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 V: Netaji's Ashes

The last part of this sad story is about Netaji's ashes. The day the ashes were taken out of crematorium, the urn in which they were kept was taken and left at the Nishi Honganji temple in Taihoku city. Col. Habibur Rehman, Major Nagatomo and Mr. J. Nakamura, Interpreter, went to the temple. Mr. Nakamura has said that the urn was handed over to the Head Priest, with instructions that it should be well looked after, and fresh flowers placed before it every day. The urn was to be kept for the time being in the temple, till it was taken away to its final resting place. This temporary deposit seems to have been customary, for Mr. Nakamura says that in the same temple he saw another urn containing the ashes of General Shidei. There were two Buddhist temples near Nanmon Military Hospital, Taihoku: one was the Nishi (West) Honganji temple which was the biggest temple in Formosa and had twelve priests, and the other was the Higashi (East) Honganji temple which had eight priests. The Nishi Honganji temple was nearer to the Nanmon Military Hospital, and the other temple was 600 metres away from it. These details have been given by the priest of Higashi Honganji temple, Rev. H. Hidemaru, whom the Committee examined as a witness. No priest from the Nishi Honganji temple could be traced. According to Rev. Hidemaru, the ashes were kept in a white box in the Nishi Honganji temple. He said that the urn containing the ashes was kept there by the Japanese Army who looked after it carefully and later brought it to Tokyo. He says that a funeral ceremony was held at Nishi Honganji temple towards the end of August 1945. Major Nagatomo says that he attended a funeral ceremony at the Nishi Honganji temple, either on the day the ashes were deposited, or on the next day. Lt. Col. Shibuya, the Staff Officer, also mentions the funeral ceremony at this temple. It appears that there was a ceremony also in the Higashi Honganji temple. Rev. Hidemaru says that on the 22nd or 23rd (i.e., soon after the ashes were brought to Nishi Honganji temple) his own Head Priest told him that a ceremony would be held for an important Indian personality on the 26th or 27th of August. He goes on to say that this ceremony did take place.

2. On the 5th September, a plane was flying to Tokyo. A passage was secured for Col. Habibur Rehman who had been asking for it from the Headquarters of the Formosan Army. Lt. Col. Shibuya, the Staff Officer of the same Headquarters, also decided to send by the same plane the urn containing Netaji's ashes, and the box containing valuables, and asked Lt. Col. T. Sakai to take charge of them. Sub. Lt. T. Hayashida was also asked to proceed to the Taihoku Aerodrome to carry the two boxes to Tokyo. According to the written statement of Lt. Col. T. Sakai, at that time his hands and face were still bandaged, and he could not lift any luggage. One Major Nakamiya, who was acquainted with Col. Habibur Rehman, also went on the same plane. Lt. Hayashida says that he arrived at the aerodrome at 11 A.M. on the 5th of September, and found that Lt. Col. Sakai, Major Nakamiya and Col. Habibur Rehman were there. There were also two boxes — one containing Netaji's ashes, and the other gold and jewellery. The first box was 1 feet cubical in shape, and the second box was 3 ft. x 2'/2 ft. x 2 ft. Both were of wood. The first was covered with white cloth, and the second had a leather covering. Both were nailed. He slung the box containing the ashes from his neck in the Japanese style. According to Lt. Col. Sakai, the aerodrome was Minami Aerodrome near Taihoku. The plane accident had taken place at the bigger Matsuyama Aerodrome. Major Nagatomo had arranged for the box containing the ashes to be taken from the temple, and delivered at the aerodrome. The aeroplane in which the party was travelling was, according to Col. Habibur Rehman, a Red Cross plane. Lt. Col. Sakai says that it was a 97 heavy bomber marked with a green cross. It flew to Gannosu Airfield near Fukuoka in Kyushu, the southern-most island of Japan. There is some discrepancy as to what happened then. According to Lt. Col. Sakai and Lt. Hayashida they all left by train next afternoon at 3 P.M., after having collected a guard of one Sergeant and two soldiers from the local Military Headquarters. According to Lt. Col. Sakai, they had consultations at Fukuoka and decided that, in the interest of safety, the party should be divided into two. While Col. Habibur Rehman and Major Nakamiya flew on to Tokyo, he (Lt. Col. Sakai) and Lt. Hayashida, with the ashes and the box of valuables, proceeded by train, attended by a guard of three soldiers from the local Army Headquarters. There is also discrepancy as regards the time of departure from Fukuoka and arrival at Tokyo. Col. Habibur Rehman says that the party left by night by goods train, and next morning (6th September) they reached Tokyo. Lt. Col. Sakai says that he and Lt. Hayashida left Fukuoka on the morning of 6th September and reached Tokyo the same evening. According to the current time-table of the Japanese National Railways, even fast Express trains take 20 to 22 hours to reach Tokyo from Fukuoka (Hakata). It is unlikely that in 1945, after the war, the service was so much faster. So the time of travel, approximately 12 hours, given by Col. Habibur Rehman or Lt. Col. Sakai, is incorrect. The timing mentioned by Lt. Hayashida is more reasonable. He says that the party left Fukuoka at 3 P.M. on the 6th September and arrived at 6 P.M. on the 7th September. This date tallies with what has been mentioned by two officers of the Imperial General Staff, Major Kinoshita and Lt. Takakura, who received the ashes. However, the discrepancy as regards the time is not of great importance.

