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 VI: Treasure

Although in the terms of reference of the Committee, there was no mention of the treasure carried by Netaji on his last flight, in the course of their examination a number of witnesses spoke of the treasure. In fact, in Japan, to judge from newspaper articles, there was keen interest as to what happened to this treasure. In view of the public interest in the subject, and evidence given before them, the Committee feel that some mention should be made in this Report about this treasure.

2. It was the intention of Netaji to depend as little as possible on his Japanese allies, and to finance the Indian National Army from resources collected from Indian residents in South-East Asia. For this purpose, regular collection drives were made by Netaji and his lieutenants, and large funds were collected. A special committee called "Netaji Fund Committee" was established under the Minister of Revenue. Gold and other valuables were generously donated by Indians in South-East Asia. On the occasion of his Birthday in January 1945, Netaji was weighed against gold. Not only cash and valuables, but immovable properties used to be donated. Habib Sahib of Rangoon gave away at one time all his estate in landed property, cash and jewellery valued at Rupees one crore and three lakhs. In return he asked from Netaji a pair of khaki shirt and shorts, so that he might work for the Independence Movement (Page 160 of Major General A. C. Chatterjee's book India's Struggle for Freedom). The funds of the Azad Hind Government were handled by the Azad Hind Bank. How much of the liquid assets were carried by Netaji during his retreat from Rangoon onwards, is not precisely known. Mr. Debnath Das says that at the time of the retreat from Rangoon, treasure valued at Rupees one crore, consisting mostly of ornaments and gold bars, was withdrawn from the Azad Hind Bank, and taken away packed in 17 small sealed boxes. General Bhonsle says that Netaji had brought with him to Bangkok gold ornaments and cash packed in six steel boxes. The jewellery was a gift from Indians in South-East Asia. He did not see the jewellery, and had no idea of its value. Mr. Dinanath, Chairman of the Azad Hind Bank, who was interrogated by the British Intelligence soon after the end of the war, had said that on the 24th April 1945 when Netaji left Rangoon, he took with him from the Bank 140 lbs. of gold. According to Pandit Raghunath Sharma, one of the leaders of the Indian Independence League at Bangkok, Netaji took with him gold and other valuables, which were collected from the people, of a total value exceeding Rupees one crore. That some valuables were carried by Netaji with him is clear from the evidence, but from the very start doubt and discrepancies creep in as to the size and value of the treasure. Pandit Raghunath Sharma has stated that the valuables were kept in 10 or 12 steel boxes - 13" x 12" x 10"; some a little smaller than others. General Bhonsle says that the contents of six steel boxes were re-packed in two canvas bags at the time of Netaji's departure. But Mr. Debnath Das has said that, before leaving Bangkok, the contents of the 17 treasure boxes mentioned by Mr. Das were repacked into two large suit-cases, 30" to 36" long. It is doubtful whether gold and ornaments of the value of Rupees one crore could be carried in two large leather suit-cases. Netaji's personal valet, Kundan Singh, was examined by the Committee. According to him, the treasure was packed in 4 steel cases of different sizes - 20" x 13" x 16" and 12" x 6" x 6". He was present at the time when the boxes were checked before Netaji's departure from Bangkok. He says, "The boxes contained articles of jewellery which are commonly worn by Indian women such as chains of ladies' watches, necklaces, bangles, bracelets, earrings, etc. They were mostly of ladies. There were also pounds and guineas. There were some chains which had guinea pieces attached to them. There were small gold wires, but there were no gold bars...Besides these 4 boxes containing the treasure, Netaji's personal effects, and certain other valuable articles which he had brought from Singapore, were kept in a small leather attache case. These contained a gold cigarette case which was presented to Netaji by Hitler." Lt. Kunizuka of the Hikari Kikan, who was constantly in touch with Netaji, mentions that he was shown the valuables the same night, and agrees with Kundan Singh, although he does not mention the number of boxes.

