The Tragic Hero
So essential is liberty to man, that an altruistic fight for the purpose of freedom almost universally invites pure adulation; though there may emerge some discord with methods or thoughts that are shaped in the voyage to freedom. The fighters for freedom are indisputable heroes, and by that appellation, a sound man refers to that multitude of men, who are defiant before veracious tyranny, and not to those sentient repertories of hormones, who, ennuied with the monotony of their lives, regard it necessary to feel animated, in the pursuit of which they morph their pristinely enlightened concern for the wellbeing of society, into a supposed revolution. Such revolutionaries are oftentimes resident in the student quarters of their phrontisteries, and they may, on occasion, pursue the part-time ardour of studies. The heritors of the fruits yielded by the endeavours of the fighters for freedom, should they be members of the august halls of academia, must as lucidly chronicle their tenacity as objectively, incorporating, should they bear the burden of a conscience, a measure of gratitude.
As a once grateful society sinks into the sea of indolence 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 as tragic heroes.
One 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 harboured 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 minds, 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 ignominious, 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 had fallen to German or Japanese tyranny is as fanciful as the assertion that Nehru’s India 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 rightly be 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, sequacious towards the fairer skin. By such reasoning, 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. Governments are inescapably sanctimonious, 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 died owing to third degree burns as a result of a plane crash in Taipei, Taiwan, while on his way to Tokyo.
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, and it engendered popular interest after some of his followers, now no longer bound by their vows of fidelity to the departed saint, claimed that he 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 and the other a Commission headed by Justice G.D. Khosla, 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, such as were possible in their limited ability, 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 books by P.G. Wodehouse, Charles Dickens, several volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, several other books on military affairs including Brigadier John Dalvi’s The Himalayan Blunder with the monk’s own observations scribbled on its pages; 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, 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. In the years of the premiership of Indira Gandhi, there was constituted the Khosla Commission of Inquiry so as to investigate the disappearance of Subhas Chandra Bose, and curiously, the original (not copy) summon sent by the Commission to Bose’s elder brother Suresh Chandra Bose was also found. There were also found several letters written by the monk, some of which written while he claimed to be away on ‘missions’.
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 — the decision by the Rajiv Gandhi government to be sympathetic, to a degree, to the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement, in an ostensible attempt to mollify their anger at his propitiation of the Muslims by means of having overturned the Shah Bano verdict by the Supreme Court. 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.
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 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.
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, the late Deepak Nijhawan and Abhishek Bose.
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 is 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.
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. Trailokya Nath Chakraborty 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 snooped upon 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.
“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”.Source: Conundrum (Subhas Bose’s Life After Death), by Anuj Dhar and Chandrachur Ghose).
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 was indeed lodged in Mandalay Jail. 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, of course, 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.
If indeed Bhagwanji was Subhas Chandra Bose, what fate do we ordain for the government’s stance that Bose perished in a plane crash at Formosa (Taipei) in Taiwan in 1945? The points to note are as follows:
- The evidence in favour of the notion that he died following the plane crash, is premised solely on verbal, affected certitude by supposed survivors of the supposed plane crash. Reports, the authors of which were seasoned British interrogators, now available at the National Archive of India, New Delhi, reflect their distrust of the survivors, chiefly owing to contradictions too numerous to be dismissed as misremembrance of trivial details. One such report notes, “It is considered that even if B1269 was in the know of Bose’s plans, he would not disclose them. His manner is not very convincing. He talks in a secretive way, even if no one else is about. It is felt that B1269’s equanimity could only be shaken if positive facts could be adduced to disprove his account of Bose’s death at Taihoku.” B1269 was the codename for Colonel Habibur Rahman, the aide-de-camp of Bose, ardently loyal to his leader. Vexingly for the British, he frustrated their efforts at investigation. Yet another report explicitly notes, “It seems clear that Bose and his staff were trying to make a get away to Russia. Bose’s staff consisted of S.A. Iyer, who is now at liberty in India, Pritam Singh and Gulzara Singh who are in custody, Hassan who will arrive in India almost at once, D.N. Dass who has not been traced and Habibur Rahman. Bhonsle figured in part of the transaction though he was not going to Japan. Habibur Rahman, Pritam Singh, Gulzara Singh and Hassan have all been examined and appear to have lied, or withheld their knowledge, about the reasons for the journey which was being made.” The same report also makes a particularly telling observation: “In December, a report said that the Governor of the Afghan Province of Khost had been informed by the Russian Ambassador in Kabul that there were many congress refugees in Moscow and Bose was included in their number. There is little reason for such persons to bring Bose into fabricated stories. At the same time, the view that Russian officials are disclosing or alleging that Bose is in Moscow is supplied in a report received from Tehran. This states that Moradoff, the Russian Vice Consul General disclosed in March that Bose was in Russia where he was secretly organizing a group of Russians and Indians to work on the same lines as the INA for the freedom of India.”
