Even though some sources claim that Pranab Mukherjee was not convinced that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose died in an air crash in 1945, yet he, as a Cabinet minister in 1995, toed the government line and tried to convince Netaji’s family that the leader’s claimed ashes needed to be brought back from Japan. Later in 2001, while deposing before the Justice M.K. Mukherjee Commission, Pranab, when asked if he was convinced that Netaji died in the plane crash, replied in the negative. In the view of his admirers, this showed Pranab Mukherjee’s sense of duty to his party leadership.
This, and many other facts related to the mystery of Netaji’s death have been revealed in Anuj Dhar’s latest book, What Happened to Netaji? (Vitasta Publishing).
Though the country is upbeat over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent announcement for the declassification of secret files related to the Netaji mystery, Dhar, a former journalist who has devoted a substantial part of his life researching the issue, feels that the official files have been “Congressified”.
In his latest book, Dhar claims that “many of the classified records are full of distortions as they were produced by those who either thought nothing of Netaji, or plainly disliked him”. Along with former Foreign and Home Secretaries, Dhar casts an investigative light on President Pranab Mukherjee and even Netaji’s daughter Anita Pfaff.
“As and when PM Modi decides to order the declassification, he will have to worry, for a start, about its effect on past and present VVIPs at the time of writing. Because it would be exposed that staunch Congress loyalists went out of their way to prove Netaji’s death in Taiwan even though they may have had good reasons not to,” he claims.
The book refers to what Dhar claims is a “top secret” letter sent by Joint Secretary (Internal Security), Ministry of Home Affairs, on 21 October 1994, to Joint Secretary (Asia Pacific region) in the Ministry of External Affairs. The MHA sought “a copy of the Japanese government report on the death of Netaji, which is said to be available in MEA”.
In response, the MEA sent MHA the copy of a Japanese communication claiming that the cremation permit issued for Ichiro Okura was “believed to be” for Bose. On its receipt, the confused MHA Joint Secretary telephoned the MEA to say that his ministry “would like to have a confirmation that the Japanese government had indeed confirmed” Netaji’s death.
The MEA obviously did not share the Japanese government’s belief that the Okura record pertained to Bose. On 10 November, the JS (AP) stated in a “top secret” note that “for us to state on this basis that the Japanese government had indeed confirmed the death of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, would be going beyond the scope of the Japanese government letter and have major internal ramifications for us”.
According to Dhar, “despite these and other facts on record, the following unfolded”: “On page 17 of PMO top secret file No G-16 (3) / 95 NGO is a letter written on 28 October 1995 by the then External Affairs Minister himself. It outlines Pranab Mukerjee’s hush-hush tour of Japan and Germany in the quest to bring to India the presumed ashes of Ichiro Okura and fob them off on Indians as Netaji’s ashes.”
According to Dhar, in Germany on 21 October, Pranab Mukherjee sat down with Bose’s widow Emilie Schenkl for an important meeting, along with her daughter Anita Pfaff, Anita’s husband Martin Pfaff and India’s ambassador to Germany, S.K. Lambah.
Dhar’s book goes on to make a volley of charges:
“Mukherjee, the master strategist, started building the whole thing up by telling Emilie that Indian government was keen to ‘bring back Netaji’s ashes’ to India at a suitable time, provided the controversial issues were resolved. Lambah stated that the Japanese had reacted negatively to the proposal of transferring the ashes to Germany. The only option left was to take them to India.
“Emilie was put off by the suggestion. She reacted angrily to Mukherjee’s proposal that she should sign on a paper, approving Netaji’s death in Taiwan. According to a duly sworn-affidavit, filed subsequently before the Mukherjee Commission by her Germany-based grandnephew Surya Kumar Bose she did not believe that Netaji had died in a plane crash … and that those ‘ashes’ … had nothing to do with Subhas, because she was of the opinion that Netaji was in the Soviet Union after 1945.