3. On his last visit, Netaji made heavy payments both at Singapore and Bangkok. His Japanese Secretary and Interpreter, Mr. Negishi, says that before leaving Singapore, as ordered by Netaji, he withdrew from the Japanese Bank 8 crore yens out of a loan of 10 crores from the Japanese Government. It was drawn in paper money, and spent in payments to I.N.A. and civilian personnel. Mr. Debnath Das says that on the 17th August, just before leaving Bangkok, Netaji made large last-minute gifts of 1½ million ticals to Chulalongkorn Hospital and University and sanctioned two to three months' pay to all officers and men of the I.N.A. He adds that this was not paid out of the treasure brought from Burma, but from the funds of the Thailand Indian Independence League. The same witness has said that among the baggage of Netaji was a large suit-case containing documents and currency. The picture of the last hurried days is confused. It is not known how much Netaji withdrew, how much was spent, and how much in gold and jewellery he took with him. As documents were destroyed to avoid falling into Allied hands, reconstruction would be difficult. The only thing that can be said is that Netaji disbursed large amounts in the final stages, and took some valuables and ornaments, etc., with him. Netaji apparently did not want to take the treasure with him. According to the evidence of Pandit Raghunath Sharma, a few days previously Netaji had enquired of him whether he would take charge of the treasure to which Pandit Raghunath Sharma did not agree. Mr. Debnath Das has stated that again at Saigon Airfield Netaji proposed that he would leave the treasure behind. Mr. Debnath Das and Major Hasan did not agree to this, and so Netaji carried the valuables with him.

4. Indian and Japanese witnesses have all deposed clearly about the treasure in Saigon. The plane was held up for about half an hour, as the car carrying the boxes of valuables was delayed. All witnesses have stated that the number of cases which came out of the second car was two and they were hurriedly pushed into the plane, in spite of the protest of the pilot. General Isoda has said that Major Hasan rushed up to say that the two boxes containing presents to Netaji by 3 lakhs of Indians in East Asia had not arrived and so Netaji delayed departure by half an hour till the boxes came. General Isoda did not know what the boxes contained, but from what Major Hasan said he presumed that they contained gold and jewellery. While most witnesses say that the boxes were leather suit-cases about 30" long, Captain Gulzara Singh and Col. Pritam Singh have said that they were wooden boxes of a smaller size. According to Mr. Negishi, he was told by some Hikari Kikan officers that Netaji's baggage included 150 kilos of gold bullion. He goes on to say that some of this treasure accompanied Netaji while the rest of it was left with the party at Saigon to meet various expenses. Be that as it may, it may be taken as conclusive, that from Saigon Netaji carried with him two large leather suitcases about 30" long containing gold and valuables. While, as stated before, it may be discounted that the value was anything like Rupees one crore, there is no evidence on record which gives the details of the contents of the suitcases, or any indication of their value.

5. The plane crashed at Taihoku on the 18th of August. Col. Habibur Rehman has stated that he enquired next day as to what happened to the baggage, particularly the two leather suit-cases which contained gold and jewellery. He was told that the plane was completely burnt, and with it the luggage, but some charred jewellery had been salvaged, and kept in safe custody at the Military Headquarters. The collection was done under the supervision of two Japanese Officers, Major K. Sakai, Officer in charge of the aerodrome defence, and Captain Nakamura alias Yamamoto, Officer in charge of the aerodrome. According to Major Sakai, when he came to the scene two hours after the accident, he found Captain Nakamura and his men collecting articles lying on the ground. As their number was insufficient, he lent 30 of his men. Captain Nakamura, on the other hand, says that on being asked by Lt. Col. Nonogaki, he asked his men to collect the valuables. He came and found Major Sakai's men under one Lt. Yamashida doing the collection. Both officers, however, agree that charred and blackened jewellery such as necklaces, rings, medals, etc., were collected. These were put in an 18-litre gasolene can, the top of which was sealed by means of strips of paper on which the officers placed their own seals. About the subsequent disposal there is a slight discrepancy. According to Major Sakai, the can of valuables was kept only one night under guard, and delivered the next day to Lt. Col. Shibuya at the Headquarters. On the other hand, Captain Nakamura says that the can was kept for 4 or 5 days in the air-raid shelter under guard, and thereafter delivered to Lt. Col. Shibuya. On the 5th of September, Col. Habibur Rehman was flown to Tokyo. With him went Lt. T. Sakai and Lt. Hayashida who had been detailed by the Army Headquarters, Formosa, to carry with them Netaji's ashes and his valuables. Major Sakai and Captain Nakamura alias Yamamoto have both spoken of an 18-litre gasolene can. Lt. Col. Shibuya, Staff Officer of the Headquarters, also mentions the can. Lt. Col. T. Sakai in his statement describes the container as "one baggage as big as an oil can". But Col. Habibur Rehman and Lt. Llayashida speak of a wooden box.

