Bose Died in 1945. Get Used to It.
Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 04 June, 2016
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The recent violence in the town of Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, where a cult has stockpiled arms and encroached on 268 acres of public land, provoking an armed confrontation with the UP police that has resulted in the deaths of 24 people, is the latest consequence of a persistent myth that has carried on for 71 years: that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the late Indian nationalist leader, did not die in a plane crash in 1945. The founder of the cult that is responsible for the trouble in Mathura was a fraudster called Jai Gurudev, who claimed to be Netaji Bose. His successor, after Jai Gurudev’s death in 2012, claims that Bose is not dead and will make an appearance soon.
What I wish to show here is that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose died in 1945, even if stories of his survival are true.
Who Was Bose?
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was one of the most dynamic leaders to come out of Bengal. He was born in 1902 and attended Presidency College in Calcutta (as Kolkata was then known), and was expelled from the college because he assaulted a Professor in the college who disparaged India and Indians in his comments.
Bose subsequently completed his graduation from another college in Calcutta, the Scottish Church College. Subsequent to this, he studied for the Indian Civil Service, was placed fourth in the examination and was selected for the British Indian Civil Service in 1920, but quickly resigned from it as he was unhappy serving an “alien” government.
He decided to go into politics and joined the Indian National Congress, the main party agitating for Indian freedom, in 1921. He advocated aggressive nationalism in Calcutta under the mentorship of Chittaranjan Das and became mayor of Calcutta in 1924. In 1925, the British arrested him for his anti-national activities and he was sent to jail in Mandalay.
After his release in 1927, he worked closely with leading Congress leaders and became general secretary of the party. He was again arrested by the British, and when he came out of prison he became mayor of Calcutta in 1930.
In the 1930s Bose visited Europe, meeting Mussolini in Italy. He wrote a book titled “The Indian Struggle,” which talked about the struggle for Indian freedom during the period 1921-34. The British banned the book.
By the time of his return to India, he was a very famous national leader in the struggle for Indian independence. This became obvious when he was elected the President of the Indian National Congress in 1938. However, in sharp contrast to the moral leader of the Congress, Mohandas Gandhi (a.k.a. Gandhiji or Mahatma Gandhi), who advocated a nonviolent struggle for freedom against the British, Bose argued for a violent freedom struggle. This caused deep division in the Congress and, despite winning the election for President of the Congress again in 1939, handily defeating Gandhi’s nominee for the post, Pattabhi Sitaramayya, Bose had to resign as President as Gandhi and other Congressmen refused to cooperate with him.
By this time war clouds were looming over Europe. When war did break out, the British included India in their war against Hitler. Bose protested against this, calling for a mass civil disobedience against the British. Gandhi refused to agree with Bose, and so Bose organized mass protests in Calcutta demanding the destruction of the British monument to the “Black Hole of Calcutta,” a monument to commemorate an event where 146 British prisoners of war died through suffocation due to being confined in a small closed place (a dungeon) by the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daulah, in 1756. For this effrontery, the British jailed Bose again, but released him after 7 days of a hunger strike. He was released from jail but kept under house arrest.
Bose made a daring escape from house arrest, right out of a movie, and escaped to Afghanistan, then the Soviet Union, and finally to Germany to meet the Nazis for help to India in the freedom struggle. The details of this escape itself could be the basis of a movie. Subhas Bose was a man of great courage, daring, and ingenuity.
The Nazis helped Bose establish a radio station for the Azad Hind Radio, through which Bose made speeches propagating armed struggle for the benefit of Indians living in Europe. The Nazis helped him found the Indian Legion, an armed unit comprised of Indian soldiers attached to the Wehrmacht. Many of these soldiers were later captured in North Africa by the British.
In 1942, Bose met Hitler and realized that Hitler’s priorities were elsewhere and that he could not help Bose militarily, especially now that Asia was under the Japanese sphere of influence. So, in 1943, Bose left Germany on a submarine, transferred to a Japanese submarine off the coast of Madagascar, and travelled onward to the Japanese Empire.