3. All the three witnesses, Col. Habibur Rehman, Lt. Col. Sakai and Lt. Hayashida, say that immediately on arrival at Tokyo the two boxes containing the ashes and valuables were taken to the Imperial General Headquarters. As it was after office hours, they made over charge to the Duty Officer, Major Kinoshita. The Duty Officer, Major Kinoshita was examined by the Committee. He said that on the 7th of September at 11 P.M. an officer of the rank of Lt. Col. handed over to him for safe custody two wooden boxes which he said he had brought from Taiwan (Formosa). One box was 8" in size and the other 10" in size. One was light and the other heavy. The boxes were nailed and wrapped in cloth but were not sealed. The officer who brought them said that the smaller box contained the ashes of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, while the bigger one contained gold. As the boxes were received late at night, Major Kinoshita kept them in his room in his personal custody, and in the morning handed them over to the next Duty Officer, Lt. Col. Takakura. Lt. Col. Sakai went round to the Imperial General Headquarters next morning, and met Lt. Col. Takakura, Chief of the Military Affairs Section, whom he knew, and confirmed that he had received the ashes and the box containing valuables. Neither the Duty Officers gave or took any receipt for the two boxes, nor made any written entries about them. Having taken charge of the ashes, Lt. Col. Takakura called the other officers of the Headquarters and paid respects to Netaji's ashes. He then contacted Mr. Ramamurti, President of the Indian Independence League, Tokyo, over the telephone, and asked him to come to the Headquarters and take charge of the ashes. A car was also arranged for Mr. Murti. Mr. Murti came in about half an hours time, accompanied by Mr. Ayer who had by then arrived in Tokyo. At the main entrance of the Imperial General Headquarters, on the morning of the 8th September, the ashes were handed over to Messrs. Murti and Ayer, by Lt. Col. Takakura in a simple solemn ceremony which is described by Mr. Murti in the following words:

"There Major Takakura (later Lt. Col.) was present and there were two or three other officers. I do not recollect whether General Arisui was there. General Arisui was in the Imperial General Headquarters. Major Takakura told us that General Arisui had asked him to convey his personal condolences to us and to deliver the ashes to us. The urn was wrapped in white cloth, and was taken out from a safety locker. It had straps of long-cloth with which to sling around the neck of the bearer. It was a cubical box of about 1 foot dimension. Several other Military personnel who were present solemnly bowed to the urn. It was received by Mr. Ayer. He was visibly moved by an overwhelming emotion. An Army Sedan car was arranged for our conveyance. Mr. Ayer and myself took the urn direct to my house."