6. The box of valuables was delivered on the evening of the 7th September at the Imperial General Headquarters, Tokyo. The Duty Officer, Major Kinoshita, who first received it, made over charge next morning to Lt. Col. Takakura. Both say that the box was a wooden box nailed down but not sealed. How a sealed gasolene can could become a nailed wooden box is not clear. According to Lt. Col. Takakura, on the 8th September morning he phoned Mr. Ramamurti who came with Mr. Ayer and took charge both of Netaji's ashes and valuables. Mr. Ramamurti says that two or three days after his arrival in Tokyo (that would be 9th or 10th September), Col. Habibur Rehman asked him to bring the box of valuables, and Mr. Ramamurti accordingly went and brought it from the Imperial General Headquarters. The box was a heavy wooden box, and a porter was engaged to carry it. Col. Habibur Rehman says that a few days after his arrival in Tokyo, Messrs. Ayer and Ramamurti were called to the Imperial General Headquarters and the box containing the valuables was handed over to them. Mr. J. Murti corroborates his brother. Mr. Ayer does not say where the box was received, but indicates that in the last week of September he chanced upon Col. Rehman, Mr. Ramamurti and Mr. J. Murti cleaning and sorting out the charred jewellery in the house he and Col. Habibur Rehman were occupying. There are major discrepancies as to the date, and who received the box. While Mr. Ramamurti says that Col. Habibur Rehman satisfied himself that the box was indeed the same box that had been packed before him at Taihoku, Col. Habibur Rehman says that the seals of the box were broken ; it appeared to have been tampered with, was much lighter and only half full. The contents were found to be ornaments of gold and precious stones, all charred, mixed and fused with metals and small bits from the wreckage. They were roughly separated into three lots, according to whether they contained more gold or base metal. Afterwards they were re-packed into a box and nailed. The weight of the valuables was found to be 11 kilograms. This was noted, and a rough list was made and signed by Col. Habibur Rehman, a photostat copy of which is enclosed (Annexure I ). Col. Rehman left the valuables in the charge of Mr. Ramamurti to be handed over to any authority which arose in India in succession to Netaji's Movement. At the same time, Mr. Ayer left 300 grams of gold and 20,000 yens in cash with Mr. Ramamurti with similar direction. They did this in order to avoid the valuable properties from being confiscated by the Allies.

7. Mr. Murti kept the valuables with him from 1945 to 1951. Mr. Murti did not keep the money in a Bank. When asked, he said he did this so that the Occupation authorities, who would know of the assets of Japanese Banks, might not confiscate the valuables. He did not take any steps to contact any Indian authorities during all these years. In fact, there is reason to believe that he denied having the treasure with him. He made no attempt to contact even the Indian Mission in Tokyo. He says that he was in correspondence with Mr. Ayer and the latter had advised him not to take any action till the connected matter of Netaji's ashes was satisfactorily solved. Mr. Ayer came to Japan in 1951, and it was only then that Mr. Ramamurti acknowledged that the treasure was with him, and expressed willingness to hand over the same to the Indian Mission in Tokyo. He admitted that he had partly financed Mr. Ayer's trip to Japan. On his return to India, Mr. Ayer met the Prime Minister, and suggested that the treasure might be taken over by the India Government through the Indian Mission in Tokyo. The Prime Minister agreed to this and, on instruction from him, the treasure was taken over by the Indian Mission on the 24th September 1951. The first Secretary of the Mission, Mr. V. C. Trivedi, signed the receipt on the copy of the list made over by Col. Rehman to Mr. Ramamurti in 1945. On the same day, Mr. Ramamurti also handed over 300 grams of gold and 20,000 yens which had been left with him by Mr. Ayer. The valuables were again checked and weighed by the Indian Mission and the weight was found to be a little more than noted in Col. Rehman's original list.