In Singapore, Bose took over the Indian National Army (INA), an organization that the Japanese had conceived to help them eventually overthrow the British in India, that was comprised of captured British Indian soldiers. Bose organized the Azad Hind Government, which was recognized by the Axis powers and their satellites – Germany, Japan, Italy, Croatia, a Japanese puppet regime in Nanjing, a puppet regime in Burma, Manchukuo (Japanese-controlled Manchuria), and Japanese-controlled Philippines.
Bose fought along with the Japanese in Burma and in north-east India. The British defeated the Japanese and the INA troops and Bose retreated to Singapore. When Japan surrendered in August 1945 after the Americans dropped the bomb on Nagasaki, Bose knew he needed to leave Japanese territory. He left Singapore for Saigon, and later from Saigon he went to Taihoku, Taiwan. From Taihoku, he boarded a plane destined for Dairen, Manchuria, intending to surrender to the Soviets, but the plane crash-landed shortly after take-off and caught fire. Bose died later of third-degree burns. He was cremated and his ashes are interred in the Renkoji Buddhist Temple in Tokyo.
There ends the official version of the life and death of Subhas Bose.
Controversies Regarding Bose’s Death
In spite of the testimony of eyewitnesses and several inquiry commissions, a lot of people, especially Bengalis, believe Bose did not die in that plane crash in 1945. It did not help things that there were no photographs of Bose’s dead body; but in the chaos of war, it is hard for people to think of taking photos. The Japanese had lost the war and had much bigger things to worry about than taking photos of a dead Indian leader.
Here is a partial list of the rumours and developments concerning the “conspiracy theories” regarding Bose’s survival:
1. An organization called the Subhasbadi Janata propagated a story that the sadhu (saint) of an ashram in Shaulmari, North Bengal, was actually Bose in disguise; that now, with India having achieved freedom, he was now engaged in meditation to “free the world.” These rumours continued in spite of the fact that the sadhu himself denied he was Bose.
2. Bose was rumoured to be living voluntarily either in China or in the Soviet Union.
3. Bose attended Jawaharlal Nehru’s funeral in 1964.
4. Khrushchev told Nehru that if Nehru wished, Khrushchev could produce him within 45 days.
5. The Soviets were blackmailing Nehru and Indira Gandhi by telling them that they had Bose in prison and would release him unless Nehru and/or Indira acceded to the wishes of the Soviets.
6. Nehru knew Bose was in a Soviet prison, and ensured that the Soviets did not release him.
7. Another sadhu, a certain Gumnami baba of Faizabad, near Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, was said to be Bose living secretly.
8. Bose was living as a sadhu in the Naga hills in Assam.
9. He was living in China and part of the Chinese army.
10. Several official enquiries were carried out. The first was the Figgess report, which was performed in 1946 and concluded in no uncertain terms that Bose had died in the Taihoku crash.
11. The Shah Nawaz committee, headed by Shah Nawaz Khan, a general in Bose’s INA, concluded in 1956 by majority that Bose had died in the Taihoku crash. However, one of the three main committee members, Suresh Chandra Bose, Subhas’ brother, wrote a dissenting note accusing Nehru of orchestrating a cover-up. Among the many reasons for his dissent was the incredulous assumption that “Bose could not have died before India achieved independence. Therefore, he must not have died in the 1945 crash.”
12. That Bose died in Taihoku in 1945 was also concluded by another commission, the Justice Khosla commission, in 1970.
13. The Justice KM Mukherjee committee of 1999-2005 concluded that Bose had not died in the plane crash, and that the ashes in the Renkoji temple in Japan were that of a Japanese soldier.
But Bose Died in 1945 … And Here’s Why
Most people who claim that Bose did not die in the Taihoku crash are people who claim to love Netaji. They want to show their love and support for Netaji by claiming he was alive and that the news of his death was a fabrication by Nehru or the Congress, for whom his return to India would have been problematic as he would have been a highly charismatic and an immensely popular political competitor. When asked about why Netaji would be afraid to come back to India, they answer that if he came back to India, the British would try to have him executed as an enemy of the state.
