The Prisoner of Yakutsk
Declassified files on the inquiries into Bose’s death indicate that he died alone in a Soviet prison in Siberia, where over 516,841 perished under Joseph Stalin’s rule. The evidence, presented by a whistle blower and now deceased Congress MP and diplomat Dr Satyanarayan Sinha in 1952, throws up too many uncomfortable questions, which could upset the established notion that Bose died in a plane crash and that his ashes rest in Renkoji Temple in Japan. The declassified documents and exhibits in the National Archives raise serious doubts about the veracity of these reports. Sinha’s deposition before the Khosla Commission disclosed that Netaji was imprisoned in cell number 45 of Yakutsk Prison in Siberia, where over half a million slave labourers perished. But mysteriously, the Commission decided not to probe Sinha’s testimony. Very few prisoners in Yakutsk survived the brutal conditions, but a former NKVD agent, Kozlov, who was rehabilitated later by the Soviet government, told Sinha about meeting Bose in Siberia. Sinha had an adventurous career, serving in the Russian Army in 1932 as an interpreter; he even fought in the battle of 1935-36 on the side of the Italians in Ethiopia before he became an aide to Nehru.
On October 17, 1970, Sinha, then in his 60s, was summoned before the Khosla Commission. The files, running into hundreds of pages reveal that Sinha had a trove of information regarding Netaji. He told the commission that Netaji did not die in the plane crash and was imprisoned by the Soviets in Siberia. This was Sinha’s first appearance before the Commission and under oath, he testified that in 1954, he met Kozlov in Moscow, who told him that Netaji was lodged in Yakutsk Prison. It appears from the proceedings that the commission had received overwhelming evidence from Sinha but ultimately decided to ignore them. A Top Secret cipher telegram number 3338 dated 20 October 1945, was sent to the Secretary of State for India from the Home Department of the British Government on treason trials after World War II. It reveals that they were not convinced about Netaji’s death in the plane crash. The British government had prepared a list of 13 Indians in the Western countries and 12 in the Eastern countries for capture and subsequent prosecution. The telegram said Bose could be tried for collaborating with
The File No JMCI/ Russia/ UO Papers/2001 revealed that the Mukherjee Commission tried to get in touch with Sinha’s family members to find out if he had left any diary or notes pertaining to his depositions. It appears that the Commission was surprised at the omission of Sinha’s finding in the Khosla Commission report. Even in 2000, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had claimed privilege and told the commission that the “documents are kept secret for ensuring the proper functioning of the public service.” The PMO affidavit said: “These are unpublished official records, the disclosure of which would cause injury to the public service.”
Taiwanese authorities have stated that to the best of their information, there exist no records of any crash at the airbase in question, on the date specified as being the final day of the life of Netaji Subhas Bose. Instead, they say that witnesses to the flight confirmed that the aircraft took off in a normal fashion and was bound for an airfield in Manchuria which was under the occupation of Soviet forces, which had invaded the territory in force after Emperor Hirohito of Japan announced the surrender of Japan. Sources based in Russia (erstwhile Soviet Union) claim that “the aircraft landed safely in a Manchurian airbase” and that Netaji was “taken custody of by Soviet troops and security personnel” and “flown to Moscow”. According to them, Bose was taken away to a Gulag and passed away 11 years later. They add that the Soviet leaders, who came after Stalin, kept the circumstances of Netaji Subhas Bose’s capture and passing secret “out of a desire to ensure good relations with India”.
The Shah Nawaz Committee that was constituted by Nehru had concluded that ashes preserved at Renkoji temple
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s daughter Anita Bose Pfaff has renewed her appeal to the governments of India and Japan for bringing her father’s mortal remains back home. According to her, Netaji died in an air crash in Taiwan on 18 August1945 and his remains are preserved at Tokyo’s Renkoji temple since September 1945.“On the 73rd anniversary of my father’s passing away, I renew my appeal to the governments of India and Japan to facilitate a transfer of his mortal remains from Japan to India for a final disposal,” she said.
