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>>

Report of the Netaji Inquiry Committee (1956)

Chapter IV: Cremation of Netaji's Body

Immediately after Netaji passed away, the Japanese present stood up and paid respect to his body by saluting. Col. Habibur Rehman was one of Netaji's most trusted officers, and had been especially chosen by Netaji to accompany him on this journey. Habibur Rehman was deeply affected by Netaji's death. The Interpreter, Nakamura, who was present at the death-bed, had graphically described how Col. Rehman prayed for the dead. At first he came and knelt by Netaji's bed, and prayed for five or six minutes. Then he opened the window and, looking at the sky, prayed for a longer time, and then slowly came to his bed and lay down. All present in the room were affected. Dr. Yoshimi says that tears were rolling down Col. Rehman's eyes. The nurses were crying loudly. Everybody present in the room was crying. In fact, describing this poignant scene before the Committee, Dr. Yoshimi himself broke down and sobbed audibly. Thereafter, Dr. Yoshimi informed the Military Headquarters of the sad event. Major Nagatomo was sent down from the Headquarters. He came and saw Netaji's body lying on the hospital bed swathed in bandages. The body was removed to one corner of the room, and a screen was put round it, and according to Japanese custom, flowers and candles were placed by its side. The changed position is shown in the sketches of the hospital furnished by Dr. Yoshimi and Col. Habibur Rehman. Major Nagatomo posted soldiers to guard the body.

2. Next day, i.e., on the 19th August, the Formosan Army Headquarters received a telegram from the Imperial General Headquarters that the body should be flown to Tokyo by plane. Accordingly, Major Nagatomo instructed Dr. Yoshimi to inject Formalene into the body to preserve it. On the same day, the body was put in a coffin which, according to Col. Habibur Rehman, was made of camphor-wood. Major Nagatomo says that he had lifted the lid of the coffin and seen Netaji's face. He says, "I saw Mr. Bose's face. It was a big round face." Col. Habibur Rehman also saw the body being put in the coffin. Meanwhile, Col. Habibur Rehman had been pressing the local Japanese Military authorities to arrange for the transport of the body, preferably to Singapore, or alternatively to Tokyo. On that day, i.e., on the 19th, some senior Military officers came to the Hospital, and expressed their regrets for the unfortunate accident and Netaji's demise. But the body was not transported by plane either to Singapore or to Tokyo. According to Major Nagatomo, the first telegram from the Imperial General Headquarters was followed by a second telegram, asking them not to send the body to Tokyo, but to cremate it at Taihoku. No reason was given for this change of orders. Col. Habibur Rehman was told, on the 20th, that the body could not be transported by plane, because the coffin was too big to be carried in the small plane which the Japanese had. Formosa was hot in August, and it was the third day after the death. Finding no alternative, he had to agree to the cremation of the body at Taihoku. There is some discrepancy about the date of cremation. In his statement before us, Col. Habibur Rehman had given the date of cremation as 20th of August, but in a statement signed by him dated 24th August 1945, and handed to Mr. Murti, the date was given as 22nd August. Mr. J. Nakamura definitely gives the date as 20th August. Dr. Yoshimi says that so far as he could remember, it was the 20th, but he was not very sure. Major Nagatomo has not mentioned any definite date, but says that the cremation was done "on the same day, on receipt of the second telegram from the Imperial General Headquarters"— which appears to have been received on the 19th of August. It is unlikely that with so much argument, and change of orders, the body was cremated on the 19th, i.e., the date following the death. The cremation is more likely to have taken place sometime later.

3. The cremation was simple and quiet ceremony. Although Col. Habibur Rehman says that the Hospital staff and a large number of others accompanied the cortege, this is not confirmed by Dr. Yoshimi, the doctor in charge of the Military Hospital. Dr. Yoshimi simply says, "The body was taken away from the Hospital by the Captain of the guard that was posted there on the 18th...The coffin was placed in the truck and carried away." Major Nagatomo, who had been detailed by the Military Headquarters to make all necessary arrangements for the cremation and funeral of Netaji's body, says that the coffin was placed on a truck, with twelve soldiers and ahead of it he went along in a car with the Indian Adjutant (Col. Habibur Rehman) and the Interpreter (Mr. Nakamura). The Interpreter, Mr. Nakamura, has given a detailed description as to what had happened at the crematorium. The crematorium was visited by Mr. Harin Shah. It was the Taihoku City Government crematorium, and was reached after crossing the main Sun Yat-Sen Avenue. Mr. Harin Shah took some photographs of the crematorium both from inside and outside. Apart from the Japanese soldiers, persons definitely present at the cremation were:
Col. Habibur Rehman,
Major Nagatomo,
Mr. J. Nakamura,
a Buddhist priest, and
the Crematorium Attendant, Mr. Chu Tsang.