- That between the duo of Bose and Rahman, who supposedly flew together aboard the supposedly ill-fated plane, Bose should perish owing to third degree burns, but Rahman should escape unhurt, is itself so axiomatic of the involved deception, that the average Indian intellectual alone could ignore it.
- That a shrewd man like Bose, who escaped from his home and then India in 1941, notwithstanding close surveillance of his home where he was placed under house arrest, should decide to go to Tokyo where he could with ease have been apprehended by the Allies, is again suspect. For, he had more resources at his disposal than the average revolutionary; he had evinced ardent commitment to his objective of liberating India, such as by means of a several months-long submarine voyage from Germany to Madagascar, and from there to Japan, after Hitler invited defeat by invading the USSR. Those who travelled with him testified to his immense forbearance and equanimity. That someone of such iron will should surrender with such ease would naturally be regarded as uncharacteristic, certainly by he who happened to be his enemy at that point in time, if not by the armchair historian. That in his journey for proclaiming his surrender, he should asudden die, is even more suspicious to a discerning enemy. Field Marshal Archibald Wavell, then India’s viceroy, had noted in his diary, declassified in the 1970s, “It is just what should be given out if he meant to go underground.” The assumption that the crash was a hoax and that he must have escaped, is, therefore, sound.
- Japan never explained the five days of belatedness in its announcement of Bose’s supposed death. It would soundly be proposed that the Japanese elected to announce his death after ensuring the success of his escape, and there would be no grounds to conclusively reject this supposition.
- The photos shown by Japan, purportedly of Bose’s corpse, do not show his face, nor his hands or feet. A possibility exists that, let alone Bose, there may not have been a human in repose, under the coverture, at all.
- The Government of India is most indisposed to conducting a forensic test, of the ashes that rest at Renkoji Temple in Tokyo, purportedly of Bose. Anuj Dhar has mentioned, that while the physical custody of the ashes vests in the temple, the Embassy of India is in official possession thereof, which are now known not to be ashes but fragments of bone. The passage of decades notwithstanding, it was reported to the Mukherjee Commission, by the consulted expert from the United States, Terry Milton, that a mitochondrial DNA test was still possible, on condition that an anthropological test was first conducted, the latter of which would aid in the determination of the person’s racial identity (Caucasian/Asian etc.) and his age. The Government of India is at perfect liberty to commission a test. Deep reticence, however, pervades the tainted halls of state, for it is known that it fears a potentially negative result. One such government communication notes, “It may be mentioned that although DNA testing is possible but a final decision for DNA test has to be taken after thorough consideration whether it would be permissible to allow DNA testing after the lapse of 58 years. Moreover, slight change in the result may create a hue and cry. If the result is in positive then the entire issue will be resolved. In case the result comes in negative as to the DNA result does not tally with the biological samples connected with the relatives, one can imagine the reaction of the nation.” The disciples of Gandhi’s precepts of truth, therefore, have always been curiously averse to an investigation into the truth of this matter, for despite their protestations, they are themselves uncertain, whether Bose indeed died in the purported plane crash.
- In 2005, the government of Taiwan communicated to Anuj Dhar, that their records do not indicate a plane crash in the entire month of August 1945. Astute readers, hopefully abstracted from their political interests and inclinations, may now determine why every government has been reticent in soliciting the aid of authorities in Taiwan, for an investigation. Shah Nawaz Khan was not permitted to investigate in Taiwan. Justice G.D. Khosla was most uncooperative with other members of the Commission, and uninterested while in Taiwan, and did not contact Taiwanese authorities. Curiously, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had for long been demanding an inquiry and was critical of Indira Gandhi’s decision to initially forbid Khosla from going to Taiwan until she acquiesced to fervid demands, himself did not permit Justice Mukherjee to approach Taiwan when he served as Prime Minister. The discerning reader would be justified in his supposition, that the polluted airs of Delhi, and an inexplicable essence in the halls of government, might render its humble servants curiously allergic to Taiwan. Unfortunately for the reticence and mendacity of its deeply affrighted members, Anuj Dhar is immune to such allergies, and has had no qualms in approaching the helpful authorities of that country.
