A compendium of authenticated documentation backed by interviews and eye-witness accounts has challenged the cacophony of speculation and hearsay surrounding the fate of the man whose actions, according to an admission made by Clement Attlee, had acted as the fulcrum for the British decision to quit India. London-based former BBC and CNN scribe Asish Ray’s book, “Laid to rest: the controversy over Subhas Chandra Bose’s death”, has been endorsed by Netaji’s daughter, Professor Anita Bose Pfaff, who has penned the foreword to the book published by Roli Books.

Observing that speculation over Netaji’s death was spurred by vested interests by various countries to keep certain facts secret due to which documents were kept classified far beyond the usual period of 30 years, Anita Pfaff writes that the documents released in 2016 by Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee, respectively, had revealed no evidence of any mysterious conspiracies. The successive governments of the erstwhile USSR and the Russian Federation have maintained Moscow’s stance that since his passing through Russia en route Germany from Afghanistan in 1941 Bose never stepped into that country thereafter, Anita states, to question the stories that Bose was interned in Siberia post 1945.

“As evidence became available from the mid-1950s, the only consistent story about Netaji’s demise remains his death in a plane crash on 18 August 1945. For me personally, this fact was brought home most strikingly when I had the opportunity to be present during the interview of one of the survivors of the plane crash by Prof Leonard Gordon in Tokyo in 1979,” Anita asserts.

In 1995, Asish Ray approached Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao with a request for considering DNA test on the ashes interned in Tokyo’s Buddhist Renkoji temple (the Embassy of India pays for its upkeep since the 1950s). The request came after the remains of Russia’s Czar Nicolai were identified through DNA testing by a British team, two of whom, Kevin Sullivan and Mitchell Holland, agreed to carry out similar test for Netaji—this consent was conveyed to the then government in New Delhi. Anita has supported the DNA testing in her foreword to Ray’s book. 

The Narasimha Rao government made some forward movement: External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee visited Renkoji (Prime Ministers Nehru and Vajpayee and President Rajendra Prasad had preceded Mukherjee in this pilgrimage) and met Netaji’s widow Emile Schenkl and daughter Anita in Germany. (He confabulated with INA heroes Gurbaksh Dhillon, S.S. Yadava and Lakshmi Sehgal in his South Block office to find a way to get the ashes back—this writer was privileged to be in the sidelines of that meeting).  Anita in her visits to India and other interactions has expressed the desire that the ashes kept in Renkoji be handed over to her so that she could immerse them in the Ganga. She is 75 years old and, hence, the anxiety is understandable. She also offered to take the ashes to Germany and preserve them in a suitable memorial but the Japanese government, which revers the ashes as the remains of a person whom the Emperor of Japan had recognised as a “Head of State” (Bose headed the Provisional Government of Free India based in Singapore during the War), is not willing to let the ashes go to a third country. According to Ray, through diplomatic channels Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has communicated to Anita that her wishes to take the ashes to India can be accommodated provided that New Delhi was agreeable. 

Speculation on Bose’s death was spurred in Bose’s lifetime as well. British intelligence, unable to track him post his disappearance from Calcutta in 1941, reported his movement in the Far East while Netaji was travelling to Europe. In 1942 British intelligence reported his death in an aircrash in Tokyo—even Mahatma Gandhi mourned. A broadcast by Bose from Berlin over Azad Hind Radio put speculation to rest.

Three days after the Hiroshima-Nagasaki nuclear holocaust on 9 August 1945, Japan’s plans to surrender became known to Bose and he wanted to travel to Manchuria and then onward to USSR as he had anticipated that after the war Anglo-American bonhomie with the Soviets will not last. A Russian-speaking Japanese General, TsunamasaShidei, who was deputed to negotiate surrender with Soviets in Manchuria (and perhaps help Bose) perished in the Taihoku air crash.

Ray has relied upon a Reuters report of 23 August 1945; the findings of Nanking-based Free Press Journal (Bombay) journalist Harin Shah—who investigated in Taiwan in 1946—and the research of eminent Maharashtra Times editor Govind Talwalkar among other archival material from British, Japanese, Taiwanese and Russian sources to back his thesis. His interview of the Japanese doctor who was at Bose’s deathbed is conclusive. 

During his recent visit to India as well as in 2007, Shinzo Abe had recalled the warm reception Jawaharlal Nehru had accorded to his grandfather, NobuskeKishi, the Prime Minister of Japan in 1957. Kishi was a minister in the wartime Tojo government and thus the links between Abe and Bose’s daughter span generations.The present time, therefore, may be the most appropriate if the nation wants to honour the memory of Netaji. As head of India’s provisional government in exile Bose had visited the grave of Bahadurshah Zafar in Rangoon (now Yangon) and wept profusely. He had earlier been interned in the same jail in Burma where the last Mughal was imprisoned. Ironically, the remains of Zafar and Bose seem to be meeting a similar fate.

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