The Committee has examined the first three. The Buddhist priest and the Formosan attendant could not be examined, as we could not go to Formosa. Mr. Nakamura has given a detailed account of the crematorium, and what took place there. He says: "On arrival at the crematorium, the soldiers took up the coffin, and carried it to the furnace. The crematorium was a large-sized hall with a furnace in the middle. The hall, as far as I remember, was approximately 16 ft. by 16 ft. From the entrance to the hall, the soldiers carried the coffin on their shoulders, and placed it in the sliding tray in the furnace, and after closing the door of the furnace they came out, and told us that they had placed the coffin in position in the furnace. The soldiers went out, and we, who were waiting outside, went inside the hall. Col. Rehman was in the front. I was next to him. The other gentlemen, totalling about five, followed us. We went and stood in front of the furnace. All of us stayed there and saluted. After paying our respects, we went to the back side of the furnace where we found the priest standing with burning incense sticks (aggarbattis) in his hand. He wanted to hand over a stick to Col. Rehman but as he could not hold it, I took the stick and placed it in Col. Rehman's hands. Col. Rehman held it between the edge of his palms, since he could not hold it in his fingers, and placed it in the hole which was located at the rear of the furnace. I took the next incense stick and put it down in the same whole and everybody followed likewise. As we came out of the entrance of the crematorium, the caretaker told us to come there the following day, at about noon-time." The party came away after locking the door of the furnace. Both Col. Habibur Rehman and Major Nagatomo claim to have kept the key.

4. Next day, they again went to the crematorium to collect the ashes. Regarding collection of ashes, Major Nagatomo says:
"Next morning at about 8 A.M. I went to the hospital to take the Indian Adjutant with me. I went to the hospital in a car, and as far as I remember, the Interpreter was also with us on the next day. On arrival at the crematorium, I opened the lock of the furnace with the key that was with me, and pulled out the sliding plate. From the Headquarters I had taken with me a small wooden box about 8" cube. When we pulled out the plate on which the coffin had been put, we found that the whole skeleton had still retained its shape, but it was completely burnt. According to the Buddhist custom, I first picked a bone from the throat with two chop-sticks and placed it in the box. Then I picked a bone from every portion of his body and placed it in the box. The Indian Adjutant did the same after me. I do not remember about the Interpreter, whether he picked up the bones or not. In this way, the whole of the box was filled up. The lid of the box containing the bones was nailed but I am not quite sure whether it was nailed here, or in the temple. After closing the box, it was wrapped up in a white cloth. After wrapping the box in a white cloth, it was put round the neck of the Indian Adjutant, and we went by car to the Nishi (West) Honganji temple. That day a special ceremony was held at the temple."

Col. Habibur Rehman corroborates Major Nagatomo's version, but he does not give so much detail. Mr. Harin Shah had the advantage of not only visiting the crematorium in 1946, but he also had questioned the caretaker, Mr. Chu Tsang. He said that the coffin of Netaji was very big. It was brought to the crematorium at about 3 P.M. and it took 8 hours to burn. The Japanese Officers had paid the usual fee of 18 yens. The coffin was so big, that it could not be put in the chamber, and so the body had to be placed in a smaller coffin. According to Mr. Chu Tsang, it was he who had collected the ashes next morning and put it into usual wooden funeral urn. He told Mr. Harin Shah that one Indian, with his forearm bandaged, came in a car with some Japanese and took away the urn. He described the Indian as a tall person dressed in white with his forearm bandaged.

5. Here again, about the cremation, the evidence has come from two Japanese, one Indian (Pakistani), and one Formosan witness. Their stories closely corroborate each other. There is no reason why these witnesses of different origin should tell the same story, unless they themselves took part in the events they described. There has been no suggestion of disposal of Netaji's body in any other way but by cremation at the Taihoku crematorium. The slight confusion caused by the Southern Army Headquarter's telegram, dated the 20th August, that the body had been flown to Tokyo, could be explained in two ways. First, their own explanation that the report regarding Netaji's body was flown to Tokyo, presumably with Col. Tada. Secondly, they might have referring at that time to the first instruction, received from Imperial General Headquarters to fly the body to Tokyo, which was subsequently countermanded. It can be taken as Well established that the body of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was burnt at Taihoku Crematorium, and his ashes were thereafter deposited at the Nishi Honganji temple in the same city. Thus dust returned to dust, and so little was left of so big a man.

