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>>

A quick note on the order (31 January 2013) by the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court on Gumnami Baba

 

In another effort to lift the veil of official secrecy from the unresolved issue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's mysterious disappearance, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court, on 31 January, asked the Uttar Pradesh Government to constitute within three months "a team of experts and higher officers, headed by a Retired Judge of High Court, to hold an enquiry with regard to the identity" of the mysterious reclusive monk, known as Gumnami Baba or Bhagwanji, who spent the last few years of his life at Faizabad. The monk has been claimed to be Netaji by several people who were in touch with him, including erstwhile revolutionary freedom fighters, soldiers of the Indian National Army and others; a claim supported by many investigative journaliststoo. The Court also directed the state Government set up a museum in Faizabad or Ayodhya in order to preserve the belongings of Bhagwanji, supervised by a curator.

The directions were issued in response to petitions filed by Lalita Bose (daughter of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's elder brother Suresh Chandra Bose), MA Haleem (former leader of Socialist Party) and VishwaBandhavTewari (vice president of All India Subhas MuktiVahini) in 1986 and 'Subhas Chandra Bose RashtriyaVichar Kendra' headed by Shakti Singh, at whose house 'Ram Bhawan', the mystery monk spent his last years, in 2010.

Belief of the local people and the local press in the 1980s that the monk was none other than Subhas Chandra Bose had led to inquiries in the past. While investigative journalists such as NirmalNibedon and Ashok Tandonhad indicated that the monk, called Bhagwanji by his followers,was Netaji, a wishy-washyenquiry conducted by the district police failed to reach any conclusion. The question whether the monk was actually Netaji or not, was investigated in-depth by the Justice Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry (JMCI) which was set up by the NDA Government in 1999 under a Calcutta High Court order. Justice Mukherjee reached the conclusion that the story of Netaji's death in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1945 was just that - a story; and that the ashes preserved at the Renkoji Temple in Tokyo are not his. The UPA Government rejected the findings of the report without showing any reason and shelved JMCI's proposal for DNA test of the ashes. On this The Honourable Judges of the Court observed, "Apathy shown by the Government of India to the Mukherjee Commission as well as with regard to DNA test of ash kept at Renkoji Temple, Tokyo, Japan is not understandable."

As far as determining the identity of the reclusive monk was concerned, Justice Mukherjee wrote that despite significant evidence linking Bhagwanjito Netaji, in absence of "clinching evidence" the two persons could not be said to be the same. With the JMCI report being rejected by the UPA Government, the question of Bhagwanji's identity also fizzled out, until Justice Mukherjee, in an informal discussion was caught on camera admitting that he was 100% sure of Bhagwanji being Netaji.

Soon thereafter, Shakti Singh approached the High Court seeking proper inventorisation and preservation of articles belonging to the mystery monk.

Consistent with their treatment of any topic related to Subhas Chandra Bose, the state Government, and the Central Government rubbished any possibility of the monk being Netaji and also contested the petitioners' plea to preserve the belongings of Gumnami Baba and investigate his true identity.

The inventory of articles belonging to Gumnami Baba, many of which were taken away by the JMCI during its investigation, were more than sufficient to impress the Judges, who observed:
A perusal of the aforesaid articles taken away by Mukherjee Commission reveals stature of Gumnami Baba …He was not a man of ordinary stature…It requires thorough probe… The articles/items of late Gumnami Baba raises reasonable curiosity for a probe to find out his identity.

Moreover, the Judges found the way in which the Government has treated the matter of Bhagwanji till now to be objectionable. "The manner in which the Government has dealt with the case of Gumnami Baba or in other words. Netaji may be expressed from a couplet of Ghalib. To quote: "If Ghalib sings in bitter strain, forgive him; Today pain stabs more keenly at his heart."

The Judges expressed surprise that despite the amount of information collated and analysed by AnujDhar clearly disproving the theory of Netaji's death in 1945 and showing the shocking possibility of Gumnami Baba being Netaji, the Government of India did not find it necessary to respond to issues raised by Dhar. They noted in their order that
A little doubt with regard to survival of a national hero in plane crash or with regard to material left by such 'national hero' after supposed death, casts a duty on the government to find out or explore the truth which does not seem to be difficult in view of recent scientific development. The effort made and finding recorded by the learned author…[AnujDhar]… with due extensive tour of various places with regard to survival or death of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose including Gumnami Baba must be attended by the Government of India with due sincerity to expose the truth.

The Judges criticised JMCI's treatment of evidence related to Bhagwanji, on the ground that it did not consider Bhagwanji's"articles individually to arrive logical conclusion."Despite the availability of "substantial oral and documentary evidence which prima facie makes out a case for scientific investigation with regard to identity of late Gumnami Baba," the Commission chose to be influenced in its decision by the DNA test of a set of five teeth claimed to be of the monk. The order however found the Commission's approach faulty since it did not establish with the backing of any evidence that the teeth actually belonged to Bhagwanji, and at the same time failed to record who preserved the set of teeth after his cremation in September 1985.
Even little doubt with regard to the veracity of teeth will compel a man of common prudence not to ignore the oral and other documentary evidence, that too when there was difference of opinion with regard to handwriting of Netaji compared by the experts.

Directing the UP Government to preserve all belongings of Bhagwanji, the Bench observed:
All the alleged materials and belongings of Gumnami Baba are national assets and must be protected for future generations so that at appropriate time by appropriate scientific methodological research truth may be unearthed or explored and addition may be made to Indian History with regard to life of Netaji or the person (Gumnami Baba) who has been treated as Netaji by the substantial section of public.

It also noted that "duty [is] cast upon the government to preserve the articles/household goods of such person at appropriate place/ museum scientifically so that coming generation may not be divested from its right of access for research work or otherwise to look into it while evaluating the petitioners' claim."