Hiroshi Hirabayashi, president of the 115 year old Tokyo based Japan India Association, also requested the Indian government to facilitate the return of Netaji’s mortal remains. In a statement, Hirabayashi, a former Japanese ambassador to India, said, “The ashes of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose kept at Renkoji Temple (in Tokyo) have long been waiting for the official confirmation, already overdue, by the government of India as authentic.”The Renkoji Temple holds its annual memorial service to honour and pay homage to Netaji.
According to the book authored by Maj Gen. G. D. Bakshi, Bose: An Indian Samurai : Netaji and the INA: A Military Assessment, Netaji did not die in a plane crash, but the theory was floated to facilitate his escape to the Soviet Union. So, while clarifying the mystery of his death, this book says he died during the torture by the British in prison. Paris based historian JBP More quoted reports from the French Secret Service which once said that Bose was still alive in 1947. In the report, it clearly stated that he was the ex chief of the Indian Independence League and also a member of Hikari Kikan, a Japanese organisation. While Britain and India stayed strong to the point that he died in a plane crash, the French never endorsed that theory.
In her foreword to the book, “Laid to Rest: The Controversy over Subhas Chandra Bose’s Death,” Anita Bose Pfaff wrote that “the only consistent story about Netaji’s demise remains his death in a plane crash on 18 August 1945”. She had also said that a DNA test of the remains of Netaji would put to rest the doubts of people over his death. She, however, says that this would be possible if DNA can be extracted from the bones remaining after his cremation. “However, the governments of India and Japan would have to agree to such an attempt,” she says.
The prospect of having Netaji’s ashes in Bengal, however, has been known to incite rioting, as happened one year at the annual January convention at the Netaji Research Bureau in Calcutta. Once, hot headed young Bengali radicals broke into the Convention hall where Fujiwara, a founder member of the INA, was to address the assemblage and shouted abuse at him. Apparently some newspaper had published a rumour that Fujiwara had brought Netaji’s ashes back to India.
“There is no mystery regarding Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s disappearance and death in a plane crash on August 18, 1945. The truth is that the Indian government kept the fact hidden from masses that he had been declared a World War II criminal,’’ says Dr Alokesh Bagchi, a leading surgeon by profession and National President of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Vichar Manch. He claimed that “Netaji was declared a war criminal by a United Nation’s Security Council resolution on 26 June 1945. Though his name could not be put into the usual list of World War II criminals but it was listed in extended definition of war criminals’’. In support of his claim, he cited a letter written by the UN Secretary General to Surenji Goel on 1 May 1997, expressing his inability to expunge Netaji’s name from the list of war criminals.
The penultimate queries are: Why is a DNA test being avoided? Why are the ashes of a national hero resting in foreign soil? Why do our political leaders visiting Japan, shy away from paying homage at his alleged memorial? Why is there not a correct version of the INA contributions in our text books and history since 1947? And why this silence even now, seven decades later?
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose is the forgotten hero of India’s freedom struggle. Once an integral part of the Congress, he broke with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and fought bitterly with their aims and means of achieving freedom. Bose rejected non violence and joined up with the Japanese and the Nazis to fight the British in World War II. He was no Nazi himself, but he believed that the only hope for Indian independence lay in the defeat of the British Empire. From the war front in Burma, Netaji appealed to the Mahatma not to accept partition which would only bring disaster. Even as partition plans were being made later in 1947, Netaji fought a lone battle to save the unity of India. Subhas Chandra Bose was a man ahead of his time—a statesman and visionary whose stature, vision, attributes and achievements resonates to this day and for all eternity.
The only tributes to Netaji are numerous books about this legend, his statues that dot major cities in India, the film Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero, a 2004 Indian biographical war film, written and directed by Shyam Benegal, the recent honouring by Prime Minister Modi hoisting the Tiranga and unveiling the plaque to celebrate anniversary of the Azad Hind government, inspired and headed by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose on Independence Day, 2018 and the renaming of Ross Island as Netaji Dweep in December 2018. Netaji certainly deserves to be elevated to the pantheon of legendary leaders in our history.
Colonel Joe Purakel is a veteran of the Regiment of Artillery. An alumnus of OTA and DSSC he is leading a retired life devoted to writing and gardening