8. The valuables were brought to India and have been kept in the National Museum at Rashtrapati Bhavan. As mentioned, the Committee inspected these valuables at the Museum. Their estimated value is Rupees one lakh. The Museum was inspected twice, and on the second occasion the Committee went along with Kundan Singh, Netaji's personal valet. As already mentioned in Chapter III, Kundan Singh identified a number of articles as belonging to Netaji. The articles found in the Museum were jewellery, and trinkets of the kind, which different witnesses have testified as gifts to Netaji from the Indian public in South-East Asia and which he carried with him on his last journey. It is evident that the charred and damaged pieces of gold and jewellery, etc., which are in the National Museum, formed part of Netaji's baggage in his last journey, which was salvaged from Taihoku Airfield and later recovered from Mr. Murti. It is also seen that what was handed over by Mr. Murti in 1951 tallied with the list signed by Col. Habibur Rehman in 1945. But it is not clear how much was carried by Netaji, and how much of it was recovered. Two suitcases in which Netaji took the valuables were not weighed. We have only the evidence of witnesses that they were fairly heavy. Only one witness, Lt. Col. Nonogaki, has mentioned the weight as 20 kilos each. Only 11 kilograms of burnt-down jewellery mixed with base metal and ashes had been recovered. Quite clearly, the quantity that has been recovered is much less than what Netaji carried with him. There are a large number of gaps and discrepancies in the chain. It is not clear whether the plane was cordoned off immediately after the crash, and the collection of valuables begun under proper supervision. After it was collected, there is discrepancy as to whether it was left for some days in an air-raid shelter, or taken next morning to the Japanese Military Headquarters at Taihoku. There is doubt as to the container. Some say it was a gasolene can, while others say that it was a wooden box. If the gasolene can was originally filled and sealed, there is no evidence to show who opened it, and why, and put the contents again in a wooden box. The wooden box that was handed over in Tokyo to Mr. Ramamurti was not sealed, but only nailed. Whereas Major Takakura says that he handed over the box to Mr. Murti and Mr. Ayer along with the ashes, Mr. Murti says that only he was asked to come and take the box of valuables a few days after taking delivery of the ashes. Col. Rehman says that Messrs. Ayer and Murti went and brought the box from the Imperial General Headquarters. According to Mr. Ayer, he was not called, but came as if by accident, while Mr. Murti, his brother, and Col. Rehman were cleaning and sorting out broken pieces of jewellery. No receipt was taken or given by the General Headquarters. While Mr. Murti says that Col. Rehman was satisfied that the box was in the same order as he had packed it in Taihoku, Col. Rehman says that the box appeared to him to have been tampered with, much lighter in weight, and less than half full. So it is far from clear as to what was collected from Taihoku Arifield, whether and when the container was changed, whether there was any subtraction, and who took delivery of it in Tokyo and when. From the evidence available to us, it is not possible to come to any definite conclusion about the treasure. If it is considered desirable to go more closely into the matter, it may be necessary to institute a separate enquiry, whose scope might well include not only the treasure that was carried by Netaji on his last journey and its recovery, but also examination of the entire assets and liabilities, in cash and kind, of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind. It is, however, not certain, how far such an enquiry would be profitable after this lapse of time, especially when such records, as they were, must have been largely destroyed.