Such information suffices, to any discerning reader, to disregard the proposition of Bose’s death in a plane crash. To our further credit, in 1998, the government’s own legal representative recorded before the Calcutta High Court, to Chief Justice Prabha Shankar Mishra, “The Government of India… is maintaining even now that a further probe is required and the information that Netaji died in the plane crash on August 18, 1945 is full of loopholes, contradictions and therefore inconclusive.” Because the historians of India, the epitomes of truth, were perhaps not convinced of the soundness of the attorney when he so stated, or are unaware of their lack of probity, they have not revised their opinion.
Long has there been whispered a second theory, within the corridors of power, ranging from politicians to bureaucrats to spymasters in Delhi, and which is expounded by such eminent figures as Dr. Subramanian Swamy, historian Dr. Purabi Roy, and Major General G.D. Bakshi. The theory, perhaps in existence from August 1945 itself, supposes that Bose was not dead; that he escaped to the Soviet Union, wherein he was executed by Stalin on the express request of the British in 1946 or thereabouts, who were themselves supposedly informed of Bose’s presence in the Soviet Union by means of a letter sent by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The theory sounds convincing, for Stalin was as brutal as paranoid, and would spare none. That alone, however compelling it may be, is not evidence, and it is surprising that such erudite personalities should fall for such notions in absence of evidence.
- While the proponents claim to have come across intelligence records mentioning so, they have never cited so much as the document number, never shown so much as a photocopy, let alone quote it in entirety.
- Dhar mentions that, one of the places where Bose had hidden for a time following his escape from India in 1941, was the Soviet Union, and that it was the Soviets who had eased Bose’s travels by providing him with a counterfeit Italian passport by the name, “Count Orlando Mazzotta”. They would not have been so magnanimous, had they not known his true identity, and that the Soviets should do something of this sort sans sanctification from Stalin is unthinkable.
- Dhar has quoted in his books a letter, written by Bose to the Soviets in 1944, sent through the Japanese diplomatic service, seeking from them their aid in liberating India, and mentioning that in his quest, he has never slighted Soviet interests. That the Soviets should execute someone with potential, approaching them of his own accord, is again not sensible.
- Tears may well flow as majestic streams from the eyes of an Indian, on speaking of the long friendship between contemporary Russia and India, extant from the Soviet era. What he might be unaware of, abecedarian as he might well be in the realm of mystery around Bose’s disappearance, is the deep suspicion if not hostility harboured by Stalin for India, so long as he was the supremo of the Soviet Union, until his death in 1953. Dhar mentions that the Soviets did not send an emissary for two days following Gandhi’s assassination. He also mentions that Stalin regarded Nehru as a ‘political prostitute’. That Stalin should execute someone who had approached him of his own accord, with the complicity of someone whom he despised, on a mere request from what was then a rival courtesy of the Cold War, is in itself preposterous, Stalin’s own suspect divinity notwithstanding.
- Proponents of the theory quote the following letter, purportedly written by Nehru to Clement Attlee, to assert Nehru’s complicity:
- The foregoing letter, however, is in fact part of a testimony given by Nehru’s stenographer Shyam Lal Jain to the Khosla Commission of Inquiry. Jain merely claimed that Nehru had ordered him to type the letter; he believed himself that Bose was, in fact, living incognito in India.
That he was killed in the Soviet Union, therefore, has no credible basis.
