in 1938. On the 20th August, Shri Debnath Das, Col. Gulzara Singh, Col. Pritam Singh, witnesses Nos. 2, 3 and 5 respectively, along with Major Abid Hasan and others reached Hanoi by air and informed him that Netaji with Col. Habibur Rahman had left Saigon for Tokyo. As they also knew that Netaji's destination was Manchuria, they desired to accompany him there, in case a plane was secured. At 6 or 7 p.m. on the date of their arrival at Hanoi, news came over the Japanese controlled radio that Netaji's plane had crashed at Taihoku and that Netaji was dead. This came as a great shock to them, but they could not accept it as true, as they knew about Netaji's plan of going to Manchuria and thought that it was a camouflage for preventing his enemies from following him. In my opinion, all these activities of Shri A. M. Sahay qualify him as the best selection from Netaji's Government.

The question of Shri Debnath Das, witness No. 2, whom Netaji made the General Secretary of the Indian Independence Headquarters of East Asia and who was one of the Advisers and a member of the Council of Ministers and who was the only high-ranking person, whom Netaji had instructed at the time of his final departure from Bangkok, to carry on underground work and for which he was given money and arms, should, in my opinion, be considered next. He is now in the service of the West Bengal Government.

Shri S. A. Iyer, witness No. 6, is, in my opinion, the next best candidate. He was a Minister in Netaji's Cabinet and was in charge of Information and Broadcasting from the beginning to the end and always had personal contact with him. He is now attached to the Government of Bombay.

Shri Das and Shri Iyer were two of those six trusted lieutenants, and the only two civilians, whom Netaji had selected and taken with him on his last journey from Bangkok and whom he left at Saigon, when he took the plane from there on the 17th August, 1945 for an "unknown destination".

I would also mention here the name of Shri N. G. Swamy, whom Netaji gave training in Germany in secret service, submarine, parachute, etc. and brought him from there also in a submarine to the Far East, where he was the head of the secret service and was always in close touch with Netaji.

If, however, one from the military side be considered necessary, I would humbly suggest that the first choice should go to Major-General J. K. Bhonsle, witness No. 7, who, as Chief of the Staff, had the closest and the most frequent contact with Netaji, the Supreme Commander, and who was a senior and better qualified military officer, having passed out from Sandhurst. He is at present Deputy Minister, Relief and Rehabilitation, Government of India.

The next best selection would be Col. Gulzara Singh, witness No. 3, who, like the Chairman, was also taken in Netaji's Cabinet, as a member representing the Army and who was with his regiment in the fighting line. Later on, Netaji appointed him Assistant Chief of the Staff, Supreme Headquarters, which position he held till the last. He was in Netaji's party during his last withdrawal from Burma and he was one of those six trusted followers, whom Netaji intended taking with him to Russia via Manchuria. He is at present a Captain in the Indian Army, as he was compelled to start his military career afresh from the lowest rank.

He should be followed by Col. Pritam Singh, witness No. 5, who, like the Chairman, was a Captain in the British Indian Army at the time of surrender, but who joined the I. N. A. in its earliest stage. He was present at the Singapore Aerodrome, when Netaji first arrived there. He took part in the Imphal operations and advanced about fifty miles behind the enemy lines and for his bravery, he was decorated Sardar-e-Jung by Netaji. He was also one of those six loyal persons, stated above, whom Netaji wanted to take him to an "unknown destination" to help him in his activities for the liberation of India. He is at present carrying on somehow with a small farm of his.

I have intentionally omitted the names of Col. Habibur Rahman, who was Deputy Chief of Staff and Major-General M. Z. Kiani, a high ranking officer, who held important assignments, whom it would have been difficult to get from Pakistan and Major Abid Hasan, who had distinguished himself in the I. N. A. operations and whom Netaji brought with him in a submarine from Germany, because he is abroad on Indian Diplomatic Service and could not easily be at hand.

The qualification of a person selected from Netaji's Government should be judged from the nature of his connection therein and also personal contacts with Netaji. In my humble opinion, the Chairman's selection on this Committee, as a representative of Netaji's Government, has been an improper one and injustice has been done not only to those named above, but to many others, who possessed better qualifications.

It is my opinion, that, this Committee, as constituted, is not competent or weighty enough to do justice to the onerous responsibility entrusted to it, and as this matter could be considered to be of international interest. Realising this, I mentioned in my letter dated the 2nd April, 1956, (copy attached, App. A) and spoke to the Prime Minister that the nomination of Shri Shahnawaz Khan, as Chairman of this Committee, was not appropriate and I requested him to request Dr. Radha Binode Pal, the jurist of international fame, to form a Committee and to lead it, as I felt that this enquiry would be of great interest to millions of persons throughout the world and whose confidence in the Committee could not be secured, unless such eminent persons constituted it. The Prime Minister, however, did not accede to my request for reasons best known to him, but Shri Shahnawaz Khan later on clarified this point.

In reply to a question by Shri U. M. Thevar, M.L.A., Madras, who was the first gentleman to appear before the Committee on the 4th April, 1956, as to whether there was any possibility of the inclusion in this Committee of Dr. Radha Binode Pal, the Chairman stated, — "I had talked to the Prime Minister. There is no possibility, — he was there during the war time and the Prime Minister does not think that he could be associated with this Committee, because he has already formed his opinion that the plane crash did not take place".

There may be some meaning in this, but a gentleman of Dr. Pal's position and an eminent jurist and one who had earned international reputation for his learned exposition of law and independent spirit in the historic Tokyo War Crimes' Tribunal, could never be imagined to possess a prejudiced mind, when sitting in judgement over any matter and especially that, concerning a great Indian Leader.

It is, therefore, apparent, that one of the main qualifications for being entitled to be a member of this Committee is that instead of being neutral, one must preferably be expected to be of the opinion that the plane crash took place and that Netaji died as a result of the same, as has been expressed by the Prime Minister in the Parliament on the 29th September, 1955 and also by the Chairman later on in Tokyo on the 4th May 1956, when he said his mission there was mainly to collect direct evidence regarding Netaji's death. I am constrained to state that this has also explained why not a single piece of important and relevant paper or exhibit from the record was given to me after I had disagreed from the findings of my colleagues, though I was legitimately entitled to all such papers for writing my dissentient report and had repeatedly requested the Chairman and the authorities concerned in Delhi for the same and though the Chief Minister, West Bengal, was also pleased to recommend my request.

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