Introduction: The Tragic Hero

“Rights do not come to us from nature, which knows no rights except cunning and strength; they are privileges assured to individuals by the community as advantageous to the common good. Liberty is a luxury of security; the free individual is a product and mark of civilization.” Thus wrote the prose stylist, historian, and philosopher, Will Durant.

In any civilized society, therefore, where, to employ the words of Will Durant yet again, greed has been transmuted into thrift, violence into argument, murder into litigation, and suicide into philosophy, the idea of freedom is cultured, nourished, and defended; and with time the virtue is savoured by its teeming denizens. Tales of tyranny stir their sense of righteous affront, and the depths of their consciousness bubble with adulation for those bravehearts who, in face of fetters imposed by a foreign power, burn to cinders the oppressive edifice with the torch of revolution. Fighters for freedom, they are rightly deemed.

In the intellectual convulsions of twenty-first century India, it has become necessary to impart to the term ‘fighters for freedom’ a precise definition. For it has become fashionable, in chambers alike guileless and maleficent, to apply that appellation to youthful activists who, resident in the student quarters of their phrontisteries, may deign to pursue the part-time ardour of study. They mount a pretend fight against imagined tyranny, and it so happens that the governments they accuse of ‘fascism’ are very often poltroons of the highest order.

But the steady march of the true fighters for freedom, who do not include the aforesaid students, does yield fruit, and its heritors, should they be members of the august halls of academia, must chronicle their courage alike with lucidness and objectivity. Indeed, should they bear the burden of a conscience, a measure of gratitude to these heroes would be an adorning jewel.

As a once grateful society sinks into the sea of torpor with the thickening sands of time, either the memory of those fighters for freedom fades into obscurity, or their precepts are irrevocably lost. Such segments of the populace as may yet be conscionable, are by nature chafed at such ingratitude, and they are led to regard those fighters for freedom as tragic heroes.

Once such tragic hero of the Republic of India, a nation-state cursed with the ignominy of being an unkindly home to innumerable such, was Subhas Chandra Bose. The tragedy, in his regard, consists not in his supposed failure to free India, for he eventually became a catalyst for the departure of the inglorious British Empire, but in the disdain for him nursed in the sullied halls of academia. The phenomenon, once acute, seems to now abate, dissipate as does a lie before truth. Nonetheless, there abound sufficient numbers of profound thinkers, who beguile themselves with the notion that Bose’s legacy may rightly be reviled, for the mere reason of his soliciting the aid, of so grotesque a being as Hitler.

Were soliciting aid, or forming common cause for the realization of a proximate purpose, alone sufficient to impute a meeting of the hearts, every alliance between or amongst the entertaining entities called political parties in a democracy, may be regarded as a confluence of values and alignment of thought, such trifling of either as politicians are sometimes doomed to possess. Alternatively, one may regard the abandonment of the Triple Entente by Italy in World War I in favour of the Triple Alliance, as a result of an epiphany dawning on Italy, of the moral superiority of the latter alliance, impelled by that copious bliss which is felt by a devotee, before whom, after long years of penance, his god has finally appeared. Alternatively still, the American alliance with the Soviet Union in World War II, would then be regarded as American endorsement of communism.

Analogies may be adduced aplenty, and were the asininity of them not so sordid, it might have amused an objective layman. An alliance between Hitler and Bose, therefore, is not the slightest evidence of a fervid affirmation of friendship, or of complete concurrence on policy.

The West is happy to regard World War II was India’s war also; not that of Europe, the Soviet Union, the United States, and Japan alone. In matters of jurisdiction, it may have been India’s war, inasmuch as, subject to the Parliament of Britain and its Monarchy, it was legally a concern for India, but by no means was it India’s war inasmuch as the actual will of its people was concerned. Penurious millions could scarcely claim interest in the vainglorious battles of the distant and mighty, and the assertion that India might otherwise have fallen to German or Japanese tyranny is as fanciful as the assertion that Nehru’s India, once a paradise of ‘secularism’, is now dead for the worse.