“As it is impossible for the most able statesmen to subdue millions of followers and enemies by their own personal strength, the world, under the name of policy, seems to have granted them a very liberal indulgence of craft and dissimulation.” So wrote the English historian Edward Gibbon in his six-volume magnum opus, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Regardless of whether a politician has read Gibbon’s oeuvre, the answer being negative for the better part in the Indian context, this precept is as universal as it is eternal. Craft and dissimulation, indeed, are the prime crafts of government, in which pursuit, the pastime of governance may on occasion be permitted. So far as India is concerned, no subject evinces so industrial a scale of state dissimulation, as does its affairs concerning inquiries into Bose’s disappearance. That the government as an institution must be as in fear of the truth in 2021 as it was in 1945, signifies an interest so sinister and overarching, that the government ardently desires to protect it regardless of year or generation. Common wisdom counsels that we forbear from alleging conspiracy where mere incompetence may suffice as an explanation, but the intrigues of the government in this regard, must render this subject an exception to that wise precept.
In 2005, the Government of India enacted the Right to Information (RTI) Act; an avuncular signal to the masses that they were perhaps civilized enough to seek information concerning state affairs. Amongst the earliest RTI appeals filed was that by Mission Netaji, requesting from the government the declassification of files pertinent to the mystery. Predictably citing national security concerns, that most professional entity forthwith responded in the negative. Amongst its concerns was one that some of the requested information was so sensitive, that it could potentially lead to law and order problems in the country, “especially in Bengal.” It was, therefore, an admission of two truths: that it was not desirous of sharing information, and that the law and order apparatus was perennially in a pitiable state. To be fair to the government, which is not so much a just view as a boon to that august institution, law and order is the bailiwick of the even more pitiable state (regional) governments.
Commendably, Mission Netaji refused to regard the government’s fears as any of its concerns, and approached the Central Information Commission. The Commission, then chaired by Wajahat Habibullah, ruled in favour of Mission Netaji and commanded the government to:
- Hand over the 202 documents Mission Netaji had asked for;
- Declassify the seventy-thousand odd pages pertinent to Bose and transfer them to the National Archives.
In the estimate of Dhar, about 10,000 to 12,000 such papers were declassified by the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and they received 91 out of the 202 documents they had asked for.
The process of declassification is laborious, for the files must be vetted, and a record prepared. While therefore the declassification commenced in 2010–11, it was only by December 2014, that all the files took new abode in the National Archives.
It is an exception, and not the norm, for governments to be assiduous, in which consequence, errors both trivial and profound, are quite probable. Much the same may be thought to have happened during the process of declassification, for some such files emerged, to protect whose secrecy, the government would otherwise have been prepared to orchestrate its own collapse. For, so soon as Anuj Dhar, the first to see the files, fossicked through them, he contacted his friends at Mission Netaji and told them, “This is analogous to Watergate!”
The Watergate scandal, owing alike to our progressive sensibilities and ignorance of history, is often regarded as the most infamous scandal of political history. Watergate is the name of a building complex in Washington D.C. which, during the presidency of Richard Nixon, served as headquarters of the National Committee of the opposing Democratic Party. On 28 May 1972, in the dead of night, a few men trespassed into the building, but were soon apprehended. It then emerged, in the course of investigations, that the unfortunate men were formerly employed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), that much feared arm of the United States government; and that they had been so venturesome not for the purpose of burglary, but to discreetly place miniature listening devices in its offices, commonly referred to as ‘bugs’. Subsequently, it emerged that the Nixon administration was engaged in attempts to cloak further evidences, implying that the president himself had known of the operation and done nothing to prevent the attempt. The consequence was that Nixon had to resign.
Some of the writers of uninspiring fables in India, who sometimes dot those fables with accurate information, are acclaimed by the government as historians, and owing to their patronage, their longeval eminences have developed great hubris. It is expected of them to persist in their obstinate refusal to heed such new research as may oppugn their fables, and therefore disregard Anuj Dhar entirely. Dhar, however, is quite a popular speaker at various newly emerged yet professional institutions, and he has often travelled across the world in educating interested people with his research. Often, while delivering his talk in the United States, he has commented humorously, “You Americans ought to have had sent those inept CIA operatives of the Watergate fame to India for training. We would have trained them to perfection.”
While this may at first appear as nationalist fervour, one cannot help harbouring alike a sense of wonder and of repugnance, at learning that the Intelligence Bureau of independent India was engaged in a two-decade-long pan-India surveillance of those who seemed to repose the remotest interest in Subhas Chandra Bose, his family and his other admirers alike, and the enterprise was never discovered. To paraphrase Anuj Dhar, while the simple-minded commons of India were being entertained by watching the television show Byomkesh Bakshi, real-life IB agents were performing feats that might have rivalled, nay surpassed, those of the CIA. Popular culture has convinced us of the superior faculties of fictitious detectives in contrast with the detectives in our world, owing to the creative liberties of fiction, and the inhibitions of reality. In India, however, while the fictitious detectives were novitiates, sleuths in the real world were beyond excellence.
