By Anurag Dey
KOLKATA–As the Indian government prepares to declassify secret files on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose on January 23, his 120th birthday, those espousing different theories about the eventual fate of this revolutionary leader of the freedom movement are feverishly pushing claims and counter-claims.
The theory that Netaji died on August 18, 1945, in a plane crash in Taiwan has been contradicted by many, including the Centre-appointed Justice Manoj Kumar Mukherjee Commission, while several others claim that the nationalist leader resurfaced after the alleged plane crash.
One among the popular theories has spoken of Netaji being the ‘Gumnami Baba’, a hermit living in Uttar Pradesh till 1985, and another that he faked his death in the alleged plane crash and fled to the erstwhile Soviet Union.
With a Britain-based website now coming out with serialised “revelations” backing the plane crash theory, not only has the debate intensified but also prompted a large section of the Bose family and historians and researchers questioning the timing and motive of the sensational claims made by www.bosefiles.info.
Ashish Ray, veteran London-based journalist and creator of the website, has quoted the testimonies given at various times by five people who were present during the great leader’s final hours.
Ray, a grandnephew of Netaji, has posted the testimonies of two Japanese doctors and a Taiwanese nurse who treated Bose, his personal interpreter and Colonel Habibur Rehman Khan, Bose’s aide-de-camp.
However, Ray’s claims have been outrightly rejected by Open Platform — a forum of Netaji’s extended family — and ‘Mission Netaji’, a non-governmental organisation.
Mission Netaji head Anuj Dhar, who has written several books on Netaji’s disappearance, describes the revelations made by the website as “trite, hackneyed and even misleading”.
“The revelations rely heavily on the obsolete 1956 Shah Nawaz Khan Committee report which was prepared by the Congress MP (Khan) to please the then Congress government. Not only that, the testaments of the doctors are drawn from the report by British Army officer JG Figgess, who again was an unreliable character,” says Dhar, who blames successive Congress governments for the persisting mystery behind Netaji’s disappearance.
Dhar says Figgess, who in his report in 1946 affirmed that Bose died in the plane crash, “had everything to gain by confirming the theory that Bose, along with the INA treasure, perished in the crash”.
“There are evidence indicating that Figgess and some other supporters of the air crash theory looted the INA treasure,” claims Dhar, asserting that the documents used in the website to buttress the claims have been in the public domain for long.
Questioning the timing of Ray’s revelations, Netaji’s grandnephew Chandra Kumar Bose claimed it to be an attempt to derail the declassification campaign.
“The declassification of the central files is sure to bring out skeletons out of the cupboards of many and, fearing this, attempts are being made to thwart the process. Ray’s revelations are designed to prevent the truth from emerging,” said Chandra Kumar, Open Platform convenor.
Furthering the claims that Netaji had escaped to Siberia hoping to get asylum from the erstwhile Soviet Union, prominent BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has been propagating that Bose was killed in a Siberian Gulag on the orders of Joseph Stalin.
However, Dhar and other researchers have rejected Swamy’s assertions.
“Swamy’s claims are heavily premised on Nehru’s stenographer Shyam Lal Jain’s testimony before the GD Khosla Commission wherein he stated that Nehru was aware of Netaji’s captivity in Yakutsk Prison in Siberia. However, Swamy has not been able to give any evidence of Netaji being executed there,” asserts Dhar.
While the Narendra Modi government will declassify the secret central government files on Netaji in a phased manner beginning Jan 23, there are many who believe that unless files maintained by foreign spy agencies, particularly the erstwhile KGB and the British MI5, are declassified, the Netaji mystery will not be solved.
The movement for solving the ‘Netaji’s Russian mystery’ got a further push from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who in September last year set the declassification ball rolling by making public 64 classified files that were in the possession of the state government.
Debunking the air crash theory, Banerjee called upon the Modi government to engage with their Russian counterparts and get the secret documents declassified.
Dhar’s assertions of ‘Gumnami Baba’ being Netaji living incognito in Uttar Pradesh’s Faizabad have also met with stiff opposition. Netaji’s grandniece Madhuri Bose contends that her granduncle could not have chosen renunciation over his motherland.
“Netaji in his writing ‘Pebbles on the Seashore’ had said: ‘Embracing Sanyasa when your country needs you is only a refined form of betrayal’. So a man who had such a belief cannot have lived a life of a monk as has been claimed for long,” says Madhuri.
Amid all the assertions and counter-assertions, there are still some who opine that many classified files containing crucial evidence have been destroyed long before the declassification campaign had even begun. And as such the mystery surrounding one of the country’s most charismatic leader could remain unsolved.