4. At that time, Mr. Murti's house was being used for all purposes as the Headquarters of the Indian Independence League. The urn was placed on a pedestal and flowers and incense were put on it. On the urn, which was so far without any marking, the words "Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose" were written in English letters by Mr. Ayer. Indian Cadets, generally known as Tokyo boys, came and kept vigil over the ashes. The same night Col. Habibur Rehman turned up first at Mr. Murti's house, and later went to Mrs. Sahay's house, and met Mr. Ayer who was staying there. Since hearing the story of the crash, Mr. Ayer had held up his judgement awaiting the arrival of Col. Habibur Rehman. Mr. Murti in his statement says: "Mr. Ayer lost no time in confronting him with a barrage of questions to all of which Col. Rehman very calmly, seriously and solemnly gave adequate replies. This conversation definitely cleared all doubts which Mr. Ayer had and now Mr. Ayer was resolved that the crash was an indisputable reality, and Netaji was a victim of it. Col. Rehman himself was surprised that Mr. Ayer should doubt his story. He showed his own hands and face as visible proof of what had happened. With a serious and solemn face, and eyes burning with sincerity Col. Rehman allayed all doubts of anyone who came in contact with him, and we all accepted this as truth without a shadow of doubt in our minds." Next day he repeated the story to a bigger audience. Fearing that he might be arrested by the Allies, Col. Habibur Rehman also handed over to Mr. Murti a copy of a brief written statement which was dated 24th August 1945 about what had happened to Netaji. (As previously stated, this statement was handed over to the Committee by Mr. J. Murti). (Annexure I)

5. To revert to the ashes, as the American Occupation of Japan had begun, Mr. Murti and his friends felt that an elaborate funeral ceremony would attract attention, and might be treated as a hostile demonstration by the Occupation Forces. They, therefore, decided to hold such a ceremony on a modest scale. Large ceremonies are usually held at large temples like Nishi Honganji temple, Tokyo. For the modest ceremony they looked for a smaller temple, and fixed upon the Renkoji temple in the same quarter of Tokyo, Suginamiku, in which Mr. Murti lived. The priest, Rev. Mochizuki, also agreed to the proposal. At the request of Mrs. Sahay, the ashes were kept in her house for a day, and homage was paid to them also. Then the funeral ceremony was held at the Renkoj temple. There is some difference as to the date. Mr. Ramamurti says that it was held on the 12th or 13th of September. Mr. Ayer gives the date as 14th September. According to Col. Habibur Rehman (who, however, was not. present) it was five or six days after his arrival in Tokyo. According to the priest, Rev. Mochizuki, the date was the 18th of September. On the day of the funeral ceremony, the ashes were carried in a procession from Mrs. Sahay's house to the Renkoji temple. Mr. J. Murti had described the occasion thus:

"All the Tokyo I.N.A. cadets, my brother and I, Mrs. Sahay and her family and the I.N.A. broadcasting unit were present. Mr. Ayer was also with the procession. Col. Rehman could not accompany the procession as he was wanted by the American Police for interrogation. Besides the Tokyo cadets numbering about 40, there were a small number of Japanese. About 10 or 15 Japanese military officers and civilians were also present in the procession. The ashes were carried by a cadet by the name of Virick. The procession went from Mrs. Sahay's house to the Renkoji temple, which was at a distance of about two miles from her house. On arrival at the temple, the ashes were put on the altar, and as the flowers and wreaths were placed, the religious ceremony was conducted by four or five Buddhist priests."

Lt. Col. Takakura says that he attended the funeral ceremony as a representative of the Imperial General Headquarters. There were approximately 100 persons, including some Japanese. The details of the procession given by Mr. J. Murti are corroborated by Rev. Mochizuki, priest of the Renkoji temple.

About the ceremony he says: "The temple of which I am the priest is a Buddhist temple. When the ashes were brought, we placed them on a wooden stand. The ashes were contained in a small wooden box, about 8" cube. It was wrapped in white cloth on which was written NETAJI SUBHAS CHANDRA BOSE. I can read printed English a little. At the ceremony I called six other priests. I stood in the front. We burnt incense (aggarbattis). Mr. Murti gave 30 yens wrapped in a piece of paper. I distributed this sum amongst all the priests...The ceremony lasted for one hour, after which people went away, and I stayed behind in the temple by the side of the ashes to make sure that nobody came and took them away."