One may cite, as an instance, the following report prepared on one Pirthi Lal Subba, on whom the Intelligence Bureau snooped for the crime of writing to Bose’s elder brother, Sarat Chandra Bose in 1949, inquiring whether the fiery nationalist of his younger brother was still alive. This incident is rendered a marvel by the fact that Subba was no formidable rebel against the government, hopeful of overthrowing the Nehru government under the command of his leader Bose, but a mere ninth-grade student, a fifteen year old.
Perhaps, in those days of indifference and inurement to the high-handedness of state, it might have been acceptable for reports on children to be sent to the Special Superintendent of Police and Deputy Commissioner of Police.
The Intelligence Bureau, the nodal coordinating agency in the saga, was founded in 1887, and its sleuths were trained to perfection by the British. In the reign of Nehru, the director was one B.N. Mallick, an intelligence czar who headed the Bureau for sixteen years. One has a perspective should one realize that directors normally serve for but two years. Mallick must have had intimate awareness of every metaphorical thing under the sun. Perhaps, after independence, the Bureau was ardent in its desire prove its flair with espionage to the British, much as a bubbling child is ardent in his desire to demonstrate a newly learnt art at school to his parents. We may therefore rationalize the Bureau’s act of sharing intelligence on the Bose family to the British, and rationalize we must, for the act of sharing intelligence on the family of a nationalist, with the former colonial rulers, must certainly not have been treacherous. Indeed, how different could it be, from sharing intelligence on a prime ministerial candidate in India, to that arcadia of virtue called Pakistan?
The punctilious reader may notice, in the foregoing document marked “SECRET”, the abbreviation “S.L.O.” It expands to the respectable office of “Security Liaison Officer”, who was an officer of the British MI5, stationed in Delhi, and for all practical purposes, senior to the Director of the Intelligence Bureau of India.
In the document following the one marked “SECRET”, we may chance upon that august name “Mr. Bourne”, who was the first S.L.O. of India. In independent India, therefore, we had no qualms in entrusting our intelligence operations to our former colonial masters. But this ought not to be a cause of worry; we have been admitted to the order of belief that the fifteenth of August 1947 was indeed our independence day, and because the disciples of Gandhi’s precepts of ‘truth’ and ‘non-violence’ have told us so, they could never have been mistaken. We may conscionably bounce in enthusiasm, akin to children on a trampoline, on Independence Day. The word “secret censorship”, for all intents and purposes, is a polite word for “snooping”. In independent India, there was secret censorship on the Bose family.
I enclose another bonus for our readers:
O Believers in the Good Faith of Government! Hear (read) what this affrighted heretic has to say! The Intelligence Bureau, as we may all concur, is not an institution of historical research, and digging graveyards is not its concern. Had Bose indeed perished in the purported plane crash, it would not have squandered its resources collecting intelligence to unprecedented extents. Such punctilious surveillance is directed only against terrorists, which event also does not merit the devoted sharing of intelligence with foreign nations, unless those nations were the objects of the immediate designs of the terrorists. The Bose family, its respectability notwithstanding, was not merely snooped upon, but intelligence pertinent to its members was also shared with the British. The Bose family posed no threat to the mighty Nehru government. The Bureau was, it pristinely emerges, looking for the man himself.
Anuj Dhar amassed popularity in 2015, when he brought to light these intelligence shenanigans. He, having fastidiously studied the files, says that about fourteen sleuths were tasked with surveilling the Bose family home alone. Extrapolated to the national whole, one wonders how much money was spent on the enterprise. Had the nation been prosperous, the project might not have merited our animadversions, but India was a country of ubiquitous penury. It is no wonder, therefore, that we lost so ignominiously the war against China in 1962. The members of the security caucus were happily oblivious to the threat looming large at the border, against whom many a prescient man had warned as early as 1950, lest their divine occupations be interrupted by the untimely cares of superior significance.
