After a protracted period of hibernation, the Netaji mystery is back in mainstream discussions through all possible channels — TV debates, newspaper articles, books, Sahai Commission report, demand for testing ‘Netaji’s ashes’, and a major feature film. Apart from a seemingly stolid attitude of the government, one core issue that has often impaired any progress in this matter over the last seven decades has been the offhand manner in which certain individuals approached it. They have been driven more by fantasy than truth.
Disappearance of Netaji: Three theories
Broadly, there are three possibilities to the Netaji mystery. The first is that he died in a plane crash in Taiwan on 18 August 1945. There is no evidence for the plane crash or for the cremation of Netaji’s body in Tokyo. The whole story was dismissed by the Mukherjee Commission (the third inquiry panel appointed by the Union government) after a detailed study.
The second is that Netaji was incarcerated in the Soviet Union where he was tortured to death on the orders of Joseph Stalin. There’s not an iota of evidence to prove this except the fact that the Mukherjee Commission hinted that Netaji was Russia-bound in his last known journey.
The third is that Netaji returned to India, lived as an ascetic (Bhagwanji alias Gumnami Baba) and died quietly in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, in 1985. Justice (retd) Mukherjee wrote in his report he could not answer whether Netaji died in Faizabad on 16 September 1985 as there was no ‘clinching evidence’ to prove whether the baba was Netaji indeed.
Latest book on Netaji by Ghose, Dhar
The Gumnami Baba angle garnered wide interest after it was explored in great detail by Mission Netaji, a research group of which this writer is a founder-member. Findings of 15 years of our research were published earlier this year in the form of the book Conundrum: Subhas Bose’s Life After Death, authored by Chandrachur Ghose and Anuj Dhar.
The book includes a handwriting analysis report prepared by Curt Bagget, an American expert, showing common authorship of the confirmed writings of Netaji and the questioned writings of the Baba. Shortly after the release of the book, Ashok Kashyap, a leading Indian expert, produced a report that the handwritings of Netaji and the Baba had matched.
Reaction of the Boses
Instead of welcoming this development that could give much impetus to move a step closer to solving the Netaji mystery, the major faction of the Netaji family came out in the open, opposing the findings with great vigour. DN Bose, son of Sunil Chandra Bose, the elder brother of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, was among the first to criticise the findings when he wrote in The Statesman, in the garb of a ‘freelance contributor’. Most recently, the family issued a statement explaining their standpoint further, with Chandra Kumar Bose, a grandnephew of Netaji, leading from the front.
Interestingly, both DN Bose and Chandra Kumar Bose were present at a press meet held in Kolkata in February this year to allege that Mission Netaji had ‘betrayed’ the Bose family and the entire nation by furthering the baba angle. This was before the scientific evidences were even released to the public domain.
Handwriting analysis is a scientific means to ascertain someone’s identity and a mature forensic method practised the world over. Both DN Bose and Chandra Kumar Bose are of the view that a handwriting analysis report is nothing more than the opinion of ‘another expert’. They are heedless of the fact that expert opinions are admissible in a court of law under the Indian Evidence Act and are duly considered by courts when they represent evidentiary value.
The irony is that the Netaji family would challenge the validity of the expert reports but wouldn’t question the government lab reports. The Mukherjee Commission had engaged two government laboratories to conduct DNA analyses of the Baba’s teeth with the blood samples of Netaji’s relatives. The Netaji family didn’t question the CDFC, Hyderabad, over an inconclusive report, or the CFSL, Kolkata over a missing electropherogram, a key component of DNA analysis. Since the result of the DNA test — that there was no match between Netaji and the Baba — was convenient for the Boses, they chose to ignore the obvious holes in the procedure.
The Netaji family is livid that Mission Netaji uses a ‘morphed’ photograph of Netaji and passes it off as the baba’s photograph. This is after us stressing repeatedly that the image is an ‘artist’s impression’, which was commissioned by a leading Indian media house. They are not ready to accept the artist’s impression, a practice adopted universally when no other accurate representation of the subject is available.
According to the Netaji kin, Gumnami Baba, a ‘penniless recluse’, left behind trunk loads of Netaji-related ‘fake collectibles’. It is no surprise that they omit any mention of Lalita Bose, Netaji’s niece, who visited Faizabad and staked a claim to the belongings of the baba, as they were her of her “uncle” and not fake. The family is silent also about the statement given by Lalita Bose to the media within a year after the Baba’s death that her father Suresh Chandra Bose, Netaji’s elder brother, used to talk to a rustic-looking person from Basti (where the baba lived in the 1960s) to take messages from ‘Subi’ (Netaji’s pet name). The summons recovered from the baba’s belongings was not fake either; it was the original that the Khosla Commission (the second inquiry panel appointed by the Union government) had sent to Suresh Bose.