6. According to Rev. Mochizuki, after the funeral ceremony it is customary for the people to take away the ashes, but in this case he was asked by Mr. Ramamurti, Mrs. Sahay and a Japanese Staff Officer to keep the ashes in a befitting manner, as they belonged to a great man, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. He agreed to do so till such time as they could be delivered to the proper authorities. Every year on the 18th of August, Rev. Mochizuki offers prayers to the dead. From 1945 when the ashes were deposited till 1950 nobody came to see or pay respects to the ashes except Mr. Ramamurti. In May 1950, the then Head of the Indian Mission, Mr. K.K. Chettur, visited the temple. Since then, there have been many visitors including Mr. Ayer in 1951. Last year (1955) there was quite a big ceremony on the Death Anniversary Day, the 18th of August. A number of Japanese notables, including Madam Tojo, General Nakamura, General Kawabe, General Mutaguchi, General Katakura, attended. Our Committee visited the Renkoji temple and recorded a note which is enclosed (Annexure I). A series of photographs were taken showing the interior and exterior of the temple and the inner and outer caskets in which the ashes are kept. Copies of these will be found in Annexure II.

7. From what has been said, it will be seen that the ashes were moved in stages from the crematorium to Nishi Honganji temple, from there to Minami Aerodrome, and thence to Tokyo Imperial General Headquarters. The progress thereafter was from the Imperial General Headquarters, first to Mr. Ramamurti's house, and then to Mrs. Sahay's house, and finally to the Renkoji temple. There is no break in the.chain. From the first, i.e., from the crematorium, the ashes were taken charge of by the Formosan Army, and responsible officers were concerned with its keeping in the Nishi Honganji temple, and its delivery to the Imperial General Headquarters. That the ashes were well looked after in the temple, has been deposed by the priest of a neighbouring temple. At the Imperial General Headquarters, the first Duty Officer kept the ashes in his own custody, and the next Duty Officer handed them over to the local representative of Netaji's movement, Mr. Ramamurti. Messrs. Ramamurti and Ayer took delivery and, after due ceremony, installed the ashes in Renkoji temple. Since then, Rev. Mochizuki has looked after the ashes carefully. There is, therefore, good reason to believe that the ashes that were taken out from the crematorium, Taihoku, on or about the 21st of August 1945, were the same ashes as were deposited at the Renkoji temple, Tokyo, on or about the 18th September 1945, and the very same ashes remain in that temple today. It is true that such precautions as were necessary to prove indisputable identity were not taken. At no stage was the casket containing the ashes sealed, no formal receipts issued, nor again continuous watch kept over it. So, although there cannot be absolute certainty, nevertheless, it can be said that, in all probability, the ashes kept in Renkoji temple, Tokyo, are the ashes of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

8. Three witnesses have expressed doubts that the ashes kept in the Renkoji temple are not the ashes of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. One of the witnesses who had doubts is Mrs. Illa Pal Chowdhury, M.P. She went to Japan in a party with Mr. J. C. Sinha and another gentleman, in connection with the World Religionists Conference in 1955, and visited the Renkoji temple along with her companions. She says, "I got the feeling that the ashes were not Netaji's ashes, because the temple was in a very dilapidated condition. It is a tiny temple in an out of the way place. It is almost 18 to 20 miles out of Tokyo, it may be a little more or less. The ashes are kept in a casual manner, wrapped up in an old chaddar and the dignity which should accompany Netaji's ashes is not there. That is the feeling which I had and I would like to convey this to the Committee." It will be seen that this opinion is subjective, and not so much based on a study of the facts and circumstances. As for the condition of the temple, the information given by Mrs. Illa Pal is largely incorrect. The temple is not 18 to 20 miles out of Tokyo, but only 6 miles from the centre of the city, and is in that part of Tokyo known as Suginamiku. It is not in a dilapidated condition, but is in an excellent state of preservation. This will be seen from the photos of the exterior and interior of the temple, taken at the time when the Committee was in Tokyo in May-June 1956 (Annexure II).

