Netaji an enigma; his death a mystery
By M.V. Kamath
Back from Dead: Inside the Subhas Bose Mystery by Anuj Dhar, Manas Publications, 400 pp, Rs 495.00
Subhas Chandra Bose??Netaji? to his adoring countrymen?was born in 1897 and ?died? in an air crash in Taipeh of injuries sustained on the midnight of August 18, 1945. And, that event has aroused speculation which has refused to die down to this day, 60 years later. A whole lot of his friends and relations refuse to believe that Netaji died that day. Were he alive he would now be 108-years old. And one would imagine that at least now the question of whether Netaji really died in an air crash or had just disappeared from sight would have been given a decent burial.
But no. So powerful is the mysticism surrounding Netaji and the hope that perhaps he may still miraculously return to his homeland from somewhere to lead the country to greatness that speculative books on his whereabouts still sell. Many Indians still like to think of Netaji in terms of an immortal hero, a saintly warrior king, even a Kalki or the last incarnation of Vishnu come back to establish dharma in his native land. Among them must be counted the author of this remarkable book, Anuj Dhar, who insists that there is ?compelling body of evidence against the crash theory?.
If Dhar is to be believed, Netaji was not on the plane that reportedly crashed in Taipeh, but had disembarked from the plane at an earlier halt and had thereafter made it to the USSR, where he was supposedly received by Soviet officials. What exactly the Soviet officials did to Netaji remains a mystery. One can understand Soviet reluctance to disclose the way its officials handled Netaji when information was sought 40 years ago. But 60 years later and after the break-up of the Soviet Union, why should Moscow hesitate to cooperate? Dhar has his own pat answer. He writes: ?Rather than being pro-active in finding the truth, the (Indian) government is going about it in a manner to frustrate the effort to bring it out.?
In 1945, Netaji was so popular in India that had he returned to his home country, he would have been welcomed with thunderous applause and the British would not have dared to touch him. And had Netaji returned on the eve of Independence, say in March 1947, there is no question but that he would have been named by popular vote as the first Prime Minister.
A Commission has been appointed to look into the matter, but writes Dhar, when it wants all relevant records, the government won'toblige it, citing ?unreasonable pretexts?. Dhar wants everyone to believe that the government does not want the truth about Netaji to come out. The original culprit in many people'sview is Jawaharlal Nehru who reportedly did not want Netaji to return to India, only to be anointed as king or, shall we say, the permanent Prime Minister. This is a ridiculous statement. Sure, in 1945, Netaji was so popular in India that had he returned to his home country, he would have been welcomed with thunderous applause and the British would not have dared to touch him. And had Netaji returned on the eve of Independence, say in March 1947, there is no question but that he would have been named by popular vote as the first Prime Minister of Independent India, but that is presuming that Netaji would have wanted to be Prime Minister.
Netaji had his differences with Mahatma Gandhi but it was Netaji, again, who first hailed the Mahatma as ?Father of the Nation? in one of his regular broadcasts. If Gandhiji had insisted that not Netaji, but Nehru should be the first Prime Minister, one can rest assured that Netaji would have honoured Gandhiji'sword.
Dhar misjudged Netaji'sspirit of sacrifice. Netaji was not fighting for power and glory; he was fighting for India'sindependence; that achieved, Netaji, one can be sure, would have been quite happy to ?retire?, or work side by side with Nehru in the latter'scabinet. But Dhar, like so many others, attributes mala fide motives to Nehru that is unfair. Nehru had his shortcomings and his ambitions and it is difficult at this point of time to imagine how things would have worked out if Netaji had suddenly appeared at the doorsteps of his residence in Kolkata.
Another theory is that Netaji did manage to come to India but had decided to take sanyas. His name has been linked with one ?Bhagwanji? who reportedly bore a close resemblance to Netaji. What is left unanswered is why Netaji should resort to these subterfuges. For all his greatness, he was a normal man who yearned for happiness and had married a German woman during his stay in Europe. In 1945, following the surrender of Japan he might have had his reservations as to what might happen to him were he caught alive by the British. He could not have taken residence in Japan. He could have been arrested and no doubt, tried for treason. He could have disappeared in China. But where in China?
Apparently to give our mystery writers their due, he thought that the only country that could possibly accommodate him would be the Soviet Union. Has anyone asked Putin, the current Russian leader, whether any records are available of those times? And, at this point of time, would Putin refuse to cooperate? There is no answer.
?Rather than being pro-active in finding the truth, the (Indian) government is going about it in a manner to frustrate the effort to bring it out,? writes Anuj Dhar.
Meanwhile, it pleases Dhar to doubt everybody'sbona fides: the honesty of many of Netaji'sclose followers like that of his Information Minister S.A Ayer (a person, incidentally, known to this reviewer) is questioned. Doubts are raised about every assertion made about the reported air crash in Taipeh. Everything from the date and actual time of the air crash has been made a subject, not of investigation, but inquisition. It makes for mystery. And, may this be said of Dhar: he is a most entertaining writer and it is difficult to put the book down once it is taken up for reading.
The writing is so engrossing, indeed so thrilling, that one wants to finish reading the book at one sitting. What gives verisimilitude to Dhar'sassertion is his precise way in naming people and their status with such abandon. It gives the impression that the man has done his homework and has made painstaking inquiries that are beyond questioning. That could well be. But was Netaji a real tyaagi? Bhagwanji, the impostor is quoted as saying, ?My coming out will not benefit anyone?the country, the people, myself. Do not disclose my whereabouts to anyone, or else the nation will suffer. My coming out is not in India'sinterest.?
Possibly. The point is: anything is possible. Netaji may have lived long as a sanyasi; he may have gone to the Soviet Union and got imprisoned and tortured and killed?or he may have just died in that famous air crash. We can leave it at that. But Dhar'sbook makes great reading; he has done a remarkably good job in raising doubts about the last days of Netaji, no doubt in good faith.
It is a brilliant piece of writing and if only for that reason it is commended reading. Long live Netaji. Netaji zindabad. Whatever happened to him on August 18, 1945, Netaji will forever live in the heart of every patriotic Indian and not in some strange land or desolate ashram. And, isn'tthat good enough?
(Manas Publications, 4858 Prahlad Street, 24 Ansari Road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110002.)