Most important of all, it was Lalita Bose who approached the Allahabad High Court with a prayer that the belongings of the baba be protected, or else the state government would have disposed them of. In its 2013 verdict, the court observed there was prima facie information that linked the baba with Netaji, and that it needed to be investigated further.
Lalita Bose was not the only one who lent credence to the baba angle. Her father Suresh Chandra Bose told the Khosla Commission in 1972 that his brother Subhas was still alive and was in India. Dwijendra Nath Bose, son of Netaji’s eldest brother Satish Chandra Bose, said in Thiruvananthapuram in 1966 that Netaji was still alive and was working in a place near the borders of India. The Netaji family would dispense with them all as their statements wouldn’t suit the family’s current narrative.
Strangely enough, the Netaji family finds scientific evidence and an upcoming feature film defamatory to the image of Netaji. Gumnaami, directed by Srijit Mukherji, is hitting theatres in October, in which Prosenjit Chatterjee plays both Netaji and the baba. The family members made no attempts to conceal their wrath when the movie was announced. In the February press meet, they called up on the people of the country to rise against Mission Netaji researchers and the filmmakers and drive them out of the country.
As to the Netaji mystery, one can see an apparent shift in the position of the Netaji family. From the Russian death theory, they seem to be slowly homing in on the plane crash theory, which they used to oppose vehemently until recent times. The same people who used to quote the statements and letters of correspondents like Alfred Wagg and Lily Abegg to rule out the plane crash story are no longer doing it. They have mustered courage to take a new slant that there’s very little chance Netaji would have survived the plane crash! Interestingly, in 2013, the same people had held a press meet just to say they couldn’t accept the plane crash theory. No known development has happened in the last six years that should trigger a change in their view.
Swamy’s conspiracy story
One other staunch detractor of the Gumnami Baba angle is Subramanian Swamy, who also backs his own personal beliefs. Swamy has always held the view sans evidence that Netaji was killed in Soviet Russia on the orders of Joseph Stalin, and that Jawaharlal Nehru and Clement Attlee were a party to it. Swamy often quotes (partly) a statement by Shyam Lal Jain, Nehru’s typist, to claim that Nehru knew Netaji was in Russia. Jain said in his statement before the Khosla Commission that he typed a letter for Nehru, addressed to Attlee, with information that Netaji escaped to Soviet Russia.
Till date, Swamy has not given any other information to support the Russian death theory. What Swamy (perhaps) doesn’t know is that Jain too had told the Khosla Commission that Netaji was living in disguise in north India in the late 1960s, which itself negates the Russian death theory.
Besides this elementary mistake in understanding things wholly, Swamy also does not check historical facts before expressing his theories publicly.
Stalin had absolutely no reason to order the killing of Netaji, who was pro-Russia. Netaji had criticised Germany when they invaded Russia in 1941. In a letter to Joachim von Ribbentrop, Netaji wrote that Indians would perceive the German invasion of the Soviet Union as an invasion of the East, and Germany as an enemy of India. What is the obligation for Stalin to kill such a person for a country whose independence was nothing but a sham for him? It is laughable to think that a country that helped India with wheat supply post-independence, would take orders from it, under duress.
Swamy thinks Gumnami Baba was an Intelligence Bureau plot masterminded by its second director Bhola Nath Mullik and Nehru. Since Nehru had always maintained in Parliament that Netaji was killed in the plane crash, why should he devise such a plot? For argument’s sake, let’s concede that Netaji was killed in Russia during Stalin’s period. Since Stalin died in 1953, it must be assumed that Netaji was killed that same year or before. Then, what necessitates Nehru to set up Gumnami Baba, who didn’t get much publicity during his lifetime at all? What necessitates the need to continue the plot for another 21 years after Nehru’s death and Mullik’s retirement, both of which happened in 1964? And why would the big shots in the government hatch and run a plot for three long decades when nothing was happening around their plot?
It is worth mentioning here that diplomats like Satyanarayana Sinha have written about Netaji’s confinement in Soviet Russia based on hearsay. This includes a claim that Sinha was told by the CPI co-founder Abani Mukherji’s son in 1960 that Netaji had been locked up beside his father’s cell in a Yakutsk prison. But the truth is that Mukherji was killed in 1937 during Stalin’s Great Terror period and that his son did not survive the Second World War.
The truth will stare out a false narrative, however plausible it may appear. As regards Netaji’s death, what was not acceptable in 1947 cannot become acceptable all of a sudden. For any of the three possibilities to hold water, there must be strong evidential support. In that respect, the story around Faizabad dwarfs those around Taiwan and Russia.