There is no reason to believe that the temple was in a dilapidated condition a year back. The ashes are not kept in a casual manner, but well kept, and looked after by the priest, Rev. Mochizuki. The Renkoji temple was inspected by the members of the Committee on the 30th May, 1956. An extract from the note (Annexure I) given below will show the condition of the temple and how the ashes are kept:

"The Renkoji temple is situated in Suginamiku quarter of Tokyo, about 6 miles from the centre of the town, where the Indian Embassy is situated. The temple is of a moderate size, built of timber in the usual style of Japanese Buddhist temples. Around it is a small Japanese garden. The temple, although not very large, is well kept. The ashes are kept in the main shrine just behind the altar in a large glass case. In this case are kept various venerated objects, such as gilded images of Bodhisattvas. On the left-hand side of the glass case is a small wooden casket in the shape of a pagoda about 2 ft. high. In front of it is a small portrait of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. A larger photograph of Netaji is kept outside in the left-hand corner of the glass case. Incense was burning before it. Rev. Mochizuki took out from the pagoda-shaped casket a rectangular-shaped wooden box painted red. On opening it was revealed a small container about 8" cube covered with some kind of white cloth. On it was written in large English letters in black ink "NETAJI SUBHAS CHANDRA BOSE." The contents of the smaller container were not examined. As he was handling these objects, Rev. Mochizuki was intoning some sacred mantras. One by one, he put back the containers into their original positions and securely locked with a key the door of the glass case...As in the case of most Japanese temples, the temple was very clean, both inside and outside. The Committee was satisfied that Rev. Mochizuki takes good care of the ashes, and they are being kept properly within the limited means of the authorities of the Renkoji temple."

9. The reasons for doubts given by Mr. J. C. Sinha, who went along with Mrs. Illa Pal in 1955, are somewhat different. He says that he had met one Mr. Virick, a young man, who was one of the Tokyo Cadets (I.N.A.) during the war. He was the cadet who had carried the urn containing the ashes to the Renkoji temple on the day of the original funeral ceremony on the 18th September 1945. Mr. Virick had returned to Japan, and was studying in the Tokyo University. His name was mentioned in this connection specifically by witness Mr. J. Murti. From Mr. Sinha's statement it appears that Mr. Virick who went with him had some difficulty in finding his way to the temple, and in finding out where the urn was kept. Mr. Virick confessed to Mr. Sinha that since depositing the ashes in 1945 he had not been to the Renkoji temple. Mr. Sinha has given the reason for his disbelief. He says,"...had they been Netaji's ashes, as Mr. Virick told me, the person who is in Tokyo for the last three years from today, and if he had been really that person who had carried the ashes to the temple, should have visited that temple a number of times to pay his homage and respects to that great departed leader." Mr. Virick was in Tokyo as a cadet when he was a boy. It is presumed that like others he was repatriated soon after the war terminated. Years have passed and he again came back to Tokyo as a University student apparently in 1952-53. As a young cadet he could not have had much to do with Netaji, and one cannot say how much boyish impression the grown-up man retained. In any case, it would hardly be fair or logical to arrive at any conclusion about the genuineness of the ashes on the basis of personal reactions — apparent lack of attachment for the same ashes on the part of Mr. Virick.

10. The third person who cast doubt is Mr. S. M. Goswami. Mr. Goswami appeared before the Committee twice. In his second statement recorded on the 16th June, Mr. Goswami says that whereas in 1953 he found that the writing on the urn of the words "NETAJI SUBHAS CHANDRA BOSE'S ASHES" was in italics, he was surprised to find a picture in Amrita Bazar Patrika, dated the. 5th June 1956, that the writing "NETAJI SUBHAS CHANDRA BOSE" was in block letters. He concluded that the whole thing had been changed since 1953. On looking at Amrita Bazar Patrika, dated the 5th June 1956, that is, the picture of the urn appearing on its front page, it is seen that the writing is in block letters and not in italics.

Mr. Ayer went to Tokyo and visited the Renkoji temple in 1951. He has submitted a photo of the urn. The Committee also took a photo of the urn in June, 1956. The writing on all these photos "NETAJI SUBHAS CHANDRA BOSE" appears to be identical. They are in block letters. A copy of the photo submitted by Mr. Ayer and the one taken by the Committee are enclosed (Annexure II). It will be seen that Mr. Goswami has made a completely erroneous statement. After having examined the statement of these witnesses, it is clear that the reasons for doubting that the ashes did not belong to Netaji, are either based on insubstantial grounds, or on wrong facts and therefore have to be discarded.