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Time to ask Russia about Bose

There is no evidence to suggest that Gumnami Baba of Faizabad was Subhas Chandra Bose.

G.D. Bakshi  New Delhi | 12th Sep 2015

Netaji Subash Chandra Bose

hat really happened to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose? There are three clear cut hypotheses about this.

• The air crash hypothesis: Until recently, this was the most dominant discourse peddled by a Nehruvian dispensation. It was stated that Netaji was killed in the crash of a Japanese Mitsubishi bomber at Taihoku in Taiwan on 18 August 1945.

• The Soviet incarceration theory: The second hypothesis was that Netaji made good his escape to Manchuria, where he wanted to link up with the advancing Soviet forces to gain their support for India's freedom struggle. That to his shock and dismay, he was treated like an enemy and incarcerated in the Yakutsk prison camp in Siberia. That he was tortured for information and finally, done to death at the behest of the British. This is a grim and shocking hypothesis, which raises some very disturbing questions. Did Government of India know and if so, what did it do about securing the release of Bose?

• The Faizabad ascetic theory: The third hypothesis is that Netaji was in the Soviet Union but mysteriously escaped in the 1950s and remained incognito as an ascetic nicknamed Gumnami Baba, in Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh. He lived there incognito, until his death via natural causes in September 1985. Although this theory is supported by a whole body of "evidence", there are a few question marks. For some reason, this theory is being pushed in the media in the last few weeks. What then is the truth?

It is essential to examine each of these hypotheses in some more detail to narrow the zone of our search as it were.

• Let's first examine the aircraft crash theory. This hypothesis has been conclusively debunked by Justice Mukherjee Commission (JMC). Investigations in Taiwan showed that no air crash took place on that day. There are no records of Bose's cremation and that the ashes at Renkoji temple are those of a Japanese soldier called Ichiro Okura who had actually died on that date. On first hearing of the air crash, Field Marshal Wavell had said that it was just the kind of cover story that he was expecting to hear that would facilitate Bose's escape plans.

However, the Nehruvian dispensation bent over backwards to ensure that this thesis was accepted as gospel truth. The death of Bose eliminated a political rival and strong claimant to the post of Prime Minister of India. Hence the zeal with which this theory was being peddled was somewhat suspect.

• As for the Faizabad ascetic theory, most committed researchers seem convinced that this truly represents what happened. It seems an attempt is now being made to convince the public that this is indeed what happened. There is an impressive body of "evidence" and testimonies from eye witnesses who knew Bose, about this hypothesis. There are however, some glaring discrepancies that remain unresolved:

DNA evidence: The Justice Mukherjee Commission ordered the DNA tests of five of Gumnami Baba's nine teeth found in Ram Bhavan, and the blood samples collected from two descendants from Bose's father's side and three from the mother's side. These were sent to the Central Forensic Laboratory in Kolkata for DNA profiling. After a detailed morphological examination, Dr V.K. Kashyap, DNA expert and director of the laboratory concluded that the individual source of the teeth did not belong to either Bose's maternal or paternal DNA lineage. Therefore, empirical evidence seemed to rule out the thesis that Gumnami Baba was Netaji. This is listed in pages 121-122 of the JMC Report. These DNA results, however, have been questioned by some researchers as biased or motivated or influenced by external agencies.

Handwriting analyses: Of three handwriting experts, one gave a favourable report while two others filed contrary reports.

Sketch: The alleged sketch of Gumnami Baba published in media reports is an artist's impression of the baba. Hence the resemblance is contrived and not an objective fact.

Personality profile: It would be highly out of character for a high profile personality like Bose to return to India and stay incognito for almost three decades.

There was an earlier similar discovery of the Shaulmari Baba, which was later discredited. Bose was such an iconic figure that cases of over identification with a cult figure could easily lead to delusional behaviour/or playing out of such roles, either deliberately or inadvertently by some highly impressionable admirers.

• The Soviet angle: That leaves us with the second hypothesis of his incarceration and possible death in the former Soviet Union. Till date there is no direct evidence on record on this. The evidence is almost entirely circumstantial and the few reports of sightings in USSR are largely second or third hand. The circumstantial evidence, however, is disconcerting. There is enough evidence to indicate that Netaji had plans to go to Manchuria and establish contact with the Soviet forces to continue the freedom struggle. The Soviet Union, however, still treated the Anglo-US forces as allies and in 1945, they were not likely to be very responsive to Bose's overtures for asylum. As per their then viewpoint, Bose had collaborated with Nazi Germany and was most likely to have been treated as an enemy just around the end of the war. The USSR-Japan treaty of neutrality signed on 13 April 1941 was valid until 9 August 1945 and on that date Soviet forces launched a massive attack on the Japanese armies in Manchuria. So at the level of the Soviet armed forces in the field, even Japan was now regarded as an enemy. All these factors would have enhanced the chances of a rather hostile reception to Bose by Soviet forces in Manchuria.

The Soviet Union is history. Russia is now a non-communist entity. It has denounced and disowned Stalin and his secret police and their excesses. The Russian Federation is very friendly to India and if approached sincerely, the Russians will help us navigate the troves of their declassified material on the KGB and its predecessor agencies, which will not affect ties.

The Soviet NKVD and British MI-6 had a close history of cooperation during the Second World War. Two significant pacts were signed between their intelligence services during the war: On 20 December 1941, the NKVD of the Soviet Union and MI6 of Britain had signed an Intelligence Cooperation Pact in Moscow. The pact was between the MI6, the Special Operations Executive (US) and NKVD. It was known only to the highest leadership echelons on both sides.

A second protocol to coordinate global secret operations between the Allies and the USSR, was signed in Moscow on 3 March 1944. Prominent signatories were the British chief of the LCS, John Bevan and Col William H. Baumce and Feodor Kuznetsov and Gen Nicholas Salim of the Soviet government. Both these intelligence and clandestine operations coordination pacts resulted in very extensive cooperation between the intelligence services of the USSR and US/UK. The British and the Americans shared with the Soviets vital military intelligence gleaned from their highly successful code breaking operations Enigma and Ultra. They also requested the USSR to bar the return of Bose from Germany to the east via air and land routes. That was one of the reasons why Bose's transfer to Japan was so badly delayed and finally done by submarines.

Given this level of intelligence cooperation between UK and USSR in 1945, the chances of hypothesis two being correct are greatly magnified. Since most of the action here would be in the ultra secretive domain of covert operations, there is little chance of evidence being available in open sources. It would take a concerted effort on the part of the Indian government to elicit this kind of information either from UK, US or the former USSR (now Russia). The simple fact is that if the Indian government itself is not declassifying its files on Netaji, how can it ask these nations to hand over their secretive records of sensitive covert/intelligence operations?

Two of the Bose disappearance hypotheses point towards the former Soviet Union. We must intensify our research efforts in that direction. The Soviet Union is history. Russia is now a non-communist entity. It has denounced and disowned Stalin and Beria and his secret police and their excesses on their own people. The Russian Federation is very friendly towards India and if approached sincerely, the Russians will help us navigate the troves of their declassified material on the KGB and its predecessor agencies, which will not affect ties. The Indian government's desire to shield ties with Russia from any adverse public opinion fallout in India is understandable. However, its newfound desire to shield the erstwhile Congress government and its misdeeds and misdemeanours relating to Bose is neither logical nor comprehensible.

Maj Gen (Dr) G.D. Bakshi SM,VSM (Retd), is an Army veteran

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