Nor could one justly expect one amongst the same penurious millions, to deem it his duty to commiserate with the suffering Jews in that period, when his own countrymen lay fettered, his own family starving. As humans, we cannot in the slightest condone the grotesqueness of Hitler, but as Indians foremost in the early 1940s, we would have rightly been concerned more with freedom than with the clash of the putatively flawless forces of democracy with the grotesque forces of despotism. Given further that the inhumane crime of Jallianwala Bagh was the British imperial acclamation of India’s services in World War I, it would have been just of Indians to suspect British probity in World War II, such trifling as it may have had.

In the opinion of author Anuj Dhar, such academic servility to the West is explained by the desire to be validated. The denizens of these elite chambers are by physique the residents of India, by heart and soul the residents of the West, and by mind, obsequious towards the fairer skin. By such reasoning as is typical of this enlightened order, the Englishman is cast in a positive light — the Indian had only to appeal to his munificence, and he, his civilizing mission fulfilled, departed for his abode, rendering Indian independence not a fruit of blood, toils, tears, and sweat (to ironically employ a Churchillian phrase), but the consequence of British benefaction.

One would be justified in imploring a semblance of consistency from those, who justly regard Indira Gandhi’s meeting with Saddam Hussein as part of diplomacy, who regard the official Indian condolences on Stalin’s death as part of diplomacy, who call for a dialogue on terrorism with the intransigent Pakistan as a wise policy, but who unjustly regard Bose’s alliance of expediency with Hitler as a slight to their elevated sensibilities. Sanctimony is common to all governments, for it is common for governments capable of untold atrocities, to homiletically depict other governments as embodiments of evil, but naught prevents the academic mandarins from being objective. That they should nonetheless not be so, is perhaps why we would be misfits in a galactic federation of super-intelligent beings.

What Happened to Him?

On 23 August 1945, eight days after it had surrendered to the Allied Forces, Japan would go on to astound the Indian people, the Indian politicians, and the Government of British India, with the announcement that Subhas Chandra Bose was no more — that on 18 August 1945, five days prior to the announcement, he had died owing to third degree burns as a result of a plane crash in Taipei, Taiwan, while on his way to Tokyo, to discuss the modalities of the surrender of the government which he led.

A little above four decades thence, on 16 September 1985, a reclusive monk, known only as Bhagwanji to his followers, and whom the local media in Uttar Pradesh named ‘Gumnami Baba’ (Hindi for ‘unnamed monk’), passed away in Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh. The matter engendered popular interest after Panda Ram Kishore Mishra, a local Congress leader and a follower of Bhagwanji, now no longer feeling bound by his vow of fidelity to the departed saint, claimed that the saint was, in fact, Subhas Chandra Bose in disguise. That a freedom fighter should live incognito for forty years after his purported death, and that there should emerge paraphernalia indicating that it could indeed have been him, was an object of attention too interesting to be passed off with a cursory glance. It appeared as if it were a stinging oppugnation of the two inquiry entities, one a committee headed by Shah Nawaz Khan in the 1950s and the other a Commission headed by Justice G.D. Khosla in the 1970s, that seem in retrospect to have been politically motivated, both of which affirmed Subhas Chandra Bose’s death in the purported plane crash.

The local media commenced its investigations, consisting of such journalists as Vishambar Nath Arora, Syed Kausar Husain, and the more eminent Nirmal Nibedon, and they fossicked through his paraphernalia. In that assortment were found an astounding upwards of nine hundred and eighty books, spanning numerous subjects. There were found:

  • novels by P.G. Wodehouse and Charles Dickens;
  • several volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica;
  • all eleven volumes of the magnificent The Story of Civilization by Will and Ariel Durant;
  • several other books on military affairs including Brigadier John Dalvi’s The Himalayan Blunder with the monk’s own observations scribbled on its pages;
  • the dissentient judgment by Justice Radhabinod Pal in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East which was constituted to prosecute Japan for its war crimes in World War II;
  • and several other books in Bengali and some rare ones in Sanskrit;

But of perhaps greater importance were such objects as:

  • binoculars and uniforms that were used in the Indian National Army (INA), which was the military wing of Subhas Chandra Bose’s Provisional Government of Free India;
  • photos of Bose’s parents, Janakinath Bose and Prabhavati Devi Bose;
  • the original summons sent by the Khosla Commission of Inquiry, constituted by Indira Gandhi in the 1970s to inquire into Bose’s disappearance, to Bose’s elder brother Suresh Chandra Bose;
  • several letters written by the monk, some of which written while he claimed to be away on ‘missions’.
A sample of the items that were in possession of the late, anonymous monk.