“What was not told to the Bose family was that this response from the Russian side was hardly convincing. The assertion made in it was based on the records in open archives, not those related to security and intelligence.
“Subsequent Ministry of External Affairs records demonstrate that the ministry’s January 1996 proposal to seek a Russian response by way of issuing a ‘suitable démarche to the Russian authorities’, seeking a search for relevant records in the formerly KGB archives was not approved by Mukherjee.”
The Modi government last month overturned the old official stand of not taking up the Netaji matter with the Russians at the highest level as Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj raised it with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.
According to Dhar, back in 1995, Emilie “refused to go by Pranab’s persuasive words”. Dhar, however, suggests that her daughter took a different stand. “Anita and Martin Pfaff took Mukherjee out to thrash out the matter over lunch.”
Dhar goes on to allege that “despite Emilie’s categorical ‘No’, Pranab Mukherjee said the opposite in his 28 October 1995 letter kept in the PMO Top Secret file. He wrote that both Emilie and Anita had ‘agreed to bringing the ashes of Netaji to India’.”
Dhar further writes: “For reasons only she can explain, Anita agreed to Mukherjee’s proposal against the wishes of her family members, excluding those linked to the Congress party. In February 1998, she wrote a letter to Prime Minister I.K. Gujaral. It is now lying in the PMO Top Secret file number G-12(3)/98-NGO.
“In this letter Anita requests Gujral to transfer Ichiro Okura’s ashes to India—something that many of her cousins, like her dead mother, thought was an ‘an act of sacrilege’. Then she goes on to give a less-than-truthful account of her family’s view about Netaji’s fate.”
When asked to comment on Emilie’s reported displeasure with Mukherjee’s proposal made during their meeting in 1995, Sharmistha Mukherjee, daughter of President Pranab Mukherjee, said: “Why did not they raise the issue at that time? Why no complaint was filed at that time? Also, Anita Pfaff and her husband Martin Pfaff, were present in the meeting in 1995. Why nobody is asking them for their version of what happened during the meeting?”
What happened to Netaji? also describes the incident of 15 October 2001, when Pranab Mukherjee appeared before the Justice M.K. Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry. “As Witness No 50…, I saw Witness No 48 Pranab Mukherjee fumbling on basic facts concerning the Netaji mystery,” claims Dhar.
“(As External Affairs Minister) did you deal with the issue of bringing the alleged ashes of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose kept in the Renkoji temple to India?” the judge asked Mukherjee.
On getting an affirmative response, the judge put the next query:
“Does not that necessarily mean that you were in firm conviction that Netaji had died in 1945?”
“No,” Pranab Mukherjee replied instantaneously. Pausing a little, he elucidated this: “At that time, the position of the Government of India was that the ashes were of Netaji.”
According to Dhar, “It may not be Mukherjee’s personal conviction that Netaji had died in 1945.” He writes whatever Mukherjee did in 1995 was in deference to the Government of India’s stand, “which he as a Minister was duty bound to follow”.
Dhar writes that Mukherjee, “being the man who knows so much, will have the choice to either act as a catalyst in bringing a closure to the Netaji mystery, or be a stumbling block”.
“He has reached such a stage in his life that he must consider what legacy he would like to leave behind. The facts about the Bose mystery, as they have trickled out as of now, have the potential to affect President Mukherjee’s own name and legacy, unless he does something about it. In time,” he writes.
The book refers to Bose’s strained relationship with the Congress leadership. It quotes Bose’s letter written to his elder brother Sarat in the 1940s, which says: “The more I think of Congress politics the more convinced I feel that in future we should devote more energy and time to fighting the High Command. If power goes into the hands of such mean, vindictive and unscrupulous persons when Swaraj is won, what will happen to the country?”
What happened to Netaji? was released earlier this month in London. It was Dhar’s 2012 book, India’s Biggest Cover-Up, which triggered the demand for declassification of the Netaji files, prompting the members of the Netaji family to hit the road.