‘Bhagwanji Was Netaji’

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Diptasya Jash
Techie hailing from Bengal, working in Kolkata

In India

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t was another day off for Prof Atul Sen. It was time for his evening walk. On other days, he would walk towards the village, but today he decided to walk towards the hill for a change. The sun was setting, with a mystic fog covering the whole area. As Sen walked, he thought of the olden days when the whole nation was burning. The nation was raising just one demand: Quit India. It was a time when every house in the evening would be seen with all the doors and windows closed and the whole household would try to catch Berlin Radio to hear the voice of their leader fighting the war from exile.

Sen, as a leader of the Congress in East Bengal, was fighting the battle in the streets. He always remembered the duty assigned to him by his leader, the patriot of the patriots, the greatest son of the soil. As Sen was engrossed in his thoughts, he realized he had come in front of a mud house. A man, apparently a tribal, was sitting on the ground in front of the house that looked like another normal house of the village, but what astonished Sen was the location of the house.

In front of the house was a small village road. One end of the road went towards the village while the other went towards the border, which was only a few miles away. From the only window of the house, a person could locate a person from miles away, approaching from the village end. If the resident of the house wanted to hide, he could easily get into the dense forest on the rear side of the house and cross the border easily. Sen was himself a freedom fighter; he had stayed in this type of a house on several occasions at a time when the whole nation was burning and fighting for his independence. Out of curiosity, Sen approached the village man and asked him, “Who stays here?”

The man replied, “Bhagwanji stays here.”

Sen went towards the door of the only room of the house and knocked. A voice came from inside, “Come in, Atul. You are still looking like the same man I saw in Dhaka earlier.”

The voice sent a chill down Sen’s spine. He couldn’t believe his ears. He remembered when he had first heard the news of the death of his leader. From the very first day, he had doubted the ‘information’, but then, as years passed by, he left all hope of seeing the leader again. The voice left him spellbound. In a hushed voice, he asked, “Am I talking to the person who has selected me as the councilor of Dhaka Municipality?”

What I have narrated till now is no fiction. This truth is stranger than fiction. In other words, it was a twist in the story, which solves one of the biggest mysteries of history — the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The return of a ghost!

As per our law, there are four things that are applied to establish the identity of a lost person when he comes back after many years and people mark him as a dummy or a fake.

  • Identification by the people who used to know him earlier
  • How well the person describes the incidents that happened to him, his family or friends earlier.
  • A DNA test
  • Handwritings match

Remember the famous Bhawal Sanyasi case? Let us have a look at the process the court followed investigate his identity.

  1. The court asked for the witnesses who could identify the person.
  2. The court checked the body mark and verified them with the witness.
  3. They tried to verify the handwriting.

DNA was not an established process as yet; so it was not executed. Finally, they ensured that the Bhawal Sanyasi was not an imposter. Though his wife refused to accept the verdict, the identity was established in front of the court of law.

Now let’s study Bhagwanji’s identity (he is alternatively referred to as the Gumnami Baba). First we will look into the first category of evidence.

‘Identification parade’

Bhagwanji has been identified as Netaji by several persons. First among them was Pabitra Mohan Roy, the former INA secret service man, who risked his life to join his leader and went to south-east Asia to fight the battle for his motherland’s independence.

After meeting Bhagwanji in Neemsar, Prof Sen returned to Kolkata. Soon after his return, he met with Roy and informed him about Netaji’s hideout in Neemsar near the Indo-Nepal border under the disguise of Bhagwanji. After receiving the information, Pabitra went to meet Bhagwanji where he said, “I wish to say something… your own words: ‘You are my intelligence officer; without fear or favour must… act.’ … I will have to tell you about myself — what exactly do I think of myself — keeping in mind Ma Kali, Bharatmata (Mother India) and your feet, with a firm mind… I can tell you that just like in the past, I have the same unflinching faith and unwavering obedience, total dedication and loyalty towards you and… I am determined to always remain so. Give me your blessings.” Later these words were found in his letter addressed to Bhagwanji.

At this stage, an introduction of Roy is warranted for the uninitiated. He had, on Netaji’s order, undertaken a submarine journey from Burma to India to prepare the ground for INA’s assault on Kohima. However, he was caught and sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted on Gandhiji’s request to the British.

During those days, Roy had worked closely with Netaji. Whatever were the circumstances, he could not have mistaken the leader for anyone else. Indeed, when the doctor met Bhagwanji in Neemsar, the former was convinced of the man who stood before him.

In December 1962, Roy took into confidence Leela Roy, one of Netaji close friends and “didi” (elder sister) to all revolutionary freedom fighters. Leela Roy was the person who had the guts to talk to Netaji as an equal. It was Subhas’s mother who wished to arrange the marriage of the two. Now, if that person identified Bhagwanji as Netaji when she met him, do we need any other person’s testimony to accept Bhagwanji as Netaji? For argument’s sake, one can offer the logic of a sceptic. Like we can say Uttam Chand Malhotra of Kabul had identified some Shaulamari baba as Netaji! Tell me whose witness is more acceptable? The person who has worked with Netaji for several years or the person with whom Netaji stayed for 45 days?