For all the hubbub evoked by Gumnami Baba, never while he was alive and only after his death, the incident seems never to have gained interest outside of Uttar Pradesh, for there would then occur an incident that far overshadowed the afterlife, so to say, of Subhas Chandra Bose — a man, with no stake in the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, materialized and prayed before a court in Uttar Pradesh that the doors to the disputed complex be opened, and the court agreed with a celerity to which the judiciary is rarely accustomed. It is suspected that the man was an agent of the government led by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The conventional suspicion is that it was an attempt to mollify the anger of Hindus at his appeasement of the Muslims by means of his overturning the Shah Bano verdict by the Supreme Court; however, it was once said, in subdued tones, that the enterprise was impelled by the need to suppress the fast-developing story of Gumnami Baba.

Bose was forgotten, left to gather dust in the sands of time.

Until, perhaps out of genuinely felt beneficence, Mulayam Singh Yadav, as Union Minister of Defence in the late 1990s, happened to promise that Bose’s ashes would be brought back to India from their purported abode, namely, Renkoji Temple in Tokyo, Japan. Some of Bose’s admirers, which presumably included the anonymous Baba’s followers, appealed to the Calcutta High Court, that Bose’s death in the plane crash had not been proved, and that there was therefore no evidence that those ashes were indeed his. The then Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, Justice Prabha Shankar Mishra (06 August 1936 – 01 July 2012), ordered the government to constitute a Commission of Inquiry to look into the affair, in 1997–98.

Justice Prabha Shankar Mishra
Justice Manoj Kumar Mukherjee

The Commission of Inquiry was headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Manoj Kumar Mukherjee (01 December 1933 – 17 April 2021). The Commission examined substantial evidence in the Bose mystery. It consulted the retired Government Chief Examiner of Questioned Documents, the renowned Dr. B. Lal Kapoor, and two others who, while Dr. Kapoor was in service, were quite subordinate to him. Dr. Kapoor produced at least 400 king-sized exhibits from his analysis to show that handwriting samples of both Bose and Gumnami Baba had matched. Curiously, the other government ‘experts’ produced no reason at all as to why the writings did not match in their esteemed opinion. Their professional eminences did not depose before the Mukherjee Commission the day their former boss. Dr. B. Lal Kapoor, was to be examined.

Dr. B. Lal Kapoor

Dr. B. Lal Kapoor had, in fact, produced two reports; the one for the Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry and another for now author and then journalist of the Hindustan Times, Anuj Dhar. Anuj Dhar is the founder-member of a not-for-profit organization named Mission Netaji. Aided by several friends such as Chandrachur Ghose, Sayak Sen, Sreejith Panicker, Sayantan Dasgupta and others, Anuj Dhar has dedicated two decades to investigating the mystery behind the disappearance of Subhas Chandra Bose. Dr. B. Lal Kapoor passed away a few years ago.

Over the years, Chandrachur Ghose and Anuj Dhar managed to contact two other handwriting experts, Curt Baggett and Dr. Ashok Kashyap, the former anonymously through their friends in the United States.

Curt Baggett
  • Curt Baggett is an Expert Document Examiner, with forty years of experience, and five thousand solved cases to his credit. He completed his specialized Documentation Examination training from the U.S. Army Military Police Officer’s school in Fort Gordon, Georgia in 1960. He has testified before Honorable Courts not only in almost all the fifty states of the U.S. but also in Europe and elsewhere. He prepared a sixty-page report establishing that the handwriting samples of Bhagwanji and Netaji had matched. Moreover, his report was peer-reviewed, which effectively renders it a positive report from two experts.
Dr. Ashok Kashyap
  • Dr. Ashok Kashyap was a Forensic Handwriting Expert with fifty-three years of experience and seven thousand solved cases to his credit. His services have been sought by almost every nationalized bank, various foreign banks and he has given evidence and testified before Honorable Courts from almost seventeen states in India, which also include special CBI Courts. This has been a family occupation, for he learnt the art from his father Ugrasen Kashyap, a well-known handwriting expert in his time, who also started the magazine Document Disputes in the mid-1930s. Dr. Ashok has given a report detailing the matches between the handwriting samples of Bhagwanji and Netaji, conclusively establishing that both were the same person and that there has been no forgery. He passed away in 2021.