But all of these people are doing a disservice to the memory of Bose.
While the fear of being treated as an enemy of the state may have been true until 1947, it is certainly not a good argument in an independent India. Even in British India, the British found that they could not carry out the sentence on the key accused in the INA trials in 1946 – they had to commute the sentences. The INA under-trials were defended by people like Nehru himself. If Bose’s generals themselves were so popular that the British could not touch them, how untouchable would Bose himself have been, had he returned to India?
Even if the unfair allegations against people like Nehru (that they did not want Bose back in India) were allowed, is it even conceivable that Nehru or anyone else would dare to harm Bose, were he to come out in the open, say in 1948?
People who try to say that Bose was living the life of a sadhu in anonymity somewhere in India are insulting the great man’s memory. Look at the career graph of Bose that I have presented in brief. This is a man who could never sit quiet, who was not afraid of anybody. Here is a man who engineered a brilliant escape from house arrest that took him to Afghanistan and Russia on his way to Germany. This is a man who was never afraid of being jailed by the British, who had served several jail sentences, and yet kept challenging the powers-that-be. Do you really think he would be afraid to come out in the open just because the British might accuse him of treason, or because he was afraid for his life in a Congress-ruled India? Such explanations diminish his greatness and insult his memory.
Could a man who had been as active as Bose had been all his life live the remainder of his life in quiet anonymity as a sadhu in some village in North India? Bose was a man of the world, and his interest in public life was not limited to India achieving independence. He wanted to see India come out of its poverty, and believed in a socialist future similar to the Soviet Union as the way forward for India. There is no way he would have been sitting still in an ashram simply because India had achieved independence from the British. Had he been alive and come back to India in 1948, Bengal would have become communist, not in 1977, but in 1950. It is staggering that suggestions about Bose’s post-1945 life such as being a recluse are suggested or welcomed by members of Bose’s family. They are great insults to a life lived in the most dynamic way possible. More than any other leader of India’s independence movement, Bose was extremely impatient for change, and one cannot imagine a man of his nature ever sitting idle in an ashram for 30 or 40 years. To suggest that he would be afraid of a Nehru or any other Congress leader, when he had no fear of the British and its jails, and when he was not afraid of dying on the battlefield fighting the British army, is again a serious insult to his memory. Again, I cannot believe close family members advocate or admit such insulting possibilities. Essentially, suggesting that Bose lived in hiding in India after 1947 is tantamount to calling him a coward, and it is astonishing to hear self-styled admirers of Bose advocating this theory.
Bose would also never have lived secretly in China or the Soviet Union for years of his own volition. If he were free, he would definitely have returned to public life in India. The only way he could have been living in the Soviet Union after 1945 was if the Soviets had imprisoned him. But Stalin lived until 1953, and anyone who has studied Stalin carefully would know how paranoid a man he was, and that he would never keep such dangerous people as Bose in his captivity. The same is true of Mao, who took power in China in 1949. If Bose had ever been in captivity in the Soviet Union, my guess is that he would have been executed instantly in 1945 as having been a Japanese collaborator. Given that the reason the Indian government is giving in not releasing their archives on Bose is that such a release “might hurt relations with friendly nations,” my guess is that this is the most likely possibility regarding what happened to Bose in 1945. It should also be pointed out that, had the Soviets actually executed Bose in 1945, they would never had discussed this with Nehru or the Congress, because India was still a British colony and Nehru was not yet PM of India. Most likely they would have discussed this with the British, who at that point of time would not have been in the least averse to Bose being executed quietly, never to be heard from again.
There is still the remote possibility that Bose underwent a change in personality and became a coward who lived the rest of his life in anonymity as the Gumnami baba in Uttar Pradesh (or other baba theories). If that is the case, then such a person is irrelevant to India. The Bose we love and respect, the person who had the guts to militarily defy the mighty British Empire, died in 1945. The person who may have survived is a coward who is not fit to keep his old name, and it is meet that he lived the rest of his life as an unknown sadhu.
The Bose we knew died in 1945. One way or the other.