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Did Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose really die in an air crash??

Netaji WWII
Netaji greeted with garlands during WWII

When we read about his heroic feats in our history lessons, never did we imagine that his illustrious career would come to a sudden end. A hero, who shepherded the entire nation (both women and men) towards taking historic steps in the freedom struggle, died in an unfortunate air crash in Taiwan. While history text books cement his martyrdom, they never reveal the intricate details of his unexpected demise. In fact, was there even a “demise”? Did Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose really perish in the Mitsubishi Ki-21 twin-engine heavy bomber (Allies code name Sally) that he boarded at Saigon airport around 2 PM on 17 August 1945?

Subhash Bose Japanese Newspaper
Japanese newspaper reporting about Netaji’s death

While conspiracy theories regarding his death have been doing rounds since 1950s, things took flight when Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to open classified files on his 23rd January 2016 (his birthday) much to the chagrin of a few. Mamata Banerjee went on record to say that India needed to know his fate of its nationalist leader. The files, in question, brought nothing of significance to light save the references to multiple committees since 1950 which repeatedly probed into the matter but to no avail.

Netaji Declassified files
Certain files have been declassified by the government

Although the political records come to null, family members and sympathizers are insisting that the files are incomplete. Talks of asking involved countries (Japan, Russian and Britain) to release their files have also been doing rounds. Suspicions that files were destroyed will continue to haunt Congress as sympathizers refuse to stay quiet in the wake of the latest development.

Let us take a look at the most widely discussed theories around his death:

Prisoner of War

Forward Bloc, the party Subhas Bose founded, never accepted that he died in the crash. And West Bengal BJP leaders such as Tapan Sikdar and Rahul Sinha also found it convenient to believe that he lived his last days in the prison of Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin.

Cover up by Japan

Ardhendu Bose, a nephew of the freedom fighter, has publicly rebuffed the plane crash “theory”, calling it a cover-up created by Japan to aid Netaji escape

“There was no plane crash. The British government created the propaganda (of crash). It (the crash theory) was a cover-up created by Japan to help Netaji,”Ardhendu said.

He said the Taiwanese government, and British and US intelligence reports have all stated that there was no plane crash on August 18, 1945.
Ardhendu’s father Sailesh Chandra Bose was Netaji’s younger brother. When questioned as to why did Netaji not return to the country, people often accuse the then Congress and moreover Jawaharlal Nehru of foul play due to rivalry with INA.

Nehru vs Netaji
Jawahar Lal Nehru may have been the reason for Netaji not coming back

China

According to a report in ‘The Times of India’, Netaji’s brother, Sarat Chandra had run a story in his newspaper ‘The Nation’ with the headline ‘Netaji in Red China’ in 1949.
The article said that then Nehru government had specific information that Bose was in Red China of Mao Tse-tung. S M Goswami, an ardent admirer of Bose, published a pamphlet in India with the heading ‘Netaji Mystery Revealed’. It carried a picture of Chinese officials with a Mongolian trade delegation said to have been taken in 1952. Goswami pointed out one of the persons in the photograph to be Bose.

And finally… Gumnami Baba

While the name sounds almost like it came out of an over imaginative B-grade TV show “Bhagwanji” or Gumnami Baba was touted as Bose undercover since the 1955 (after Stalin’s death). Multiple witnesses claim that he bore a uncanny resemblance to Bose. INA supporters often flocked him at Faizabad while many clandestine meetings took place during Durga Puja. In fact Lila Roy wrote a letter to Dilip Roy (a close associate of Bose) that his friend was alive and well. This letter was written on the instructions of Bhagwanji and subsequent letters written by the latter post Lila Roy’s death were said to be an exact match with Bose’s handwriting.

On September 17, 1985, it was declared that Bhagwanji had died of a cardiovascular failure at 9.45pm the previous day. On September 18, the doctor certified the death. On September 19, a bier-like structure was cremated at Guptar Ghat on the bank of the river Saryu, Faizabad, at 4pm. No one was allowed to see his face arousing suspicion and eventually many conspiracy theories.

Gumnami Baba
An image depicting the possible similarities

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was an enigma in life and an enigma in death. While these theories may hold credible they don’t answer fundamental questions, such as:
1. If Japan covered for Bose, why did he not return to India?
2. If Stalin held him war prisoner, why did the fact not come to light after the former’s death?
3. What was Bose doing in China?
4. If he was indeed the Gumnami Baba, why did he choose to remain undercover in Faizabad and not return to his family/outfit?
All questions. No answers. Until, more evidence is uncovered. What will it bring to light? Only time will tell.

Written by Surabhi Udas

Surabhi Udas is a creative writer, an imaginative nomad and a lazy activist who thrives on (selective) news.

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