It was also submitted by the researchers of Mission Netaji that it is not scientifically possible to copy another person’s handwriting in two languages for almost thirty years.

In the privileged circle of followers of the nameless monk, were such important figures as Leela Roy, a revolutionary who was a close friend of Subhas Chandra Bose since, at least, their teenage years; Pabitra Mohan Roy, an intelligence officer in Bose’s Provisional Government of Free India; several other revolutionaries from Bengal; all of whom were convinced of the reclusive monk being their long-lost leader.

Leela Roy

Trailokyanath Chakravarty Maharaj, a renowned freedom fighter who was later also a key figure for the Bangladesh Liberation Movement, through a letter, had acknowledged that he had received information of Bose being alive, albeit indirectly. The letter was recovered from the last residence of the reclusive monk. The tale of Maharaj learning the same is a thriller in itself, for Shailendra Roy, a former freedom fighter and a follower of the nameless monk, placed his life in peril, as he crossed the border, met Maharaj in what was then East Pakistan, in disguise, for Maharaj was being surveilled by Pakistani intelligence authorities. Roy conveyed to Maharaj evidence of Bose’s covert return to India; a letter, in which the nameless saint wrote indirectly, of only that intimate knowledge which was known to Bose and Maharaj alone.

Trailokyanath Chakravarty on the cover of the Hindi translation of his autobiography.

“The person with whom I was lodged in Mandalay Jail, played tennis and participated in Durga Pooja; I have not forgotten him. I am still with him. In Delhi, in 1940, at Shankar Lal’s residence, I was with him. I was by his side while we toured the United Provinces. On a chilly night in the Agra ground, hundreds of people were waiting for him till nine at night. I am eagerly waiting for the same person. The oppressed and tortured people of East Pakistan are waiting for him.”

Maharaj wrote the above paragraph back in his own indirect response of his knowledge that the nameless monk was Bose, after having burnt Roy’s delivered letter, that no evidence may be left behind. Shankar Lal was the general secretary of Bose’s political party named Forward Bloc, and Bose had indeed been lodged in Mandalay Jail in the dark days of the British Raj. Maharaj, unfortunately, died of old age about a few months before the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, and could not witness Bangladesh’s liberation.

In addition, Suresh Chandra Bose, one of the elder brothers of Netaji, testified before the Khosla Commission of Inquiry that his younger brother was still alive. Mission Netaji has established that Suresh Chandra Bose was made aware of Bhagwanji’s existence prior to his statement before the Commission. Suresh did not reveal Bhagwanji’s existence. It is supposed that his relations with his daughter, Lalita Bose, were strained, and he did not reveal the existence of her dear uncle to her. But when, after the departed monk made headlines in Uttar Pradesh, she flew to Faizabad to inspect the monk’s belongings, poignantly identified her uncle’s handwriting, and on realizing her late father’s awareness of his existence, it is said, she regretted her strained relations with him. Had she been able to testify before the Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry, her testimony would have added to the weight of evidence in favour of the notion that Bhagwanji was Bose; however, she passed away before the Commission was constituted.

Rumours invariably abound, throughout the monk’s three-decade-long anonymous existence in Uttar Pradesh, that a familiar looking man who resembled Bose, was in the vicinity. The monk, it is now confirmed, was in contact with five Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh, and curiously, never sought monetary help from them, notwithstanding his penurious conditions. Such police officers, as were ardent in the discharge of their duty of unveiling the monk’s identity, and who managed to meet him, curiously became his followers, and maintained a lifelong silence instead. The monk never granted audience easily, and some people had often to wait for years.

Here endeth Part 1

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