6. An ordinary person reading the story from the beginning, from the flight from Saigon, to the deposit of the ashes in Nishi Honganji temple, cannot help feeling that things were not arranged in the best possible way. Netaji's requirement for air transport was modest. He only asked for passage for himself and six of his Advisers and Officers. It is not clear why this modest request could not be met. It is true that at that time, air passages were not easy to come by. Major Kono, for instance, who was on transfer to Tokyo, had to wait at Saigon for two weeks for his passage. But then we have it from the evidence of Captain Nakamura alias Yamamoto that the flight of Japanese aircraft was restricted only after the 25th of August, i.e., 8 days after Netaji's departure from Saigon. Perhaps, it was not so difficult to arrange for 7 seats in an air transport. General Isoda, the Chief of the Japanese Liaison Mission, expected this to be provided, and was disappointed when he was informed to the contrary. Then, the plane itself was not probably in a particularly good state, as may be deduced from the fact that an engine had to be changed at Saigon. General Isayama, Chief of the General Staff, Formosan Army, has said that the engine of the plane was worn out. When the crash took place, it was dealt with in a somewhat casual manner. No officer of any standing came to the spot, although it is clear from the evidence of Staff Officer Major Nagatomo that information about the crash was received from the aerodrome immediately after it had occurred. The Chief of the General Staff of the Formosan Army, General Isayama, was candid enough to say that he learnt of the accident when he went to his office the next morning! And although Lt. Col. Nonogaki has stated that, on informing the Headquarters, some Staff Officers came while Netaji was alive, the Staff Officers themselves, namely, Col. Miyata and Major Nagatomo, say that they arrived after Netaji had died. Major Nagatomo says that immediately after receiving the information, General Ando, Commander of the Formosan Army, went to the hospital to see Netaji. He also says that General Ando attended the subsequent funeral ceremony at Nishi Honganji temple. General Isayama, Chief of the General Staff, who should know what the Army Commander was doing, gives a completely different story. He says that neither he nor General Ando went either to the hospital to pay respects to Netaji's body, or attended any funeral ceremony. He goes on to say that the Army Commander had shut himself up in his house from the day of surrender of Japan, and did not come out. In justification, he has said that they kept away so as not to give prominence to the fact that an important person like Netaji was fleeing to Tokyo. That explanation does not appear very convincing when he himself said that a week later he went and received Dr. Ba Maw, the Prime Minister of Burma, and General Tanaka, Chief of the General Staff, Burma Army, who were on their way to Tokyo. Apparently, no particular interest was taken by the local Army Command as to what happened to Netaji's body. A comparatively junior officer, a Major (Nagatomo), was detailed, and thereafter no further interest was apparently taken. General Isayama says, "I left the matter of disposal of Mr. Bose's ashes to my Staff Officer, and since I did not receive any report from him, I presume everything must have worked out smoothly." One would have at least expected a formal enquiry into the air crash, which is more or less a routine matter. More so, as the plane carried distinguished persons like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Lt. General Shidei. But no such enquiry was held. On being questioned, General Isayama first denied that the Formosan Army had any responsibility to enquire into an accident of aircraft that did not belong to them — the plane in question belonged to the Third Air Army at Singapore. Later on he admitted that the local Army Command was expected to hold an enquiry, and went on to say that a report about this particular plane crash was submitted through him, by Lt. Col. Shibuya, to the Imperial General Headquarters. As mentioned in a previous chapter dealing with the air crash, Lt. Col. Shibuya denied knowledge of any such report. Netaji was the Head of a State allied to Japan in war, but actually the cremation of his body was a very quiet affair, attended only by the same Major Nagatomo and a dozen soldiers. Truly, it may be said, "not a drum was heard, not a funeral note". One would have expected him to be buried with the usual military honours — gun carriage draped in flag, soldiers lining with reversed arms, and so on. It is true that there was a certain amount of disorganisation following the Japanese surrender on 15th of August 1945, but even taking this into account, there remains a residual impression that all that could have been done, was not done.