In Taiwan, where Netaji’s plane was supposed to have crashed in 1945, certain historical documents and photos were well preserved in the national archives, but received no public attention until now.
Netaji was an iconoclast. He was an iconoclast in more than one way. What is most significant about him was that he effectively took the Indian freedom movement beyond the frontiers of India, which was a rare feat in the history of India’s freedom struggle. He creatively intertwined India’s yearning for freedom with the prevailing dynamics of world history, and geopolitics during the Second World War. A fair amount of Netaji’s struggle to liberate India was on foreign soil, starting from nearer home in Afghanistan and Burma, to the Far East in China including Taiwan, Japan and the South East Asia in Singapore; and Europe. He traversed the entire region during the tumultuous years of the Second World War to realise the objectives of liberating the motherland from British colonialism and left behind his footprints and imprints in the annals of history. Netaji navigated the tenuous path for Swaraj with steely determination and resolve. Even though he chose a different path fighting for India’s freedom, he is commemorated and remembered as a true hero of India today.
On 16/17 January 1941, Subhas Chandra Bose, who was under the surveillance of the British police, surreptitiously slipped out of his Elgin Road home in Calcutta and reached Delhi on the evening of 18 January 1941 and boarded the train to Peshawar. He had to face many hurdles before he could cross the Afghan border. Thereafter, he was in touch with German leaders and other European leaders in order to seek their support for the cause of Swaraj. Ultimately, he reached Japan. The Japanese Prime Minister Hikedi Tojo welcomed him and promised him support in his mission.
In July 1943, he took over the leadership of Indian Independence Movement from Rash Behari Bose in East Asia. He organised the Azad Hind Fauj with its headquarters in Singapore and became its Supreme Commander. On 21 October 1943, he proclaimed the formation of provisional Government of Azad Hind at a historic assembly in Singapore. The provisional government was recognised by nine countries including the then three world powers—Japan, Germany and Italy. The INA headquarters was shifted to Rangoon in January 1944. Subhas Bose ignited the Indian National Army (INA) with his clarion call, “Give me blood, I shall give you freedom”.
The INA reached the Arakan front on 4 February 1944 and marched towards India’s border with the call “Chalo Delhi”. The Azad Hind Fauj crossed the Burma border on 18 March 1944 and for the first time, stood on the soil of India. The liberation forces were halted within three miles of Imphal by the British Army. As they lacked air cover, they couldn’t go further into Assam territory. The British forces under Lord Mountbatten, reinforced by air power, prevented the forward march of Azad Hind Fauj. The torrential rains of Burma, which started just at that time, submerged the INA supply lines and Netaji ordered the retreat of his forces.
After the suspension of INA activities, Bose went back to Singapore and issued instructions to the civilian and army wings of the provisional government of Azad Hind Fauj as to what they should do. It was decided to leave Singapore and move further eastwards. In the meantime, the surrender of Japan was officially announced on 15th August and on 17th August 1945, Netaji took a plane from Saigon which crashed over Taipei, Taiwan.
The plane crash in which Netaji was believed to have died and subsequent developments triggered a lot of speculation and debates in the following decades. In Taiwan, where Netaji’s plane “crashed” in 1945, certain historical documents and photos were well preserved in the national archives, but received no public attention until now. Through examination of the archives from Ministry of Culture and Academia Historica, we found these historical photos and wish to introduce these to the Indian public for the first time.
The first time that the Taiwanese media reported on Netaji’s whereabouts appeared on Min Bao (People’s News) (photo 1) on 11 April 1946, which cited information from Calcutta that Bose was not dead and was hiding in India for about six months. However, another report from the same newspaper published on 22 August 1946 (photo 2), citing reports from Japanese media in Tokyo mentioned how Bose’s plane crashed in Taiwan one year earlier and how he was injured and died (as claimed in the report). The report also mentioned that jewels and gold were discovered at the crash site. Some Taiwanese scholars have also researched on Netaji. According to Dr Li-Fu Chen of Alethia University of Taiwan, after cremation, a part of Bose’s bone ashes was preserved in the famous Nishi Honganji Temple in Taiwan for some time. Historical archives from Taiwan also showed that Indian government sent a delegation led by Samar Guha, MP to Taiwan in 1973 to investigate the purported death of Bose. The delegation visited the site of where the body of Bose was believed to have been cremated, and hosted a press conference to report their findings in Taipei on 9 July 1973 (photos 3, 4, 5).
Although his passing away and the date and the circumstances under which he might have died are matters of conjecture and debate, his tryst with Taiwan and Taiwanese people still endures. Archives from Taipei showed Chiang Kai-shek’s comments about Subhas Chandra Bose in his personal diary on 31 October 1943. Chiang stated that Bose’s decision to cooperate with Japan to fight for Indian Independence was understandable since he was fighting for his country’s freedom. It is high time that there should be more research on the little or lesser known aspects of India-Taiwan relations from a historical perspective.
Mumin Chen is Professor of National Chung Hsing University of Taiwan and currently serving as Deputy Representative, Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre in India.
Dr Rup Narayan Das is a Senior Fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research. Views are personal.