The eyewitness accounts do not end there. The statement of engineer Ardhendu Sarkar is relevant. He said that while he was working in Moscow in 1960, his colleague Jervin had said that the latter had met with Netaji for the first time in Berlin and then again in Siberia in 1948. Bose had got a status of ambassador there and he told Jervin that he would return to India very soon.

The window of Bhagwanji's room in Ram Bhawan
The window of Bhagwanji’s room in Ram Bhawan

Though many do not see reason in a holy man living almost incognito for long years despite knowing it is causing harm to his country, in the case of Sarkar, it can be understood. Sarkar was a family man who got scared by the confidential message given to him by the Indian Embassy in Russia. But why did Bhagwanji keep quiet — more so as a sannyasi, someone who has renounced the world, in our religion has nothing to lose?

Now consider AC Das as another witness. From the several documents from the British detective department, one comes to know about Netaji’s secret meeting with Das, where Netaji discussed matters regarding the plan after the surrender of Japanese before he started his journey to Russia in August 1945. Later on, Das recovered several letters from Ram Bhavan of Faizabad where Bhagwanji lived in his final years. Among them is a letter that mentions that this secret meeting happened in Bangkok that night. When Das met Bhagwanji, the latter corrected some points in the letter and Das agreed with the corrections. This incident was described in details by Das in his subsequent articles.

DNA

As for DNA testing, it could have settled the dispute. A retired Supreme Court judge would know much better than us. When Dr Alokesh Bagchi filed his affidavit to the Justice Mukherjee Commission, we came to know about this holy man in Faizabad. Justice Mukherjee immediately paid a visit to Faizabad and collected the belongings of Bhagwanji from Ram Bhavan. Among his belongings there, the commission found five teeth kept in a match box. The commission sent these for a DNA test. The government-controlled forensic office replied that they tried to check the DNA of two of the teeth and found nothing. What on earth stopped them from checking the other three?

Members of Mission Netaji with the so-called samadhi of Bhagwanji
Members of Mission Netaji with the so-called samadhi of Bhagwanji

What about Bhagwanji’s ashes? That’s for the Indian and Uttar Pradesh governments to find out. Why the remains at the Renkoji temple were not tested again is a question the Taiwanese and Japanese governments can answer, or the Indian government can ask through its foreign missions to these countries.

Some sceptics accuse the literature on Gumnami Baba as a stack of conspiracy theories while others demand of activists, who disbelieve the Taihoku crash theory, why Gumnami Baba’s remains were not subjected to forensic examination. Both these issues must be addressed to the authority. If the books are peddling baseless theories, let someone challenge the theories in court. If a forensic test needs to be done, obviously the activists do not have the wherewithal to do it.

While the Allahabad High Court has ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to institute an inquiry into Bhagwanji’s identity, the government is merely working on a memorial of the holy man — that too when pressed hard.

Handwriting analysis

B Lal, a handwriting expert and former chief examiner of questioned documents, the highest post for a handwriting expert in government, has 44 years of experience studying and analyzing documents, both for the government and for private groups. Before retiring as the additional director of National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Sciences, he was the chief government examiner in questioned documents. He is also the author of the book Cross-Examination of Handwriting Expert. The famous case of Magan Bihari Lal vs State Of Punjab on 15 February 1977 was solved on the basis of Lal’s analysis.

B Lal, on examining Netaji and Bhagwanji’s handwritings, inferred that…

  • The handwritten notes attributed to Bhagwanji and those that Netaji penned were of common authorship.
  • There is “no evidence to show that the questioned (Bhagwanji’s) writing has been made (sic) by a writer other than SCB (Subhas Chandra Bose) by imitating/copying the writings of SCB”.
  • Bhagwanji tried to hide his identity but failed.
  • “There are similarities in general and individual writing habits, suggesting common authorship of questioned writings and admitted writings of SCB”.

Bhagwanji's room in Lucknowa hatta
Bhagwanji’s room in Lucknowa hatta

While pointing at the lack of muscular control, sign of old age and slight tremor in some of the writings, Lal also observed “a reproduction of some peculiarities that even decades could not hide”. As examples, he pointed to the habit, both of Bhagwanji and Netaji, of using insertion marks to introduce words between sentences, over-writing on letters and underlining and bracketing passages for emphasis, making strokes more prominent and writing letters in a certain combination.

So, why was the government of an opinion different from that of Lal? Because that government was the most unreliable entity when it came to unearthing the truth about Subhas Chandra Bose. How can we believe the former authority that tried to conceal the facts since 1947?

There is good enough reason to keep our minds open to the possibility that Bhagwanji was Netaji.

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