The Americans employ an aphorism, “Rid yourself of all your electronic devices, and the CIA may hack your pitchfork.” Were the Intelligence Bureau bestowed with as many resources as the CIA, it might hack one’s DNA by satellite. One now discerns why India was the only nation to not only not deplore the United States when Edward Snowden bewrayed the NSA’s surveillance program, which included snooping upon embassies of thirty-five countries, and why India said that it was not actually snooping For snooping it was indeed not, because India’s metrics of snooping require of its officers a greater flair.
Governments across the world deem it a sin, to not pursue another iniquitous project, after it has been sated with one. In the course of the inquiry by the Mukherjee Commission, therefore, the government took recourse to chicanery. At the last abode of the nameless monk were found a few teeth, presumably of the monk himself, and two government labs, namely, Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) in Kolkata and Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) in Hyderabad, were entrusted with conducting a DNA test on them, contrasting it with a sample from the Bose family, to determine whether the monk was related to the family. The CFSL declared in June 2004 or thereabouts, that the DNA had not matched, and CDFD Hyderabad stated that the results were inconclusive.
There may be reason to infer, that forces across the world, desirous of curbing India’s growth, are conspiring to that effect. Why should travelling forward in time and returning to the present, whose inventors were Indian journalists, not be acclaimed, unless the global powers-that-be had iniquitous intentions? For, while the DNA test in CFSL had not yet commenced in December 2003, Anand Bazaar Patrika, a newspaper in Bengal, reported, on claim of ‘insider information’ which is commonly called a ‘scoop’, that the result was negative, notwithstanding that a scoop may be got only after the commencement of a task, and it having progressed substantially! Perhaps the late Justice Mukherjee was not so liberal as to allow the possibility of such profound science; wherefore, he recorded his disapprobation of the Anand Bazaar Patrika before the Press Council of India, which, perhaps out of innocent magnanimity, ruled in favour of the newspaper.
One may now aver, “Such deception notwithstanding, does not the fact that the DNA test was negative, invalidate entirely the notion that the reclusive monk was Bose?” Such may have been the appropriate conclusion, were the report itself immaculate. At the heart of a DNA test report is a chart called the “electropherogram”. A DNA test is conducted entirely by machine, sans human intervention, and the same machine generates the electropherogram. As a doctor recommends prescription or treatment on examination of an X-ray, so are the DNA test reports premised on the analysis of the electropherogram. The report by CFSL, however, does not contain the electropherogram, and when Mission Netaji sought for the same by means of an RTI, it was first said that the chart was not in existence, and on subsequent admission that it did indeed exist, it was denied to them. To those who may yet have the gin of optimism coursing through their capillaries, let it be known that it is nonfeasance alone, that prompts the emergence of a report, without its most vital component. That forensic laboratories are perfectly capable of dissimulation, is proven by their copious affinity for errors, such as may merit the interest of the courts and the privileged access that they have to Lord Hanuman, by virtue of which they could implore his presence for such biometrics as would prepare for him an Aadhaar Card. Ever untrustworthy, these labs have time and again been rejected by the government, in favour of the esteemed forensic laboratories of the American FBI, for such other cases as the mysterious death of Bhanwari Devi. But it has asudden regained its confidence in the labs in sole regard to the Bose mystery. Dhar sent the government lab reports to Dr. Maharishi Krishna Deb, a researcher at Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, who concluded that the test was “most likely politically conjugated to truncate its normal inference.”
Rejecting the plane crash angle, but not having received records from Russia concerning Bose’s possible refuge therein owing to the government’s lack of cooperation, Justice Mukherjee wrote in his report, “men may lie but circumstances do not. In cooking up the story of Netaji’s death in the plane crash and giving it a modicum of truth they (the Japanese military authorities and Colonel Habibur Rahman, Netaji’s aide) had no other alternative than restoring to suppression of facts and in doing so they not only invited material contradictions in their evidence as pointed out… but also left latent loopholes which have now been discovered.” The defender of the ‘idea of India’, namely the Indian National Congress, rejected his report without having assigned any reason, with the Home Minister Shivraj Patil having been most discourteous towards Justice Mukherjee, in a spectacular blight on democratic norms.
The evidence, at presents, weighs most in favour of the notion, that Bose was indeed alive and incognito, living in India.
(All images in the post are from Anuj Dhar’s talks)
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